Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons Switzerland – EU: Invocation of the Safeguard Clause with respect to the EU-8 States
Ever since quotas were abolished on 1 May 2011, citizens of the Central and East-European EU-81 Member States have enjoyed unrestricted free movement rights. The safeguard clause foreseen in the Agreement on the free movement of persons (AFM) allows Switzerland to unilaterally re-introduce quotas for persons from the EU-8 countries up until the year 2014 provided that in a given year the number of residence permits and/or short-term residence permits for job seekers from the EU/EFTA States exceeds the average of the previous three years by at least 10%. In the case of the category B residence permits granted to citizens of the EU-8, the conditions for the imposition of quotas were fulfilled over the period running from May 2011 through April 2012, although not for short-term residence permits (category L permits)2. A quota of some 2,000 category B permits, as provided for in the AFM, is to be imposed beginning on 1 May 2012 and is to remain in force for a year. Before the end of this 12-month period, the Federal Council is to make a new assessment of the situation and to decide whether or not to extend the imposition of quotas up until 31 May 2014. Past this date, unrestricted freedom of movement will apply to all citizens of the EU-25/EFTA States.
In weighing its interests, the Federal Council took into account the fact that the free movement of persons provides a good number of advantages to the Swiss economy. During the recession, immigration from the EU countries had a positive impact on consumer spending and construction investments, thereby leveraging the Swiss economy. More than 1.1 million citizens from the EU are living in Switzerland. Together with cross-border workers, they make a crucial contribution to the Swiss economy and to the creation and preservation of jobs.
Over the past months, however, the Federal Council has noticed that the complexity of the immigration theme necessitates a debate on measures in the domains of the job market (including accompanying measures) and integration, and that such a discussion must unfold taking into full account the considerations of economic policy.
In invoking the safeguard clause, the Federal Council is seeking to apply one of the means at its disposal to control the immigration flow into Switzerland. Nonetheless, the Federal Council also realizes that this instrument can only exert a short-term effect and that other, long-term measures are needed.
Along these same lines, the Federal Council has commissioned the Federal Department of Economic Affairs (FDEA) to develop concrete proposals to resolve the issue of non-compliance of subcontractors with minimum wage regulations and minimum working conditions. In addition, the Federal Council has mandated the FDJP and the FDEA to examine the possibility of having workers from all of the EU/EFTA States report their wages upon entry into Switzerland to take up employment, when completing the formalities of registration with the authorities.
Both of these assignments are in keeping with the spirit of the proposals made in the Economic Affairs and Taxation committees of the Council of States and the National Council within the frame of consultations on the adaptation of the Federal Act on accompanying measures.
In terms of fostering integration, the Federal Council has mandated the FDJP to examine whether an additional increase in the contribution of the Confederation is advisable in the light of immigration from the EU/EFTA space. Such an enhancement by the Confederation in the fostering of integration could unfold within the framework conditions that the Federal Council and the cantonal governments agreed to last year. Beginning in 2014, fostering of integration is to take place by means of cantonal integration programmes which are fine-tuned to the given situation of the individual canton and to the specific type of immigration.
1 EU-8: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Hungary.
2 Residence permits of category B are granted to persons who possess an employment contract in Switzerland that is valid for more than a year or for an unlimited period, and to individuals who are self-employed. Short residence permits of category L are granted to foreign workers whose employment contract is valid for up to one year.
Since 1 May 2011, i.e., ever since the introduction of the unrestricted free movement of persons with respect to the EU-8 States, a total of some 6,000 B residence permits have been granted to workers from the eight East-European States. In the three previous years, on the other hand, an average of 2,075 permits had been granted per year. This means that the threshold number of B residents permits needed to invoke the protective clause was equal to 2,283 permits.
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