Merkel strikes conciliatory tone with Swiss after migration vote

German chancellor calls for ‘sensible, reciprocal’ deal

German chancellor Angela Merkel  and Swiss president Didier Burkhalter speak to the media after talks at the Chancellery in Berlin yesterday. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

German chancellor Angela Merkel and Swiss president Didier Burkhalter speak to the media after talks at the Chancellery in Berlin yesterday. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

 


German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for a “sensible, reciprocal” deal with Switzerland after its voters backed restoring migration quotas with the EU.

Dr Merkel’s conciliatory tone yesterday after talks with the Swiss foreign minister in Berlin was in marked contrast to warnings from Brussels that Berne cannot “cherry-pick” from EU law.

Swiss politicians have three years to decide how to implement a February 9th referendum, when 50.3 per cent of Swiss voters backed migration quotas for EU citizens. This is at odds with EU freedom of movement principles to which the non-EU state has committed. Dr Merkel refused to be drawn on whether the proposed quotas were compatible with bilateral deals granting access to the EU’s single market, invoking instead her step-by-step political method.

Appeal for patience
“I would advise people not to decide at the beginning of the process but to wait it out,” she said. “We will not betray our principles and the Swiss don’t, and won’t, betray the referendum result. Germany will work for a sensible solution.”

A week after the referendum result, Swiss foreign minister Didier Burkhalter said it was still too soon to know what a compromise would entail, but he said the process offered Switzerland a chance to “consolidate” its relationship with the bloc. “Free movement will exist for three years, perhaps longer,” he said. “There is no sense stopping now something that is still in effect.”

His government has already attracted EU ire for freezing a planned free movement agreement with the bloc’s newest member Croatia. The pact was concluded shortly before Croatia’s EU accession last year and would, subject to Swiss voter approval, have allowed Croatians access to the Swiss jobs market.


Stalled deal
This now frozen agreement already foresaw decade-long transition quotas, said Mr Burkhalter and he expressed optimism that a “non-discriminatory” pact could be struck with Croatia. Mr Burkhalter, since last month also president of the Swiss confederation, said there was no reason for a planned funding stop on EU-Swiss relations under the Horizon 2020 programme. “It isn’t in the interest of Europe, which which wants to remain at the top of the innovation transfer league,” he said.

The German leader agreed with her Swiss visitor, her agreeable tone in contrast to the Brussels mood music. European Commission president José Manuel Barroso said the February 9th vote was “a very serious matter” for relations with no chance of a return to business as usual. He warned that Switzerland cannot expect any special deal from Brussels because free movement of labour is a non-negotiable part of its bilateral relationship with the EU, as important as the free movement of goods, capital and services.