Croatia joined the European Union (EU) on 1 July 2013. Croatia’s accession does not have any immediate bearing on the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP) concluded between Switzerland and the EU. Each time a new member joins the EU, the agreement is supplemented by an additional protocol. Extension of the AFMP to Croatia was initially negotiated in Protocol III, which provided full free movement of persons for Croatian nationals following a ten-year transitional period.
However, in February 2014, the Swiss electorate adopted a popular initiative aimed at stopping mass immigration. As a result, the Federal Council was no longer in a position to sign Protocol III because it violates the new constitutional provisions.
In February 2015, the Federal Council managed to work with its EU partners to establish a new basis on which to move forward: both Switzerland and the EU agree that they should strive for a mutually amenable solution based on a common interpretation of the existing safeguard clause (Art. 14.2 AFMP). This became necessary after Art. 121a was added to the Federal Constitution in response to voter approval of the popular initiative to stop mass immigration.
With this new basis, the Federal Council signed Protocol III and the corresponding Federal Council Dispatch on 4 March 2016. It now intends to submit Protocol III to the Swiss Parliament for ratification (i.e. legally binding enactment), which should occur if a solution has been found that is compatible with the AFMP. There are two reasons why signature of Protocol III and parliamentary scrutiny are important: first, doing so lays the foundation for Croatian nationals to enjoy the same privileges as citizens of other EU member states; second, it is an important step for full-fledged membership of Switzerland in the new research framework programme Horizon 2020.
Until Protocol III comes into effect, Switzerland will continue to apply separate quotas for Croatian nationals; access to the Swiss labour market will remain subject to the provisions of the Foreign Nationals Act (FNA, SR 142.20). These quotas comprise 50 one-year B permits and 450 short-term L permits.