ZURICH Switzerland will grant workers from Croatia access to its labor market in a bid to kickstart treaty negotiations with the European Union that were frozen after Swiss voters approved curbs on immigration.
Free movement of people and jobs within its borders is one of the fundamental policies of the EU, and Switzerland, while not a member of the 28-nation bloc despite being a major trading partner, has participated under a pact with Brussels.
Wednesday's move by the Swiss government is part of planned measures aimed at limiting any EU backlash including on issues such as power supply, research and education.
"Today's decisions demonstrate that the Federal Council is pursuing its strategy to push ahead with and coordinate current and future negotiations on various European policy dossiers to achieve the best possible outcome for Switzerland," the government said in a statement.
Croatians, the newest EU members, were to have access to the Swiss jobs market from July and that timing will reinstated under a separate quota system, the Swiss government said.
In addition to allowing Croatians to work in Switzerland and recognizing their qualifications, the Swiss government will also give 45 million Swiss francs ($50.93 million) to Croatia in a so-called enlargement contribution, or spending aimed at reducing economic and social disparities as the EU enlarges.
Ratings agency Moody's has said the immigration curbs, which Switzerland has three years to define and put into law, will harm the Swiss economy and its banking sector in particular.
The Swiss government has said it will draw up an implementation plan by the end of June with the aim of drafting a law by the end of the year.
No representative for either Croatian or the EU was immediately available to comment on the Swiss move.
($1 = 0.8836 Swiss francs)
(Reporting by Katharina Bart; Editing by Louise Ireland)