Swiss upper house seeks to avoid immigration clash with EU
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Swiss upper house Political Institutions Committee President and Councilor of State Peter Foehn (L) and member Pirmin Bischof attend a news conference on the mass immigration initiative in Bern, Switzerland November 7, 2016. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich
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By Michael Shields
ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland's push to curb immigration from the European Union by giving hiring preference to local people rather than setting quotas for newcomers will go the upper house of parliament next month, after a draft bill supporting that approach got the most support in a committee vote on Monday.
The draft mostly mirrors a bill the lower house approved in September. It aims to avoid a clash with the EU over free movement of people, which is enshrined by treaty and required for enhanced Swiss access to the EU single market.
The arrangement has been put at risk by a 2014 Swiss referendum demanding immigration quotas. Parliament is supposed to put that into effect by February, but so far it has chosen a compromise approach that favors preserving EU economic ties.
The full upper house still needs to adopt the legislation, which differs from the lower house's version. The draft that won a committee majority on Monday would apply only to sectors of the economy with above-average levels of unemployment.
"That means for everyone else there is full freedom of movement," Philipp Mueller, a pro-business EDP party member and architect of the draft, told a news conference in Bern.
His plan - opposed by the right-wing Swiss People's Party, the biggest in parliament - would make employers notify job centers about vacancies and explain if necessary why they did not hire local job seekers sent along to apply.
The debate in Switzerland, a non-EU member, echoes in many ways the situation in Britain, which voted in June to quit the EU, largely to control immigration that critics said was putting too much of a strain on social infrastructure.
Proponents say the Swiss local preference approach does not violate free movement and thus needs no EU approval. That view is not shared by Brussels or EU member states concerned that any flexibility granted the Swiss might be seized on by British negotiators working out post-tertiary ties to the EU.
"We can expect the normal sabre-rattling from Brussels," Mueller said. "We are used to this by now."
In any event, voters look set to decide for a second time whether to impose curbs on immigration from the EU or reaffirm close economic ties with the bloc after the government said last month the issue deserved another referendum.
Under the Swiss system of direct democracy, its voters get the final say, and political analysts think the Swiss are likely to uphold business ties with the EU.
(Editing by Larry King)
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