Switzerland must ratify the protocol expanding its agreement on the free movement of workers with the EU to include Croatia by February 9, 2017, Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann said, as quoted by the swissinfo portal on Thursday.
The ratification of the said protocol is expected to make it possible for Croatians to work in Switzerland under the same conditions as other EU citizens.
Switzerland must ratify the protocol before 9 February 2017, Schneider-Ammann said, adding that it was clear that there was no time to lose.
Under a Swiss constitutional amendment on immigration quotas, the Swiss government has three years from a referendum held on 9 February 2014 to pass laws and negotiate international agreements anew or adjust them.
The country was under the obligation to sign the protocol since Croatia joined the EU in 2013, but it refused to do it after the 2014 referendum in which the Swiss voted for introducing quotas for workers from the EU. The country eventually signed the protocol in March this year, but the protocol is yet to be ratified by the Swiss federal parliament.
The ratification of the protocol will enable Croatians to work in Switzerland under the same conditions as other EU citizens.
Due to the discrimination of Croatia, the European Commission has sided with it and threatened Switzerland with withholding aid from some EU programmes.
"We can no longer afford not playing in the Champions League and not being fully involved in the research programme Horizon 2020," Schneider-Ammann said in an interview with the Swiss daily Neue Zeurcher Zeitung, a reference to Switzerland not being part of the programme's financial plan due to its failure to ratify the protocol that expands the EU-Swiss agreement on the free movement of workers to also include Croatia.
Schneider-Amman expects delays in the process of reaching agreement with the EU on Switzerland's decision of February 2014 to restrict immigration from EU countries, which is also expected to be completed by February 9.
Even though Switzerland is not an EU member, if no agreement is reached on immigration, a number of bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the EU could be brought into question.
In the February 2014 referendum, Swiss citizens decided with 50.3% support to restrict immigration, which requires new negotiations on the agreement with the EU.
"We made things more difficult for us on 9 February 2014," Schneider-Amman said but added that the country's constitution included procedures that allowed shifting deadlines despite a referendum outcome.
"We will probably have no choice and will consider it," he said, adding that an agreement was unlikely this summer.
Switzerland and the EU have put on hold their agreement in anticipation of a referendum in Great Britain on the country's exit from the EU, to be held on June 23.
"It is in the EU's interest to normalise relations with Switzerland," the Swiss president concluded.