Swiss reject nationalist campaign against mass naturalisations
63.8 percent of Swiss voter reject an anti-immigration initiative that would make it harder for foreigners to gain citizenship.2 June 2008
GENEVA - Swiss voters overwhelmingly rejected an anti-immigrant initiative that would have made it harder for foreigners to gain citizenship, according to referendum results released Sunday.
All but one of 26 Swiss cantons (states) rejected the initiative by the nationalistic Swiss People's Party, while in the overall population 63.8 percent voted 'no', according to official results.
The initiative was aimed at overturning a Supreme Court ruling that barred the widely denounced practice in some Swiss communities of subjecting citizenship applications to a popular vote.
Swiss President Pascal Couchepin welcomed the result.
"The people clearly said: 'we don't want xenophobia and we want direct democracy to respect basic rights,"' Couchepin said on Swiss television SF.
Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said the Swiss had shown they stick to the principle of non-discrimination.
"We make sure that we only naturalise people with sufficient knowledge of one national language, who observe our basic values and legal order," she said.
For the initiative to have passed, a majority of cantons would have had to support it, as well as an overall majority of votes. Turnout for the referendum was 44.1 percent.
More than 20 percent of the 7.5 million population in Switzerland is foreign - one of the highest percentages in Europe.
Supporters of the initiative said they were disappointed.
"The message didn't pass enough that we want the citizens to decide on this important issue," People's Party lawmaker Hans Fehr said, adding that he still believed the requirements for Swiss citizenship should be more stringent.
The party's campaign poster publicising the initiative revived the imagery of brown hands clutching passports that in 2004 helped the party succeed in a similar campaign to curb naturalisations.
Opponents of the initiative said they were relieved.
"We have been able to show that there wasn't much flesh on the bone of the initiative," said Christian Wasserfallen, a lawmaker for the centre-right Radical Free Democratic Party.
Former Supreme Court president Giusep Nay said the result had satisfied all those who support a democratic and free government under the law.
The country's largest labour organisation, Unia, said the outcome sent a clear message against using migration for political purposes, and that the People's Party had failed to gain from its xenophobic campaign.
In some cantons, up to 82 percent of voters rejected the initiative. Only Schwyz canton, in the country's conservative central heartland, voted in favour.
Switzerland has seen a dramatic increase in the number of naturalisations, with 47,607 in 2006, compared with 6,183 in 1990 - even though only 1 percent of foreigners in the Alpine country apply for citizenship each year.
In recent years there has been a surge in numbers of white-collar Germans and other Europeans who move to Switzerland but have no interest in changing passports.
Each Swiss canton decides the process by which foreigners can become citizens, but applicants must have lived in the country for 12 years. Rejected applicants can appeal to the Supreme Court if they claim discrimination or violation of other basic rights.
If Swiss voters had adopted the right-wing initiative, local communities again could have subjected naturalisation candidates to a popular vote, this time without possibility of appeal.
The Federal Tribunal abolished community votes on immigrants five years ago after a referendum in the central Swiss town of Emmen rejected all 48 Eastern European and Turkish candidates for citizenship even though they had been thoroughly reviewed and approved as good inhabitants by local authorities. Eight Italians were approved.
Five former Yugoslavs among those rejected appealed to the Supreme Court, which held that they had been discriminated against because of their ethnic and religious origin. It said in a separate ruling that applicants had a right to know the reason for their rejection, which a public vote makes impossible.
[AP / Expatica]