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EU parliament strained over Swiss immigration vote

26th February 2014, Comments 0 comments

A European Parliament debate Wednesday on Switzerland's controversial decision to curb immigration erupted into a barrage of bitter exchanges and insults between right and left-wing lawmakers.

Brandishing a Swiss flag, Italian deputy Mario Borghezio, a member of the populist, anti-immigration Northern League, interrupted the debate by shouting: "Yes to the referendum! Yes to the people's freedom!

"Enough of European dictatorship over the people!" he added in Italian and French, before being sternly asked to leave the chamber.

A war of words then broke out between Germany's Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the parliamentary leader of the Green party, and Bruno Gollnisch, a member of France's far-right National Front.

"You're complete cretins because you haven't understood Europe's values," Cohn-Bendit told his right-wing rival.

"I'm full of admiration for his intelligence and full of humility for my own cretinism," Gollnisch shot back sarcastically.

Cohn-Bendit later predicted the Swiss would "come back on their knees because they need Europe", saying 60 percent of Switzerland's exports go to the European Union.

"It's up to Switzerland to find solutions, it's up to Switzerland to set its watches to the right time," he said.

The EU's ties with non-member Switzerland have been strained by the Swiss referendum on February 9, when the country voted by a razor-thin margin to establish immigration quotas -- jeopardising a series of agreements with the EU.

Switzerland counts the EU as a main trading partner, but many voters complain that giving equal footing to EU citizens in the Swiss labour market is hurting locals.

The referendum gives Switzerland three years to renegotiate its entire labour-market deal with the EU, with the current rules staying in force in the meantime.

Switzerland and the EU have taken tit-for-tat shots at each other since the referendum.

On Sunday, the EU said it had suspended Swiss participation in its research and education programmes, after Switzerland called off a deal opening labour market access to Croatia within a decade.

© 2014 AFP

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