VIENNA (Reuters) - Switzerland will propose in talks with Brussels that it should be allowed to protect economic sectors in specific regions against immigration from the European Union, its president told a Sunday newspaper.
Switzerland only has until February to implement a binding 2014 referendum demanding limits on the influx of foreigners to a country whose population is already a quarter foreign.
But a blanket curb on immigration would torpedo a set of interlinked bilateral economic accords under which Switzerland agreed to allow free movement of people.
"Not much can be obtained with a bare figure," Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann told the SonntagsZeitung newspaper in an interview.
He said the aim instead would be to set limits only to protect at-risk sectors in specific regions:
"Let's imagine that in (the Italian-speaking canton) Ticino an above-average number of immigrant taxi drivers is recorded while at the same time many taxi drivers are unemployed."
The EU insists it cannot brook any impediments to the free movement of people enshrined in bilateral accords. Negotiations with Switzerland had been on hold until Britain's referendum last week, in which it voted to leave the bloc.
With Brussels now preoccupied with Britain's departure, Swiss officials fear the chances are fading for a quick deal.
"Before Brussels goes on (summer) holiday, I want us to be able to establish the general direction of the talks," Schneider-Ammann said.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Kevin Liffey)