EU warns Swiss to respect free movement
Switzerland joins passport-free zone, but citizens can still vote against free movement.28 November 2008
BRUSSELS - The European Union warned Switzerland Thursday that its future in Europe's no-borders zone could be threatened if its citizens vote against free movement.
The warning, on the sidelines of talks with EU interior ministers in Brussels, came as the EU and Switzerland formalised a decision for its land borders to be opened up to Europe from 12 December.
Bern's membership in the passport-free 24-nation Schengen zone would be realised on 29 March, when airport checks would end. The vote is to be held in February.
"We are happy about the Swiss integration into the Schengen area," the EU's French presidency said.
However EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot warned, "If Switzerland were not to respect the principle of free circulation of people or impose restrictions on it, that would pose a major problem and we would have to interrupt Switzerland's presence in Schengen."
"But we have confidence in the Swiss people," he added.
Switzerland, which is not an EU member state, voted in a 2005 referendum to join the Schengen area, which also includes non-EU countries Iceland and Norway.
Swiss Interior Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said that Switzerland was not surprised by the warning.
"It's logical. It would be difficult to remain in Schengen without free circulation," she said.
The vote will allow the Swiss public to endorse recent changes to the Schengen system such as the planned entry of Bulgaria and Romania into the zone, possibly in 2011.
"If the no vote wins, then we will have to find another solution with the European Union," a Swiss justice ministry source said. "There is certainly a danger that we could be forced out of this cooperation" through Schengen.
[AFP / Expatica]