September 16, 2016 / 1:42 PM / 3 years ago

Swiss play down talks with Juncker on EU immigration curbs

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker arrives to address the European Parliament during a debate on The State of the European Union in Strasbourg, France, September 14, 2016. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

ZURICH (Reuters) - The Swiss government on Friday played down prospects for a deal on immigration with visiting European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker next week amid an impasse over Swiss efforts to curb arrivals from the EU.

Brussels insists on free movement of people as a condition for allowing enhanced Swiss access to the EU single market, an accord at risk from a Swiss referendum in 2014 demanding immigration quotas. A law on this must be in place by February.

Talks on squaring the circle are stuck ahead of Juncker’s visit on Monday to give an address at the University of Zurich and meet Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann.

“This is a completely ordinary visit. There is nothing at all to negotiate,” government spokesman Andre Simonazzi told a news conference in Berne after a cabinet meeting.

An EU source also played down expectations for the meeting, saying Juncker is officially in Zurich to deliver a Winston Churchill anniversary speech and was simply taking the opportunity to meet Schneider-Amman.

Diplomats have cited hopes the meeting could produce some sort of joint text on the way forward, even if this fell well short of a full agreement.

Any accord would be scrutinised for potential hints of what Britain might expect after its June vote to leave the bloc, in large part to be able to limit immigration from the EU that critics say has pressured jobs, social services and schools.

Simonazzi declined comment on a compromise proposal before the lower house of parliament next week that seeks to defuse the situation by encouraging the hiring of local people rather than overtly limiting outsiders.

Reporting by Michael Shields in Zurich and Philipp Blenkinsop in Brussels; Editing by Toby Chopra

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