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16 Feb, 2014 17:38

Switzerland rejects Croatia free movement deal after immigration referendum

Switzerland rejects Croatia free movement deal after immigration referendum

Switzerland has refused to sign a protracted deal with Croatia, initially agreed over a year ago, which would have given Croatians unrestricted access to the Swiss employment market. The Swiss say it’s not viable “in its current form”.

Simultaneously, the Swiss People's Party (SVP) has called on Switzerland’s government to quickly limit immigration to the country from Eastern Europe. Toni Brunner, SVP President, told Swiss newspaper, Schweiz am Sonntag, that the government needed to apply temporary immigration limits to eight Eastern European countries whose immigration limits are to expire in June.

Both Switzerland and Croatia were prepared to enshrine the bilateral deal into law after Croatia joined the EU last summer. However, Switzerland has since backed out of a ‘freedom of movement’ deal with the EU after a referendum, and immigration quotas have been reinstated, the deal as it stood will not be signed.

Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga made a telephone call to Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic to pass on the news that Switzerland would be unable to sign the deal, also informing Brussels that the potential agreement would need to be amended, according to Sommaruga’s spokesman, Philippe Schwander.

A week ago, Switzerland voted 50.3 percent in favor of limiting annual migration from the EU, thus ending the policy of free movement within the bloc that was established in 2002. Switzerland is not a member of the EU and remains vehement about its independence, and was thus able to bring back the quotas despite having assimilated other chunks of EU policy.

Many in Switzerland - which is surrounded by the EU but is not a member - believe that rising immigration levels are putting pressure on infrastructure, rent prices, the social security system, and unemployment rates.

The SVP party has been campaigning for the amendment, saying that immigrants are destroying the nation’s Alpine identity and taking away skilled jobs.

“Many people feel this is challenging their identity, even if there isn't any concrete economic impact on a personal level,” Georg Lutz, professor of political science at the University of Lausanne Georg, told Reuters just before the results of the vote were revealed.

The economic impact remains to be seen; half of Swiss exports go to the EU, with the county’s primary trading partner being Germany. Around 25 percent of the Swiss population is considered ‘foreign’ and some 80,000 new immigrants arrived across 2013 alone.

While the SVP and fellow supporters of the referendum believe salaries are kept low and public services suffer because of the influx.

“The Swiss population knows better than the government or the administration what the problems with immigration really are. The government has to seek talks with the EU immediately and re-negotiate the free movement of people accord,” stated People’s Party, president Toni Brunner after results were announced.

European Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, told the Swiss on Thursday that free movement was non-negotiable. “We will not negotiate on the principle of free movement,” he said.

The Swiss government stated earlier this week that it would be presenting a plan on how to implement the referendum results ‘before July’ and new legislation would be proposed by the end of the year, according to AFP.