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Swiss nationalists want swift limit to immigration

Monday - 2/17/2014, 3:20am  ET

GENEVA (AP) -- The nationalist Swiss People's Party called Sunday for swift action to prevent a mass influx of foreigners to Switzerland this summer, when a temporary limit on immigration from eight Eastern European countries expires.

The demand comes a week after Swiss voters narrowly backed the party's plan to cap immigration for all types of foreigners, including those from the European Union, within three years.

"We are facing a massive wave of immigration," the head of the People Party, Toni Brunner, said in an interview with Swiss weekly Schweiz am Sonntag, citing the surge of foreigners who arrived when Switzerland opened its borders to workers from 15 EU countries in 2008.

The agreement was meant to extend to citizens of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Czech Republic and Hungary from June 1, and to Bulgaria and Romania in 2016.

But the outcome of the Feb. 9 referendum means the Swiss government needs to revise its treaties with the European Union, setting Bern up for difficult negotiations with Brussels in the coming months. Although Switzerland isn't a member of the 28-nation bloc it has adopted many of its policies in order to facilitate trade and scientific cooperation with its EU neighbors.

Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga warned after the referendum that her country would be unable to extend the free movement of workers agreement to Croatia, the EU's newest member, as planned. She officially informed the Croatian government of this in a phone call Saturday.

A meeting between Switzerland's foreign minister, Didier Burkhalter, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Tuesday is expected to focus on the impact that the referendum will have on relations between the two countries. More than a quarter of a million Germans live and work in Switzerland, and Germany is the Alpine nation's biggest trading partner.


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