ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland’s right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) might be ready to compromise on immigration quotas adopted in a referendum last year that have led to tensions with the European Union, SVP figurehead Christoph Blocher said in a newspaper interview on Sunday.
The February 2014 vote on quotas on immigration from the EU, spearheaded by the SVP, has jeopardized a host of Swiss-EU treaties governing bilateral economic ties because it undermines an agreement guaranteeing the free movement of workers between the EU and Switzerland, which is not a member of the bloc.
In the interview with Sonntagszeitung, Blocher said there could be a new referendum on adjustments to the technical rules contained in the constitutional article that was adopted last year, hinting that the SVP might be ready to abandon the idea of quotas at all costs.
Swiss lawmakers have until 2017 to reconcile the referendum result with the EU pact, otherwise the government must write quotas for EU workers into law regardless of any compromise with the EU.
Asked about the problem of reconciling quotas with bilateral agreements, Blocher, regarded as the SVP’s mastermind, did not respond directly but said: “The important thing is that immigration is massively reduced as has been decided by the people.”
He said the SVP was willing to consider safeguard clauses or other measures, such as higher social contributions for foreign workers, if it thought they would reduce numbers of immigrants.
“If the paragraph with the technical rules has to be adjusted, we would likely need a new constitutional vote,” Blocher said.
The SVP won the biggest share of the vote in last month’s parliamentary election and is set to win a second seat in cabinet when ministers are elected in December.
Monika Ruehl, head of Swiss business lobby economiesuisse, said in a separate interview with SonntagsBlick the SVP had signaled readiness to accept the idea of a safeguard clause that would introduce quotas once immigrant numbers had exceeded a certain level.
Last month, Swiss campaigners said they had gathered enough signatures to force a referendum that aims to overturn the 2014 vote.
Reporting by Silke Koltrowitz; Editing by Ros Russell