Parliament has delayed taking a decision on a rightwing proposal to automatically deport foreigners convicted of serious crimes.
Instead, the Senate has voted to seek further clarifications at committee level to examine whether the initiative is compatible with international law and the constitution.
Thursday’s debate took place against the backdrop of Swiss voters’ controversial approval on November 29 of a rightwing initiative to ban the construction of minarets.
The surprise acceptance of the minaret ban put Switzerland in the global spotlight.
It also prompted calls for the government to annul people’s initiatives that are incompatible with the fundamental principles of international law or cannot be implemented because they go against the Swiss constitution.
Proponents of the deportation initiative criticized the Senate’s decision, saying it feared another defeat at the ballot box.
The 90-minute debate in the Senate on the deportation plan was closely watched by more than a dozen members of the House of Representatives. The initiative will not be tackled by the House until next year.
Representatives of the rightwing People’s Party, which backs the proposal, argued there was no need for legal clarification at committee level.
“A lot of spurious reasons were voiced to seek to put off a nationwide vote,” said Christoffel Brändli.
Maximilian Reimann said parliament was trying to deprive the People’s Party of a highly promising campaign instrument ahead of the 2011 general elections.
According to This Jenny, the government and parliament are attempting to ignore people’s concerns. “It is fear of another defeat at the ballot box and of the success of one particular party,” he said.
“We are not trying to delay the procedure,” countered committee speaker Hansheiri Inderkum who pledged to table the issue for the Senate’s spring session.
Centre-right Senators including Rolf Büttiker of the Radical Party called for an alternative proposal to be put to voters alongside the initiative while Christian Democrat Urs Schwaller warned of difficulties to implement an initiative which is not in line with fundamental legal principles.
Social Democrat Simonetta Sommaruga urged parliament to be more consistent in applying Switzerland’s international obligations. She referred to a decision in 1996 to annul an initiative by a rightwing group to tighten measures against asylum seekers.
Legal experts differ over whether the latest proposal by the People’s Party to crack down on foreign criminals violates international law and human rights, or whether it is merely borderline – similar to the anti-minaret proposal.
The Swiss branch of the Amnesty International called for the initiative to be annulled. “It is possible under present law to expel criminal foreigners if they are a threat to the public,” Amnesty said in a statement.
The people’s initiative was a key campaign instrument for the People’s Party in the run-up to the last parliamentary elections. The party successfully used a controversial poster showing white sheep kicking out a black sheep.
Urs Geiser, swissinfo.ch
Swiss citizens can force a nationwide vote on an amendment to the constitution by collecting at least 100,000 signatures within 18 months.
Most proposals failed to win a majority at the ballot box in the 118-year history of people’s initiatives.
Four - out of 169 people’s initiatives put to a vote so far - were declared invalid by parliament since 1891.
The initiative - launched by a committee of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party - aims at the automatic deportation of foreigners convicted of serious crimes and those who illegally claimed welfare payments.
The committee collected about 211,000 signatures which were handed in March 2008.
Last June the government came out against the initiative, but stopped short of recommending the initiative be declared invalid. No date for the vote has been set.
Opponents argue the proposal goes against human rights and fundamental international law.
A counterproposal by the government seeks to tighten the present law which gives the justice authorities a certain autonomy to decide on expulsions.