GENEVA Switzerland said it will reintroduce quotas for European Union workers, bowing to growing unease about immigration from poorer neighbors, in a decision Brussels says violates an accord.
Prosperous, landlocked Switzerland has seen the net influx of workers rise to up to 80,0000 a year, contributing to a house price bubble and prompting criticism from right-wing parties.
The Swiss Federal Council said on Wednesday the quotas, effective for 12 months, will apply to eight central and eastern European countries including Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.
They will likely be extended to a further 17 countries in western and southern Europe in June, it added.
Under the terms of the 1999 Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons, non-EU Switzerland may invoke a "safeguard clause" which allows temporary caps on work permits if the annual influx exceeds a certain number.
" came to the conclusion that the safeguard clause is one of several measures which can help to make immigration more acceptable to society and compatible with its needs," it said in a statement.
The EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she regretted the Swiss action, adding that it was contrary to the 1999 treaty since the quotas differentiate between countries.
"These measures disregard the great benefits that the free movement of persons brings to the citizens of both Switzerland and the EU," she said in an emailed statement.
Last April, Switzerland temporarily imposed quotas on workers from the same eight eastern European countries.
(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Michael Roddy)