[BERNE] The Swiss government on Wednesday proposed a draft law to limit immigration from the European Union following a referendum, but said it was seeking talks with the EU in order not to violate bilateral treaties, including on the free movement of people.
A year ago, the Swiss voted to impose quotas on immigration in a referendum initiated by the right-wing Swiss People's Party. The measure was strongly opposed by the government as well as Swiss banks, drugmakers and other industries that rely heavily on skilled workers from the EU.
The vote handed the government the problem of how to manage immigration through quotas without angering Brussels, which has said any curb on the influx of EU workers would violate treaties that cover a range of issues including economic and technological cooperation, agricultural trade, aviation and road and rail traffic.
Spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said the EU would examine the draft law and study its compatibility with the EU-Swiss agreement on the free movement of people. "The EU expects Switzerland to honour the obligations arising from this agreement," she said.
The government plans to set annual limits for the number of people allowed to move to Switzerland, President Simonetta Sommaruga said, without giving details.
Employers would be required to favour Swiss nationals when hiring staff, according to the draft, although there should be exceptions in certain jobs that have proved difficult to fill.
Switzerland is not in the EU but has in effect accepted its principles of free movement of labour as part of seven treaties which stand or fall together.
Foreigners made up almost 24 per cent of the Swiss population at the end of 2013, one of the highest proportions in any Western economy, up from below 15 per cent 30 years ago. Net immigration is about 1 per cent a year, about twice that of Germany.
The government has three years to write last February's vote into law.