The European Union told Switzerland on Friday it will not renegotiate a 12-year-old pact that guarantees the free movement of workers, dealing a blow to Swiss plans for immigration quotas for EU citizens from 2017.
The rejection formalizes the EU’s denouncement last month of the Swiss proposal for quotas, which it had described as “irreconcilable” with a pact that, since 2002, has allowed Swiss and EU citizens to cross the border freely and work on either side as long as they have a contract or are self-employed.
In a letter signed by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to Switzerland’s president, Ashton said the EU was not in a position to agree with a request for a revision of the agreement following consultations with member states.
The letter said negotiations to introduce quotas that favoured Swiss citizens would be a fundamental contradiction to the objective of the pact guaranteeing the free movement of people.
Swiss President Didier Burkhalter said the EU’s decision was not a surprise and appealed for a continuation of discussions.
“It is clear that the EU fundamentally has a problem with a negotiation about the free movement agreement,” Burkhalter told Swiss television.
“But we want to talk about migration and we also want to discuss the whole make-up of EU-Swiss relationship for the future.”
Burkhalter said Switzerland’s government would now discuss the subject over the next few weeks.
Plans for immigration quotas were unveiled roughly four months after the country of 8 million narrowly voted to curtail immigration in a referendum initiated by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP).
The limits were vigorously opposed by Swiss business and the government in Berne, which is nevertheless forced to write the referendum result into law.
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