Switzerland renews restrictions on EU immigration
Switzerland has decided to renew restrictions on immigration from eight central and eastern EU countries.
There is concern in Switzerland about a growing influx of workers from poorer EU members.
Restrictions on the number of work permits will be extended for 12 months from May.
Though not an EU member, Switzerland signed up to the bloc’s rules on freedom of movement and now faces criticism from Brussels.
The Swiss government says the quotas could be extended to 17 more EU countries – in western and southern Europe – from June.
When it signed up to the freedom of movement rules in 1999, Switzerland claimed the right enact a “safeguard clause” if the annual influx of workers from countries including Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, exceeds a certain number.
The government said it “came to the conclusion that the safeguard clause is one of several measures which can help to make immigration more acceptable to society and compatible with its needs.”
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton criticized the move.
“These measures disregard the great benefits that the free movement of persons brings to the citizens of both Switzerland and the EU,” said a statement from her office.
It said the measures were in violation of the free movement agreement.
EU officials have always told Switzerland it cannot cherry pick only those parts of European policy it likes best.
The Swiss government has come under pressure from both the right-wing People’s Party, and the Green Party, which say immigration has reached unsustainable levels.
Switzerland has low unemployment, high salaries, and a safe currency.
Even before the start of the eurozone crisis, large numbers of highly skilled workers from Germany and France were seeking jobs in Switzerland, our correspondent says, and in the last two years many more have arrived from Spain, Portugal and Italy.
A government statement said the number of people arriving in Switzerland had exceeded the number leaving by up to 80,000 in recent years.
Limiting work permits “can help to make immigration more acceptable to society”, the statement said.