The Swiss government has announced plans to limit immigration from EU countries in Western Europe. Switzerland says there is growing unease about a rising number of foreigners. The EU has criticized the decision.
The Swiss government announced on Wednesday that immigration limits to all European Union countries would be extended beyond existing restriction to newly joined members.
Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU but which is a member of the "borderless" visa-free Schengen zone, said the measures would apply starting from next month.
The government announced that for a one-year period from May, a maximum of 2,180 long-term residence permits would be issued to migrants from recently-joined EU member states, with 53,700 issued to members from established EU members.
However, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the move ran counter to an agreement between Brussels and Bern.
"These measures disregard the great benefits that the free movement of persons brings to the citizens of both Switzerland and the EU," Ashton said.
However, Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said the country was merely extending a "safeguard clause" that it already applied to long-term permits for the citizens of eight eastern European countries.
"The government does not view the invocation of the safeguard clause as an unfriendly act towards the EU," Sommaruga told reporters. "It's a fact that there is unease among the population, and it's necessary to take this unease seriously," she added.
More entering than leaving
A Swiss government statement cited figures showing that the number of foreigners arriving in the country to work had been up to 80,000 more than the number leaving.
The step comes after initiatives were launched by the far-right Swiss People's Party and right-wing ecological group Ecopop calling for referenda on the subject of immigration.
The news came on the same day that Switzerland was reported to have welcomed a new celebrity citizen, albeit from outside the EU. A municipal official was reported by the DPA news agency to have confirmed reports in the Swiss tabloid Blick that US rock star Tina Turner had received a Swiss passport, having lived in the country for most of the past two decades.
rc/kms (AP, dpa, AFP)