Switzerland faced the first international consequences of its anti-immigration referendum when the European Union suspended talks on tying Swiss utilities into the EU energy market.
“No technical negotiations on the electricity agreement are foreseen between Switzerland and the EU at the moment in light of the new situation,” European Commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde-Hansen told reporters in Brussels today.
European officials coupled the suspension of the energy talks, under way since 2007, with a warning that Swiss restrictions on workers holding EU passports would jeopardize other accords that stitch together the EU and Swiss economies.
Swiss voters on Feb. 9 endorsed caps on immigration, calling into question market-opening pacts with the EU dating to 2002. Two-thirds of the 1.9 million foreigners in Switzerland are from the EU, according to Swiss data from last August.
“It’s absolutely clear that international obligations must be met and the freedoms for us are indivisible,” Maros Sefcovic, EU commissioner for inter-institutional relations, told reporters. The EU won’t let Switzerland cancel the worker-rights provisions “without affecting everything else,” he said.
The next test will come when Switzerland decides whether to make good on a promise to open its labor market to citizens of Croatia, which joined the EU last year. EU governments endorsed an updated treaty covering Croatia today, leaving the Swiss to make the next move.
Suspension of the electricity talks “isn’t a surprise at all,” Swiss President Didier Burkhalter said, public broadcaster SRF reported. He said the question is whether the EU will halt talks on a broader overhaul of EU-Swiss ties.
Switzerland is surrounded by the EU and does more than half its trade with the 28-nation bloc, though it isn’t a member.
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