Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Swiss don't want to be swamped by immigrants from impoverished Eastern Europe

(They're not all that keen on Germans either)

European Union reacted angrily Wednesday to a move by Switzerland to stem a recent wave of immigrants from central and eastern Europe, calling it discriminatory and unjustified.

The Swiss Federal Council announced that it had decided to impose quotas starting May 1 on certain categories of residence permits for citizens of eight E.U. member states: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

The government said it was acting to promote better integration and to prevent abuses on the labor market, following a tripling of arrivals from those countries over the past year.

E.U. officials insisted, however, that under its agreement with Switzerland on the free movement of people, all restrictions on those eight countries, which joined the bloc in 2004, were to have ended a year ago and could not be reimposed.

“This measure is neither economically justified by the labor market situation nor by the number of E.U. citizens seeking residence in Switzerland,” Catherine Ashton, the E.U.’s foreign policy chief, said in a statement.

The E.U. said it would raise its concerns directly with the Swiss authorities, most likely at a meeting set for June.

Since May 1, 2011, some 6,000 people from the countries concerned had been granted type B residence permits, compared with an average of 2,075 for the three preceding years, according to the Swiss government.

“So far the population has been quite open, and unemployment is quite low, so there’s no reason to be anxious,” said Agn├Ęs Schenker, a spokeswoman for the Swiss Federal Department of Justice and Police. “The Federal Council wanted to be sure it stays that way.”

Immigration has long been a sensitive issue in Switzerland, where one in five residents is foreign-born. The nationalist Swiss People’s Party, the country’s biggest vote-getter, recently started campaigning for an immigration cap.

In a statement announcing its decision, the Federal Council said the 1.1 million E.U. citizens living in Switzerland, which has a total population of only 7.8 million, “make a crucial contribution to the Swiss economy and to the creation and preservation of jobs.”

But given the “complexity of the immigration theme,” it said additional debate on the impact on the job market and integration were needed. It also ordered up “concrete proposals” on Wednesday for steps to ensure companies comply with minimum wage conditions, for example.

Ms. Schenker said that people arriving from relatively poor countries in Eastern Europe were especially vulnerable to pressure to take black-market jobs, “which naturally puts pressure on wages.”

The quotas on people from those eight countries would last for one year, she said, but could be extended for a maximum of one more.


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