Tue, Feb 18, 2014 - Page 15 News List

EU stops talks on research, education with Switzerland

REPERCUSSIONS:The move follows Berne’s announcement last week that it will not sign a labor pact with Croatia. It could cost Swiss researchers billions of euros in funding

Reuters, BRUSSELS and ZURICH, Switzerland

The EU said on Sunday it has postponed negotiations with Switzerland on its participation in multibillion-dollar research and educational schemes in the latest fallout from a shock Swiss vote in favor of immigration curbs.

The decision follows Switzerland’s announcement that the result of last week’s referendum on immigration means that it will not be able to sign a labor market pact with new EU member Croatia on July 1 as planned.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has said that the narrow Swiss vote to restore quotas for migrants from the EU in breach of an accord with Brussels, would have “serious consequences” for relations between the wealthy Alpine nation and the 28-member union surrounding it.

Free movement of labor is one of the EU’s fundamental principles.

In one immediate consequence, the European Commission said it was postponing talks on Swiss participation in both the EU’s 80 billion euro (US$109 billion) Horizon 2020 research program and its 14.7 billion euro Erasmus+ educational exchange program.

Both schemes cover the period from this year to 2020.

A commission spokesman said there was a close link between Swiss participation in Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ and the planned Swiss agreement with Croatia as the EU schemes involved the free movement of researchers and students.

“The protocol [with Croatia] has not been signed yet. Given the circumstances and in the absence of a clear political signal to do so, upcoming negotiation rounds have been postponed until Switzerland signs the protocol,” he said.

The EU has already put on hold talks on a cross-border electricity agreement with Switzerland.

Under the previous EU research program, which ended last year, Swiss researchers were awarded 1.8 billion euros in EU funding for research in areas such as information technology, health and nanosciences, EU Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, said in a speech in Berne last month.

Erasmus+ will provide opportunities for more than 4 million Europeans to study, train, gain work experience or volunteer abroad.

In an interview last week, Barroso hinted at more far-reaching consequences from the vote, saying that Switzerland could not expect to enjoy all the benefits of the EU, the world’s biggest market, without reciprocal access.

While he did not spell out any specific sanctions, Barroso implied that Swiss could lose the right to live and work in the EU, and Swiss companies might also face obstacles.

Swiss government spokesman Philipp Schwander said earlier on Sunday that Switzerland could not sign the labor market pact with Croatia in the agreed form “due to the new constitutional provision provided by the Feb. 9 vote.”

He said Switzerland was still keen to seal the deal with Croatia in a way that took the vote into account and did not discriminate against Croatian workers.

The referendum, backed by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), has sent Swiss diplomats scrambling to attempt to contain the damage in Brussels.

Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga was scheduled to be in Austria yesterday for a previously planned trip, while Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter will fly to Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel today.

Swiss newspapers were full of suggestions for what to do next, including calls by the Socialist Party for a new vote.

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