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Brussels welcomes progress in EU-Swiss relations after immigration law

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission on Thursday welcomed progress in relations between the EU and Switzerland after Bern avoided a clash with Brussels by passing an immigration law that does not impose outright quotas.

The law aims to curb immigration by giving local people first crack at job opportunities, but does not introduce quotas, as Swiss voters had demanded in a 2014 referendum.

That appeased Brussels, which is unwilling to compromise on the free movement of people - a principle underpinning Swiss access to the EU's single market of 500 million.

Following a meeting of the EU-Switzerland Joint Committee on Thursday, the EU executive said in a statement that the balance achieved in the Swiss law "should make it possible to preserve the integrity of the contractual commitments between the European Union and Switzerland".

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But the Commission said it wanted more clarity and guarantees on access to information about job vacancies and the rights of cross-border commuters.

"The Commission will closely monitor the implementation of this solution. 2017 could be a milestone in the development of closer relations between the European Union and Switzerland, with a view to enhancing still further the vitality of our area of freedom - of all forms of freedom - to the benefit of all our citizens," Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said.

The Swiss law says that at times of economic upheaval, employers in sectors or regions with above-average unemployment rates must inform local job centers of vacancies and obtain the names of job seekers.

The presumption is that local residents will be more likely to register with the centers - although cross-border commuters and any citizens from EU or EFTA countries will be allowed to do so, enabling the Swiss government to argue that it meets the EU's non-discrimination test.

(Reporting by Julia Fioretti; editing by Andrew Roche)

 
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