Swiss to allow ‘complete’ free movement of people from Croatia

Switzerland announced Friday that it will grant "complete free movement" for people in EU-member Croatia to live and work in the country from January.

A Croatian flag and a European Union (EU) flag
A Croatian flag and a European Union (EU) flag. Croatia is a full member of the EU. Croatians will soon be able to come to Switzerland under free movement rules. STR / AFP

Switzerland informed the EU of the decision at a meeting on Friday of the Switzerland-EU Joint Committee on the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons.

Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, but the two economic partners signed an agreement on the free movement of people in 1999, which came into force in 2002.

EXPLAINED: What’s the difference between permanent residence and Swiss citizenship?

That deal allows Swiss nationals and those of EU member states to freely choose their place of work and residence within those nations. But the agreement includes transitional stages.

Croatia joined the European Union in 2013 and since 2017 Croatian citizens have enjoyed free movement in Switzerland, but labour restrictions have been maintained.

READ MORE: An essential guide to Swiss work permits

These restrictions will end on January 1, 2022.

“This will put Croatian workers on an equal footing with those from other EU member states or the European Free Trade Association,” an organisation that includes Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, the Swiss State Secretariat for Migration said in a statement.

“If the immigration of Croatian workers exceeds a certain threshold, Switzerland will be able to invoke a safeguard clause and limit the number of permits again from 1 January 2023 until the end of 2026 at the latest,” it added.

As of the end of 2020, 28,324 Croatian nationals were living in Switzerland, six more than a year earlier. This number represents 1.9 percent of the total number of EU and EFTA nationals living in Switzerland.

Residence permits: How EU and EFTA citizens can live, work and stay in Switzerland

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Swiss call for ‘calm and creativity’ to fix rift with EU

Swiss President Ignazio Cassis called for "calm and creativity" to fix Switzerland's thorny relations with the European Union.

Swiss President Ignazio Cassis. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
Swiss President Ignazio Cassis. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Ties between Brussels and Bern have been strained since non-EU member Switzerland suddenly decided in May 2021 to end years of discussion towards a broad cooperation agreement with the bloc.

Cassis said that in sorting out Bern’s future relationship with Brussels, Switzerland must get away from “purely technical and institutional questions” and instead focus on matters of content.

“It is only when we have enriched the content, when politics and society recognise the material gains that Switzerland can expect, that an institutional rapprochement will be accepted,” he told the SonntagsZeitung newspaper.

The situation needs “a little calm and creativity”, he added.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why is Switzerland always neutral?

Landlocked Switzerland is surrounded by the EU, which is its main economic partner.

The years of talks on a framework agreement hit an impasse after the EU refused to budge on Swiss demands to exclude key issues relating to state aid, wage protections and freedom of movement.

EU-Swiss ties are currently governed by a patchwork of agreements, and for more than a decade discussions were ongoing towards an overarching accord that would have harmonised the legal framework governing the relationship.

The agreement would also have established a dispute settlement mechanism. 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why did Switzerland call off EU talks and what are the consequences?

Looking beyond single market

But Switzerland is reluctant to meet EU demands for budget contributions and alignment on European rules as the price to keep free access to the vast EU market.

Cassis said Switzerland should not simply be looking at the EU’s internal market but also cooperation in fields such as health, research and culture.

He said the Swiss government was setting out the framework for a possible package of agreements with Brussels, or at least an agenda for talks.

Cassis said both sides had an interest in regularising their relations. Switzerland is the EU’s fourth-largest trading partner and 1.4 million EU citizens live in the country of 8.6 million people.

EXPLAINED: Why is Switzerland not part of the European Union?

“Unstable relations are not a long-term solution, neither for us nor for the EU,” said Cassis.

Cassis said Switzerland should gravitate closer to Brussels for geopolitical reasons, in a tripolar world of the United States, Russia with China, and the EU as the third power.

“The pressure on Switzerland to maintain closer ties with Europe will increase. Because the EU is closest to us economically, ideologically and socially,” he said.

However, Cassis said that Bern should stand up to pressure from Brussels for a closer political relationship.

“We cannot simply abandon our principles, take wage protection and immigration lightly and thus jeopardise social peace,” he said.