Swiss support free movement

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Ahead of 8 February vote, polls find Swiss favour free circulation of workers.

GENEVA - Swiss voters back the renewal of a 2002 agreement with the European Union on the free circulation of workers in their country and its extension to new members Bulgaria and Romania, polls published Saturday said.

The issue is the subject of a referendum on 8 February.

One survey found 49 percent of the 1,201 people questioned in favour, 40 percent against and 11 percent undecided. There were regional variations with French-speaking areas strongly in favour, German-speaking areas narrowly in favour and the Italian-speaking south strongly opposed.

The outcome of the vote is important for Switzerland and its relations with the EU. Brussels said that a "no" vote would challenge most of its agreements with the country, a prospect that alarms the government.

The last referendum on the issue, approving the free circulation of EU workers, won with 56 percent of the vote.

As in the past, the right wing parties, the main political force in Switzerland, are calling for a "no" vote, with far right organisations predicting a rush of Romanian and Bulgarian workers into the country, which like its neighbours is suffering from the international economic crisis.

The government is calling for the deal to be approved, aware that the EU is Switzerland's biggest commercial partner and half the national income is earned from exporting to it.

Ministers praise the deal, with Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf telling a newspaper that "many Swiss businesses have been able to create or maintain jobs and find qualified people to fill them."

"On the contrary if we refuse, we shall have to ask ourselves if some businesses won't look at moving abroad."

[AFP / Expatica]

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