Swiss want to keep EU deals despite immigration vote: poll

GENEVA (AFP) - The Swiss overwhelmingly want to hold on to a string of deals with the European Union despite voting last week to curb immigration from the bloc, a poll published on Sunday showed.

A full 74 per cent of people surveyed said they were opposed to ripping up the agreements, which cover everything from free movement of people to air traffic to trade barriers, according to the poll in the Sonntags Blick newspaper.

Only 19 per cent of the 1,002 people questioned last week by Isopublic pollsters wanted Switzerland to completely turn its back on EU relations, while 7 per cent were undecided, the poll showed.

The survey was published a week after Swiss voters narrowly approved curbing immigration from the EU, with 50.3 per cent of voters deciding to void a pact giving equal footing to EU citizens in the Swiss labour market.

The vote in favour of the "Stop Mass Immigration" initiative put forward by the rightwing populist Swiss People's Party (SVP), could set in motion a so-called "guillotine clause", freezing the entire package of Swiss-EU deals, including on trade.

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 EU voiced outrage at the referendum result, insisting that Switzerland cannot pick and choose which accords to implement and pledging to review "relations as a whole".

The Feb 9 vote targeted a 1999 agreement under which Switzerland adopted EU freedom of movement rules, which was broadened in 2008 when the country also joined the bloc's Schengen Accord that allows for passport-free travel.

But if Bern and Brussels fail to agree on a way forward and Switzerland voids the free movement accord, the "guillotine" clause comes into force, impacting agreements coving trade and economic ties, market access, and agricultural produce to name a few.

On Saturday, the Swiss justice ministry said it declined to sign a deal opening market access to people from Croatia, the EU's newest member state.