GENEVA (Reuters) - Switzerland will draw up its own plans for limiting the flow of migrants from the European Union if it can not reach agreement with Brussels on the issue before a February 2017 deadline, the foreign minister said on Monday.
The two sides are deadlocked on how to implement a binding Swiss referendum of February 2014 in favour of immigration quotas that would violate a bilateral pact guaranteeing freedom of movement for EU citizens.
The referendum must go into effect by February next year and, with no agreement with the EU yet, Switzerland is preparing to take unilateral action.
“In all likelihood, we will go to parliament with a unilateral clause,” Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter told reporters in Geneva after addressing the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Switzerland’s cabinet is expected to send a draft law to parliament on Friday but Burkhalter said Switzerland still wanted to find a common solution with the EU.
“We remain interested in this discussion, which could for example, let’s say, reach a conclusion during the summer.”
In December, the Swiss government asked its justice department to draft unilateral curbs on immigration by March 2016 in the event there was no breakthrough in the EU talks.
The February 2014 referendum, spearheaded by the anti-immigration Swiss People’s Party (SVP), has jeopardised a host of other Swiss-EU treaties that govern bilateral economic ties with the country’s largest trading partner and stand or fall together.
Burkhalter said it was “positive” that a date, June 23, had now been set for Britain’s referendum on whether to stay in the EU or leave, before which little progress can be expected in the talks involving Switzerland.
“They say nothing will be possible with you (the Swiss) before the British referendum,” Roberto Balzaretti, the Swiss ambassador to the European Union, told Reuters in an interview last Friday.
The EU’s priority was to take “no risk with the British debate”, Burkhalter said.
The European Commission has said it aims to find a solution on the Swiss issue this year.
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Richard Balmforth
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.