Continuation and extension of the free movement of persons

Press conference of the Federal Council

Speeches, FDJP, 08.02.2009. The spoken word is imperative

Presentation of Federal Councillor Widmer-Schlumpf, Media Centre House of Parliament, 8 February 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Swiss electorate has approved the continuation of the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons between Switzerland and the EU and its extension to Bulgaria and Romania. The Federal Council welcomes this decision.

This Yes confirms the Swiss migration policy and its continuation. The gradual introduction of the free movement of persons with reference to the two new EU member states of Romania and Bulgaria will start as soon as the parties ratify the relative Protocol II of the Agreement, which will not be before 1 April 2009. The agreed seven-year transitional period begins on the date the Agreement comes into force. During this period Switzerland can continue to limit immigration from these states by setting annual quotas for permits and granting Swiss nationals priority in the labour market.

The referendum text was controversial – among other things due to the decision of the Parliament to combine the two issues of continuation and extension in a single question. In this regard, I wish to make clear once more that this decision may be criticised or supported for political reasons, but the rules set forth by the Constitution have always been respected.

Many Swiss citizens are concerned about the possible repercussions of immigration. I can assure you that we will seriously consider these doubts also in future and take them into account in the implementation of the people's decision. The free movement of persons has to be applied with caution. We will follow closely the development of immigration issues, the effects on the labour market and also the developments concerning the social insurance system and inform the public of the situation on a regular basis.

Should any difficulties arise, we can rely on various safety measures at our disposal: besides the transitional period and the special protective clauses, we have, for example, accompanying measures against salary dumping and agreements on repatriation and police cooperation. We will use these instruments consistently. Today the Swiss people have taken a good and rational decision, which looks to the future.

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