Juncker said he was looking to develop a unique immigration deal for Switzerland, with the country quickly nearing a February 2017 deadline to implement some form of immigration controls on the movement of EU citizens.
"We are discussing with Switzerland, we have Britain in mind, because these questions are interlinked," Juncker said, but in an attempt to distance the Swiss and British situations, he added that any deal with Bern would be a "Swiss-specific arrangement."
While talks with Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann failed to come to a breakthrough, in the statement, Juncker was optimistic about reaching a deal with Switzerland:
"I'm more optimistic than I was in the past weeks," he said.
The issue of immigration and introducing controls is a controversial matter in Switzerland, with the 50.3 percent of the population voting in favor of a "stop mass immigration" referendum in 2014, despite the country's major parties rejecting such a call.
This means the Swiss government must enact a law on the subject by February 2017.
Same was found in Switzerland's anti-immigration referendum. https://t.co/NqzIsEr0oL— Daniel Thornton (@DanOnGov) July 8, 2016
Although Switzerland is not an EU member state, the bloc's citizens are free to live and work in Switzerland without specific permission, while it is part of the Schengen passport-free travel zone.
With time is running out to try and find a solution, there are fears that Switzerland may be locked out of the European single market if it fails to uphold the basic principle of freedom of movement — something it is almost certain to breach if it introduces immigration controls.
Switzerland has not been able to regain any sovereignty on immigration + has no financial services agreement: former chair of central bank— Janet Royall (@LabourRoyall) September 5, 2016
While the government is working with the EU to try and find a ways to control immigration and remain within the single market, they are under pressure from the anti-immigration Swiss People's Party to introduce significant migration controls on EU citizens.
London Watching Developments Closely
The negotiations have also taken on greater significance in light of the UK's decision to vote in favor of leaving the EU, with any EU-Swiss deal set to act as a precedent to Britain's negotiations with Brussels.
While Juncker acknowledged that had added "another element" to the complicated discussions with Switzerland, he attempted to separate both issues in calling for a unique Swiss option.
Just want to point out that Switzerland lost Erasmus rights and research money after an immigration referendum in 2014 #surreyEUref— Kundan Sawlani (@KundanSawlani) May 20, 2016
There is a fear in Brussels that if the EU offers Switzerland a favorable deal, then negotiators in London will attempt to do the same thing, which would attract criticism from some member states who have stated that they intend to make Brexit negotiations difficult for the UK.
EFTA/EEA member Switzerland is about to jettison free movement and Lichtenstein already has special deal to control immigration #brexit— Alan Day (Brexit) (@CoaghUKIP) June 30, 2016
Meanwhile, given the EU's close trading relationship with Switzerland, there are also concerns that Brussels-Bern trade relationship could suffer significantly if the EU maintains a hardline on Swiss demands for immigration controls.
Negotiations between the two parties are expected to continue in October.