Swiss voters on 9 February backed an initiative to reintroduce immigration quotas which would breach the principle of free movement of persons between the EU and Switzerland - ©BELGA/DPA/R.Hirschberger 

Switzerland must take stock of the possible consequences of its 9 November referendum vote to impose immigration quotas, not least for its own citizens and economy, said political group leaders debating the outcome on Wednesday. 440,000 Swiss nationals live, study and work in EU countries, noted Commissioner László Andor.

On behalf of the Council’s Presidency and the EU Commission, Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Kourkoulas and Commissioner Andor stressed that the whole package of Switzerland’s partnership agreements with the EU would be jeopardised if Switzerland were to impose immigration quotas as requested by a slim majority of voters in the 9 November referendum, thus restricting free movement of citizens and workers. Both urged the Swiss government to sign the protocol extending freedom of movement to the most recent EU member state Croatia, as required by the Schengen agreement.

“A deal is a deal, a package is a package”, and the “free movement of citizens and workers is not negotiable”, said Mr Andor, adding that the EU would suspend negotiations for Switzerland to take part in EU programmes for researchers and students (Horizon2020 and Erasmus+) until Switzerland signed the protocol with Croatia.

“The Swiss Government has acknowledged that there is now a systemic change in our relationship arising from the referendum outcome. It also acknowledges, as we do, that there is now a period of great uncertainty in Switzerland”, said Mairead McGuiness (EPP, IE), adding that if Switzerland is unable to sign the protocol allowing Croatian citizens to enjoy freedom of movement, the negotiations on Horizon2020 and Erasmus+ should be cancelled.

"This is a fundamental decision by the Swiss people, beyond immigration issues: to maintain a tight relationship with the EU or not. (…) Switzerland wants our money – including money from tax evasion – but not our workers. This is not acceptable for us”, said Hannes Swoboda (S&D, AT).

Pat the Cope Gallagher (ALDE, IE), also expressed disappointment at the referendum outcome. He underlined the negative consequences for Switzerland, saying that introducing quotas means that 80,000 jobs may not be created there in the future. "The EU should refrain from anything perceived as retaliation. We need to take into account the new legal situation and react accordingly", he added.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit (Greens/EFA, DE) said that the Swiss "can't have their cake and eat it too". He noted that 60% of Swiss exports go to the EU, and said it is now "up to them to find a solution". The EU "must not budge an inch", and the Swiss "will come back to us on their knees", he added.

"We need to recognise that migration can put significant pressures on public services and listen to the local communities’ concerns. Immigration brings great benefits to our economy, and we all benefit from this sharing of knowledge. We need to listen carefully to both sides of the argument", said Vicky Ford (ECR, UK).

Triantaphyllides Kyriacos (GUE/NGL, EL) said the Swiss referendum outcome amounted to discrimination against migrant workers and an attack on workers' rights. It shows that for the Swiss, the “free movement of capital is a priority, but not the rights of workers - this fuels racism and xenophobia”, he added.

Mara Bizzotto (EFD, IT) said that the EU should not condemn the Switzerland’s decision. She noted that in Italy, many millions are at risk of poverty, and said "jobs should go to them and not to migrants".

Philip Claeys (NI, BE) said that the Swiss referendum outcome "had nothing to do with xenophobia", adding that "The reactions in the debate reveal the authoritarian character of the EU".

You can review the debate debate via EP Live and EbS+.