Foreigners in the Swiss capital received a vote of confidence on Sunday. Almost 60% of votes cast – by 22,372 citizens living in Bern – supported a proposal giving non-Swiss residents the right to bring formal suggestions to the Bern city parliament.
The “Regulation over the Political Participation of Foreigners” is a means of integrating immigrants in Swiss life, says local parliamentarian Cristina Anliker-Mansour, who launched the idea on behalf of the Green Coalition – a local offshoot of the leftwing Green Party.
“We started about three years ago, and we really were sure that this step was necessary to include foreigners in political life,” Anliker-Mansour told swissinfo.ch. “And now today we have the acceptance. And we are really glad.”
Anliker-Mansour was once a foreigner herself. Born in Brazil and raised in Peru, she moved to Bern at age 21, and joined the Bern Parliament in 2007. Much of the work she has done in Bern involves foreigners.
A small group of supporters joined Anliker-Mansour in Bern on Sunday to celebrate the results of the vote. Among them was a young man from Mexico who has been in Bern for five years and works with asylum seekers. Asked whether he could imagine submitting a motion, he said: “Yeah, sure! I think this is a good opportunity.”
The participation motion will allow the 33,000 non-Swiss residents of the Swiss capital to submit proposals to the local parliament if they collect at least 200 signatures from other foreigners residing in Bern.
Only adult immigrants with a C (unrestricted), B (temporary), or F (provisionally accepted) residence permit who have lived in the city for three months will be eligible to submit or give signatures for motions. The subject of the motion must be under the jurisdiction of the city parliament.
Reaction to the passage of the motion on the streets of Bern varied.
“I think it’s fantastic!” said a woman from Columbia who lives in Bern.
A tourist from the United States thought it was a novel idea. “I’ve never heard anything like that. So I’m glad that they’re willing to take an outside perspective to potentially make their own city better. . . . It’s not something you hear, allowing foreigners to participate in politics – or local politics at least.”
And a Swiss woman sitting on a bench with her husband thought that allowing foreigners a say is okay, but “it depends on how long the foreigner has been living in Switzerland. If he’s only been here two or three years, he shouldn’t have a say. But 10 years – yes, when they’re married, after 10 years, they can have a say.”
The participation motion is rather unique in Switzerland. A similar proposal was passed in Burgdorf, a nearby town, in 2008. It allows 30 young people or 30 foreigners to submit a motion for consideration by the local parliament. So far, however, no one has made use of the option.
According to Anliker-Mansour, the fact that there is an option is what’s important.
“We accept that we have to take into account foreigners who were born here, who live here, pay taxes, and work for the city, which belongs to all of us.”