BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Switzerland stands to lose more than the EU from a vote to restrict immigration because it cannot enjoy all the benefits of the world’s biggest market without reciprocal access, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said.
In an interview for a Reuters Euro Zone Summit, Barroso said the narrow Swiss referendum vote to restore quotas for migrants in breach of an agreement with the EU, would have “serious consequences” for relations between the wealthy Alpine nation and the 28-member union that surrounds it.
While he did not spell out any specific sanctions, Barroso implied that Swiss people could lose the right to live and work in the EU, including neighboring Germany, France and Italy, and Swiss companies might also face obstacles.
“In terms of reciprocity, it’s not appropriate that Swiss citizens have unrestricted freedom of movement in the European Union - I think there are 430,000 here, which in relative terms is more than the 1 million European citizens that are in Switzerland,” he said.
Switzerland has a population of 8 million, one quarter foreigners, while the EU has 500 million.
“It’s not fair that one country has all these advantages and does not want to give partners the same kind of advantages,” Barroso said.
It was up to the Swiss government to find a way to turn the vaguely worded referendum decision into law while respecting its agreements with the EU.
The Swiss business community and most mainstream political parties had opposed the vote because they realized the damage it could wreak on their landlocked country’s economy, he said.
“In relative terms you can understand that it’s certainly more important for Switzerland to have access to this market, which is the biggest market in the world, than for the EU to have access to Switzerland, which is a very important country.”
Swiss businesses said the vote to reintroduce immigration quotas, backed by a margin of just 19,526 voters, threatened an economy that relies on the EU for nearly a fifth of its workers.
Switzerland is home to food and beverage giant Nestle NESN.VX, drugmakers Novartis NOVN.VX and Roche ROG.VX, global banks UBS UBS.VX and Credit Suisse CSGN.VX, and commodities dealers such as Glencore Xstrata (GLEN.L) and Louis Dreyfus Commodities.
The European Commission chief, who lived six years in Switzerland as a postgraduate student, said the EU would fight to defend freedom of movement of people and workers as one of its fundamental values, criticizing calls by EU member Britain to reconsider labor migration from poorer EU states.
“The fact that Switzerland is smaller than the EU already gives them some privilege, because we have given Switzerland a situation that no other country in the world enjoys,” he said.
Editing by Mike Peacock