* Decision follows Swiss vote to limit immigration
* Talks halted on multibillion-dollar programmes
* Switzerland scrambles to contain damage from vote
(Adds EU postponing talks)
By Adrian Croft and Katharina Bart
BRUSSELS/ZURICH, Feb 16 The European Union said
on Sunday it has postponed negotiations with Switzerland on its
participation in multibillion-dollar research and educational
schemes in the latest fallout from a shock Swiss vote in favour
of immigration curbs.
The decision follows Switzerland's announcement that the
result of last week's referendum on immigration means that it
will not be able to sign a labour market pact with new EU member
Croatia on July 1 as planned.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has warned
that the narrow Swiss vote to restore quotas for migrants from
the EU in breach of an accord with Brussels, would have "serious
consequences" for relations between the wealthy Alpine nation
and the 28-member union surrounding it.
Free movement of labour is one of the EU's fundamental
In one immediate consequence, the EU's executive Commission
said it was postponing talks on Swiss participation in both the
EU's 80-billion-euro ($109 billion) Horizon 2020 research
programme and its 14.7-billion-euro Erasmus+ educational
exchange programme. Both schemes cover the period from 2014 to
A Commission spokesman said there was a close link between
Swiss participation in Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ and the planned
Swiss agreement with Croatia as the EU schemes involved the free
movement of researchers and students.
"The protocol (with Croatia) has not been signed yet. Given
the circumstances and in the absence of a clear political signal
to do so, upcoming negotiation rounds have been postponed until
Switzerland signs the protocol," he said.
The EU has already put on hold talks on a cross-border
electricity agreement with Switzerland.
BENEFITS VS CONSEQUENCES
The EU allows some non-EU countries to participate in its
Horizon 2020 programme, which allocates grants to fund
world-class science projects, and Erasmus+.
Under the previous EU research programme, which ended last
year, Swiss researchers were awarded 1.8 billion euros in EU
funding for research in areas such as information technology,
health and nanosciences, EU science commissioner Maire
Geoghegan-Quinn, said in a speech in Berne last month.
Erasmus+ will provide opportunities for more than 4 million
Europeans to study, train, gain work experience or volunteer
In an interview with Reuters last week, Barroso hinted at
more far-reaching consequences from the vote, saying Switzerland
could not enjoy all the benefits of the EU, the world's biggest
market, without reciprocal access.
While he did not spell out any specific sanctions, Barroso
implied that Swiss people could lose the right to live and work
in the EU, and Swiss companies might also face obstacles.
Swiss government spokesman Philipp Schwander said earlier on
Sunday that Switzerland could not sign the labour market pact
with Croatia in the agreed form "due to the new constitutional
provision provided by the Feb. 9 vote."
He said Switzerland was still keen to seal the deal with
Croatia in a way that took the vote into account and did not
discriminate against Croatian workers.
The referendum, backed by the right-wing Swiss People's
Party (SVP), has sent Swiss diplomats scrambling to contain the
damage in Brussels.
Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga will be in Austria for
a previously planned trip on Monday, while Foreign Minister
Didier Burkhalter will fly to Berlin to meet German chancellor
Angela Merkel on Tuesday.
Swiss newspapers were full of suggestions for what to do
next, including calls by the Socialist Party for a new vote.
Swiss business leaders say they are increasingly concerned
about other popular votes coming up, including one on May 18 to
install the world's highest minimum wage, 22 Swiss francs
($24.17) an hour. Another, set for late in the year, seeks to
cap population growth through immigration at 0.2 percent a year.
($1 = 0.7307 euros)
(Reporting by Katharina Bart; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Jan