Swiss mull tougher rules for foreigners, minimum tax
Switzerland votes in a referendum Sunday on whether it should automatically expel foreign residents convicted of certain crimes, a proposal that has brought protests from human rights campaigners.
And from the other end of the political spectrum, they will also vote on a proposal to cap tax competition by introducing a minimum tax rate across the board.
Both proposals have sparked bitter debate in the country.
A year after successfully backing a push for the country to ban the construction of minarets, the far-right Swiss People's Party has mounted another aggressive campaign.
This time they want to get Switzerland to clamp down on foreigners guilty of certain crimes by stripping them of their right to remain.
Its signature poster illustrates a white sheep kicking a black sheep out of the Swiss flag. Another poster depicts a gangster-like man with the slogan "Ivan S., rapist, and soon a Swiss?"
"It's very simple: we think that people we welcome in Switzerland should respect the rules of this country," Fabrice Moscheni, president of the SVP in canton Vaud, told AFP.
"If they don't respect these rules, they should be going away and expelled from our territory," he added.
"If you welcome somebody to your house, and he comes and destroys everything, I don't think you want him to come back."
The party's campaign appears to be working. Latest polls indicate that 54 percent are in favour, and 43 percent against, with just three percent undecided.
Judges can already issue expulsion orders for foreign criminals, but the SVP's proposal goes further.
It would require automatic expulsions for those found guilty of "rape, serious sexual offence, acts of violence such as robbery," drug trafficking, as well as "abuse of social aid."
According to the Federal Office of Migration, some 350 to 400 people are expelled every year, but if the initiative was adopted, this figure would rise to 1,500.
Critics object that the initiative smacks of discrimination, and that it runs in the same xenophobic vein as that of the minarets.
Amnesty International and the Socialist Party have also noted that the initiative is against international conventions, as it could see refugees sent back to their home countries where they risk being tortured or even killed.
The government has also opposed the initiative.
It proposes instead expulsion orders judged on a case-by-case basis for foreigners convicted of a set list of violent crimes, and Swiss voters will also get to vote on that counter proposal.
The Socialist Party meanwhile has launched a campaign for "more tax justice", asking the Swiss to approve a minimum tax rate of 22 percent for people earning more than 250,000 francs.
The move would cap the right of individual cantons and communes to set their own tax rates and force the country's wealthiest to pay more to the taxmen.
Some industrialists such as lift magnate Alfred Schindler have threatened to pack up and leave if the proposal is adopted.
The chief executive of the Schlinder Group argued that the move "puts everyone's prosperity in danger, from simple employees to top earners" and that he no longer felt welcomed in his home country.
The government and centre-right parties have all opposed the proposal, warning that it would dilute Switzerland's attractiveness.
But proponents believe that the tax competition is fueling a race to the bottom with cantons giving multi-millionaires ever more tax rebates in order to attract them as residents.
"The referendum aims for more tax justice: first between high and low income and assets, because the superrich will no longer be privileged compared to the rest of the population," said the Socialist Party.
"And secondly between the cantons -- because the tax differences would not widen," it added.
Latest polls by Swiss public television and radio indicate that the vote would be close, with 46 percent currently in favour, 39 percent against and 15 percent undecided.
© 2010 AFP