The Swiss have agreed in a referendum to restrict immigration from the neighbouring countries last week.
“This will create problems for the Swiss business sector and the economy, which have benefited greatly from labour immigration from the EEA, as has Norway. It will be interesting to see what consequences this has for Switzerland’s relations with the EU,” said Vidar Helgesen, Minister of EEA and EU Affairs at the Office of the Prime Minister.
In a referendum held on Sunday 9 February, 50.3 % agreed to the introduction of immigration quotas, including for EU/EEA citizens. The free movement of persons is enshrined in the bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the EU, and is regulated through the EFTA Convention.
“The Swiss people have expressed their disagreement with their Government on an important aspect of Switzerland’s relations with other countries. Norway would like to emphasise the importance of free movement of persons for growth and prosperity in an open economy,” said Helgesen.
The popular initiative “Stop mass immigration” was put forward by the country’s largest party, the Swiss People’s Party. They consider the proportion of immigrants in the country – 23 % – to be too high, and that immigration should be restricted through the introduction of quotas. Those opposed to the initiative, which include the Government, much of the business sector, the tourist industry and the health sector, point out that foreign labour is an important factor in the strong Swiss economy. The EU is Switzerland’s most important trade partner, and the Government has underlined the importance of maintaining good relations with the EU.
“The Swiss Government would like to cooperate more closely with the EU, and it is too early to say how the result of this referendum will affect relations between the EU and Switzerland. We will take up with the Swiss authorities the question of what effect the referendum could have for Norwegian nationals who want to live and work in Switzerland,” said Mr Helgesen.