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Europe calling - the Swiss get keen

Swiss authorities have experienced a flood of inquiries from citizens keen to live in European Union countries.

This content was published on September 6, 2002 - 14:42

The sudden increase follows the enactment, on June 1, of Switzerland's bilateral agreements with the EU.

The Swiss, particularly those living near the country's borders, have been quick to educate themselves about the prospect of moving to one of the EU's 15 member states.

Since June 1, the Swiss have been given an almost unfettered freedom of movement throughout the EU's 15 member countries.

For the first time, many Swiss can emigrate to many European countries, chase jobs, and retire abroad.

Germans eager to move to Basel

Similar albeit much reduced rights exist for Europeans seeking to move to Switzerland - something that has triggered a corresponding boom in inquiries from people living just outside Swiss borders.

According to canton Basel city around 300 Germans - most of them employed in the pharmaceutical industry - have taken advantage of the agreements to move into the city, largely because of lower taxes.

In northern Italy, local businesses and hospitals fear the loss of staff to better paid jobs in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino.

A nurse working in the Italian province of Como earns the equivalent of around SFr1,764 ($1169) per month. In Ticino, nurses are paid SFr3,307.

Young and the restless

Roland Flükiger, head of the emigration service of the Federal Commission for Foreigners, says his department has been inundated with telephone and web inquiries.

"And certainly in cantons Basel and Geneva, authorities have been swamped," Flükiger told swissinfo.

"I think many people are informing themselves in a preparatory sense. They want to know their options and want proof that they don't need a resident's permit.

"But despite that, it's hard to say how many will actually go."

Flükiger says the surge in interest has been particularly marked among younger people - between 18 and 35 - and those facing retirement.

"Retirees can now live in these countries without needing a resident's permit, providing they can prove they have enough income to survive without the support of a host country.

"And the in the case of the Swiss, the [state pension] is more than enough".

Problems

But despite the new opportunities - and the associated dreams of living abroad - many hurdles remain.

"It's not always straightforward. People who get excited about the possibility of moving to France, for instance, often leave us very disappointed," Flükiger warns.

The reason is that France, along with Austria and Spain, has chosen to delay working rights to Swiss until 2004. Countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom, however, are immediately open to mobile Swiss.

Flükiger also points out that many local authorities in Europe are not aware of the changes.

"For the Swiss, June 1 was an important date. It ended years of debate and discussion. But in the EU, the changes didn't impact on people or authorities."

Confusion abroad

Flükiger said one woman who contacted his office was eager to open a business on the Greek island of Crete - theoretically possible.

In reality, however, she faced a wall of bureaucratic ignorance. "The local authorities had never heard of this agreement," Flükiger said.

Flükiger, therefore, advises Swiss emigrants to take a diplomatic approach when moving to EU countries, even though citizens are within their legal rights to demand residency in many places.

"There does need to be a bit of subtlety shown in the approach... since every Swiss who moves to the Europe Union now is something of a pioneer."

Rubbery figures

Although the upsurge in interest is undisputed, hard data on the numbers of Swiss moving to EU countries is not yet available.

Flükiger said Switzerland does not maintain emigration records, and relies only on information collected by embassies and cantons.

No workers' exodus

Employer organisations report no apparent changes in worker's aspirations as a result of the bilaterals.

The Swiss business umbrella group, economiesuisse, says it has no evidence of any sudden exodus.

Similarly, the job-placement agency, Manpower, says it has noticed no dramatic change in the job market, while executive headhunters Ergoconsult say few high-powered Swiss appear to be rushing to go abroad.

Roland Keller, the head of Ergoconsult told swissinfo that the opposite appeared to be the case.

"Above all, Germans and French want to work in Switzerland. But very few Swiss want to go abroad," Keller said.

swissinfo, Jacob Greber

Key facts

Since June 1, Swiss can immigrate to EU countries more easily.
Younger Swiss people and those facing retirement show the most interest.
Basel has seen a wave of Germans moving into the city.

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