Window narrows for finding Swiss-EU immigration deal

Window narrows for finding Swiss-EU immigration deal
Schneider-Ammann and Juncker. File photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP
The Swiss president, Johann Schneider-Ammann, thinks Switzerland will find “an amicable solution” to its immigration issue with the EU in the end, though that will not now come, as previously hoped, before the summer break.

Speaking to the Tages Anzeiger newspaper after meeting with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at a summit in Mongolia last week, Schneider-Ammann said “We had a good, frank discussion” and Juncker “clearly indicated that the Commission continues to be interested in an amicable solution with Switzerland and is ready to work on it”.

The Swiss government’s window for negotiating with the EU is quickly narrowing, however.

According to the Swiss constitution, the country has until next February to implement a 2014 initiative, approved by public vote, which demands some form of curbs be placed on immigration.

The idea goes against the EU’s principle of free movement of people, to which Switzerland adheres, and as such has placed the country’s relationship with the bloc under strain.

Negotiations over a mutually agreeable solution have been made more difficult by Britain’s decision to withdraw from the EU, and Switzerland was hoping to wrap up its own discussions with Brussels before it addressed the British question.

But that is no longer possible.

In a statement on Saturday following Schneider-Ammann’s meeting with Juncker, the Swiss government said “technical discussions” between the two would be intensified but that they would not meet again until September 19th.

The two men agreed that Brexit had “made finding a solution within the deadlines set by the [Swiss] constitution more difficult”.

But they also emphasized their “mutual interest” in finding a bilateral solution to the Swiss situation, said the statement.

According to the Tages Anzeiger, informed sources feel it’s unlikely the two parties will even reach an agreement in September but may manage it by the end of the year.

As the February deadline approaches, Switzerland may be forced to implement a unilateral solution, currently under discussion in parliament.

But forging ahead without EU approval could have dire consequences for the country’s other bilateral agreements with the bloc. Swiss scientists have already warned of the implications should they be shut out of EU-funded projects over the issue.

Speaking to the paper Schneider-Ammann said implementing immigration curbs unilaterally “must remain a last resort”.

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