EU-Swiss Ties At Risk: Commission Condemns Poll on Foreign Workers

Written by | Friday, September 30th, 2016

The Italian-speaking Swiss canton of Ticino has supported stricter controls on foreign workers in a referendum on 25 September. The campaign for the poll was started by the conservative Swiss People’s Party (SVP) and eventually won 58 percent of votes.  In the poll, voters were presented with a choice between favoring local workers over foreign workers “with the same professional qualifications“.

In Ticino, which borders with Italy, most foreign workers also come from Italy. Italian Foreign Minister, Paolo Gentiloni, said that the vote does not have to have a practical impact for the time being. However, this move is very symbolic and reflects the worsening ties between the EU and Switzerland at the time when Brussels is trying to revive EU-Switzerland Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP).

Free movement of persons is a central pillar of the EU’s relations with Switzerland. Therefore, both sides are still at odds about what to do with a 2014 Swiss referendum on immigration quotas (this includes cross-border commuters, asylum seekers, job seekers from the EU and third countries) that would violate a bilateral pact ensuring freedom of movement for EU workers. The 2014 poll basically called into question the EU-Swiss agreement on the free movement of persons, requesting that the Swiss Federal Council “renegotiate” this agreement with the EU.

The European Commission condemned Ticino’s vote and said that the referendum “will not make the already difficult EU-Swiss talks on freedom of movement any easier”. Margaritis Shinas, Commission’s chief spokesperson, commented on the latest Swiss referendum by stressing that “We take note of yesterday’s vote in Ticino, which we understand still requires approval by the federal government. The EU and Switzerland have been in intense talks for months now to find a solution how to implement the Swiss popular vote on free movement, in a way that respects obligations under the free movement agreement.“

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