NEWS

EU president Greece expresses 'regret' over Swiss vote on immigration

The Greek presidency of the European Union has expressed its regret at the result of a referendum in Switzerland halting mass immigration.

“The introduction of quotas on immigration from the EU citizens goes against the principle of free movement of persons between the EU and Switzerland as enshrined in the bilateral agreement in place, which is a key factor in the harmonious development of our relations,” the Greek Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

“The EU will have to examine the implications of the outcome of the vote and is ready to work with the Swiss government in order to find ways to tackle the issues arising therefrom,” Athens added.

Swiss voters on Sunday narrowly backed proposals to reintroduce immigration quotas with the European Union.

While neutral Switzerland is not a member of the EU, its immigration policy is based on free movement of citizens to and from the EU, with some exceptions, as well as allowing in a restricted number of non-EU citizens.

That pact on free movement of people, which came into force 12 years ago, was signed as part of a package of agreements with the EU, some of which could now be in danger of unravelling, to say nothing of the effect on a globally oriented economy that employs large numbers of foreign professionals.

"This is a turning point, a change of system with far- reaching consequences for Switzerland,» Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga told journalists in Berne.

The European Commission in Brussels said in a statement that the vote went against the principle of free movement of people. It said it would examine the implications for its relations with Switzerland, taking into account the position of the government, which had urged citizens to vote 'no'.

"For us, EU-Swiss relations come as a package,» said Hannes Swoboda, a member of the European Parliament. «If Switzerland suspends immigration from the EU, it will not be able to count on all the economic and trade benefits it is currently enjoying. We will not allow ... cherry-picking."

[Kathimerini & Reuters]

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