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EU gives Switzerland time, sticks to bottom line on migration

20 February 2014, 21:47 CET

(BRUSSELS) - The EU said Thursday it cannot compromise on the principle of freedom of movement but will allow Switzerland time to find a solution after a controversial referendum approved immigration curbs.

"It is a serious ... not a minor change which we have to assess calmly," chief operating officer of the EU external affairs service David O'Sullivan said of the referendum outcome.

"Freedom of movement is a fundamental core value" of the European Union and as such is not open for negotiation, O'Sullivan said after talks with Yves Rossier, his counterpart in the Swiss foreign ministry.

At the weekend, Brussels suspended Swiss participation in EU research and education programmes after Bern dropped a market access accord with Croatia following the February 9 referendum.

The country voted by a narrow 50.3 percent to curb immigration into the country, a result which put in jeopardy a whole series of agreements with the EU.

The Swiss government has a long time turn the vote into law and O'Sullivan said both sides could use this to see "whether we can move forward."

"We should use this time to discuss the problem and look at the totality of our relationship," he said, adding: "We are friends, we are family."

Rossier said the vote created "a serious problem" but now it was "important to allow things to calm down ... we must continue to prepare for the future of our relationship."

Switzerland is not a member of the EU but counts the bloc as its main trading partner and its economy is closely intertwined with European and global markets.

The referendum Bern to renegotiate the entire EU labour market deal within three years, with the current rules staying in force in the meantime.

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