Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas has spoken out against Switzerland’s decision to reintroduce an authorization requirement for workers from the eight East European countries that joined the EU in 2004.
“While we understand that opening the labor market for foreign workers in Switzerland is a sensitive issue, economic analyses proved that the benefits of free market and free movement of workforce are undisputable,” Nečas, chairman of the center-right Civic Democrats (ODS), told the news server EurActiv.cz in a statement.
The Swiss government said in a statement April 18 that as of May 1 nationals of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia would have to seek the authorization. It said while the 1.1 million EU citizens in the country of 7.9 million benefited its economy, integration and compliance with minimum wage and working conditions were a cause for concern.
Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said she considered the decision taken by the Swiss Federal Council to be in breach of the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons as amended by the Protocol of 2004.
“The agreement does not allow for any differentiation between EU citizens. This measure is neither economically justified by the labor market situation nor by the number of EU citizens seeking residence in Switzerland,” Ashton said in a statement.
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg (TOP 09) called the move “clear discrimination” while signing on to a joint statement issued Thursday by his counterparts in the so-called Visegrád Four countries (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) denouncing the move as undermining Switzerland’s stance as an open and free country:
“We deplore this measure firstly because the Swiss authorities differentiate among EU Member States by singling out selected countries—even though some of our states did not fulfill migrant worker quotas—and, secondly, because we see this as a purely political decision, with our countries representing only 10 percent of the EU migrant workers in Switzerland.
“Thirdly, we are convinced that at a time of crisis, we must strengthen—and not weaken—European economic freedoms. Indeed, many Swiss companies profit from the common market and are active in our respective countries with their 65 million consumers.”
Nečas told EurActiv.cz he considered the timing unfortunate as well, echoing the Visegrád Four statement. “Especially in times of economic crisis, there is a need for opening markets. The experience of many other countries and expert evidence shows that free movement of workers has no tangible impact on employment of local citizens,” he said.
According to the Swiss daily Le Quotidien Jurassien, the safeguard clause will cut from 6,000 to 2,000 the number of B-type long-term residence permits granted to Czechs and other Eastern Europeans. The country issues 60,000 such permits every year.