Auteur: | By Honor Mahony
Swiss voters on Sunday voted with a clear majority to open the country's borders to workers from the EU's central and eastern European member states.
In a referendum, 56 percent voted in favour of government plans to extend an agreement with Brussels on the free movement of people to the new member states.
The vote comes as a relief to Brussels, which had been bracing itself for a rejection of the opening of the borders.
"This vote demonstrates that Switzerland and the EU work together successfully to promote the integration of our people and our economies and to strengthen the cohesion of Europe", said commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.
If the Swiss had voted no, it would have put a strain on the country's bilateral relations with the EU and ruptured a series of agreements between Berne and Brussels covering trade and justice and home affairs.
Welcoming the vote, Swiss president Samuel Schmid said "The government is very pleased with the result".
"Today's vote is extremely important, namely for economic growth and the protection of workers", he added.
In the run up to the vote, some politicians had been warning that a yes vote would mean that Switzerland would be flooded with cheap labour from the east.
The yes vote means that Swiss citizens have the right to live anywhere in the EU, while EU citizens may also work and live in Switzerland if they have the means to support themselves.
Previously this arrangement applied only to the 15 'old' member states.
Switzerland has had a series of referendums on the EU. At the last one, in June, the alpine country voted in favour of joining the EU's Schengen zone, its borderless area.