Swiss lawmakers back Croatia free movement treaty

Justice Minister Sommaruga said the cabinet would not ratify the Croatia protocol until a solution had found with the EU to implement the February 9, 2014 immigration vote Keystone

Parliamentarians have voted to ratify a treaty granting workers from Croatia access to the Swiss labour market. The protocol extending free movement of people to Croatia had been on hold for two years. It was recently signed by the cabinet but needs parliament’s approval. 

This content was published on April 26, 2016 - 18:18 and agencies

On Tuesday, a majority of the House of Representatives voted in favour of the so-called protocol III extending free movement to Croatia.

The other parliamentary chamber, the Senate, is due to discuss the issue in the next few months.

Conservative right Swiss People’s Party politicians voted against it, accusing Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga of giving in to pressure from the European Union.

They believe the ratification of the protocol is incompatible with the constitutional article accepted by the Swiss people when it voted in favour of an initiative to limit immigration on February 9, 2014. 

The Swiss government is seeking a solution to implement the controversial vote to curb immigration from the EU which also respects the free movement of persons accord – one of the EU’s basic tenets. 

As talks with Brussels are currently blocked ahead of Britain's referendum on June 23 on whether to stay in or leave the EU, the Swiss are keen to demonstrate progress on the Croatia treaty and to show their good faith in the European project. 

Readmission to Horizon 2020

It is hoped that swift ratification of the Croatia protocol will allow Switzerland to be readmitted as an associated country in the union's prestigious Horizon 2020 science research (worth €80 billion) and Erasmus+ student mobility programmes. Swiss researchers and students were frozen out of the programmes after the 2014 vote on immigration curbs.

Following feverish negotiations and additional funds, Switzerland managed to eventually hang on to its places via a ‘partial agreement’ with the EU. But it has until the end of the year before this temporary accord runs out. 

In March of this year the government announced it had agreed with Brussels on the Croatia free movement protocol. It still needs approval from both chambers of parliament.

The EU remains clear, however: only when the Croatia protocol comes into effect can Switzerland regain full association - and access to full research funding.

The Swiss cabinet, meanwhile, has said it will only ratify the protocol once a definitive solution is found regarding the free movement of persons between the EU and Switzerland. 

Switzerland is not a member of the EU but it has concluded 20 major bilateral agreements with the 28-nation bloc, which include the free movement of persons accord, and another 100 secondary accords. 

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