BRUSSELS - Switzerland is imposing quotas on work permits for EU citizens despite objections from Brussels.
The federal government said on Wednesday (24 April) it will give just 2,180 five-year residency permits over the next 12 months to people from eight eastern European countries, such as Poland and Slovakia.
It is planning to give 53,700 permits to people from 17 remaining, wealthier EU counties. Bulgaria and Romania are covered by a separate migration regime until 2016.
Short-stay permits for up to one year will not be affected.
A government statement said it has the right to set limits under a "safeguard clause" in its 1999 EU agreement on free movement because it is seeing up to 80,000 extra arrivals each year.
It said some nice things about EU migrants.
It noted that the 1.2 million EU citizens who already live in the 8-million-strong country have "had a positive impact … in particular in terms of consumer spending and on the construction industry."
But amid pressure for action by far-right politicians, it added that the curbs are needed to "make immigration more acceptable to society."
It also hinted that some EU migrants are welfare cheats who gobble up "affordable housing" and who overburden Swiss infrastructure.
"It is … important to consistently combat abuses in the area of immigration law and social security," it said.
"It's a fact that there is unease among the population, and it's necessary to take this unease seriously," Swiss justice minister Simonetta Sommaruga told press.
For her part, EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton rebuked Bern, saying she "regrets" the move and underlining the "great benefits" of EU-Swiss work mobility.
She noted that the split in permit quotas between the EU8 and EU17 groups is illegal because the 1999 agreement does not allow it to differentiate between EU countries.
The Swiss decision is the second year in a row it has invoked the safeguard clause for the EU8.
The clause will expire once and for all in May 2014.