Swiss near adopting EU immigration curbs without quotas

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 12, 2016 1:00 PM

ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss efforts to curb immigration from the European Union without provoking a clash with Brussels cleared a penultimate hurdle on Monday when parliament agreed not to adopt outright quotas on newcomers.

Instead, a bill in the lower house of parliament that cleared up the last differences in language from earlier versions said locals should have first choice for open jobs.

That paved the way for a final vote on Friday that is seen largely as a formality.

EU officials have kept a low profile during the Swiss parliamentary debate after a binding 2014 referendum demanded upper limits and quotas on immigration. How the EU reacts will be scrutinized for hints of what Britain might expect as it negotiates its exit from the bloc.

The bill skirts direct confrontation with the EU, which says free movement of people is a key condition for Swiss access to the bloc's single market of 500 million people.

The lack of upper limits and quotas on immigration prompted complaints from the right-wing Swiss People's Party that politicians had defied the people's will.

But a clear majority in parliament did not want to risk a row with the EU, its main trading partner.

Should Brussels determine the final Swiss measure infringes too heavily on freedom of movement, it could cancel other bilateral accords that ease Swiss trade with the EU in areas that account for 7 percent of Swiss economic output. But diplomats said this seemed unlikely to happen.

Around 8.3 million people live in the neutral Alpine republic, nearly a quarter of them foreign. Around 350,000 more Europeans from places such as Italy, Germany and France commute to Swiss jobs, making the case politically sensitive.

(Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Tom Heneghan)