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Criminal foreigners initiative Cabinet seeks support for compromise

Voters approved the initiative 18 months ago but its implementation has been causing difficulties

Plans to implement a controversial constitutional amendment on deporting foreign criminals are inching forward. The cabinet has put forward two options for consideration by political parties and organisations.

Outlining the next steps in the drawn-out legislative procedure, Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said on Wednesday it was crucial to have a broad political debate on the divisive initiative by the rightwing People’s Party, which won a majority in a nationwide vote in November 2010.

The government has warned that implementing the initiative, which demands the automatic deportation of convicted foreign criminals regardless of the seriousness of the offence, would violate humanitarian law and international treaties.

However, the People’s Party insists the initiative must be strictly applied to respect voters’ intentions.

Sommaruga said the cabinet would submit a formal bill next year for parliament to decide.

She said the government had taken on board proposals from an expert group for its compromise option.

This sets out a list of specific crimes, including welfare fraud, which would lead to the automatic expulsion of a convicted foreign criminal, provided there is no breach of their basic human rights. However, judges would have some discretion not to order deportation for misdemeanours which result in prison terms of less than six months.

Two options

A second proposal, strongly supported by the People’s Party, foresees the automatic deportation of non-Swiss criminals without taking into account a minimum prison term and includes a broader list of crimes.

Sommaruga said the government clearly preferred the first option but it was obliged by the constitution to present a proposal which was as faithful to the initiative as possible, even if it risked contravening international accords.

Following Sommaruga’s announcement the People’s Party reiterated its criticism of the government.

In a statement it accused the cabinet of flouting a decision by voters after having delayed the launch of the consultation procedure.

The party also said it would press ahead with a new initiative to force the government to strictly implement its original proposals.


Problems implementing initiatives which have won voters’ approval in defiance of the government and parliament have cropped up several times over the past two decades.

A ban to build minarets, voted in 2009, prompted international outrage and criticism by the Council of Europe.

Lengthy political wrangling also plagued the implementation of the 2004 initiative locking away for life violent sexual offenders as well as an initiative cracking down on paedophile criminals in 2008.

Major political discussions also continue over the application of an initiative approved in a nationwide ballot in 1994. It calls for the transfer of heavy goods lorries transiting the Swiss Alps from road to rail.

Initiative and counter-proposal

The initiative won 52.9% of the vote on November 28, 2010 while the parliamentary counter-proposal made 45.8%.
Turnout was above average at 53%.

A working group, comprising seven members including two representatives of the People’s Party, presented a report on the implementation of the initiative in June 2011.

Its mandate was to seek solutions to make the rightwing demands compatible with international agreements and the Swiss constitution.

Following a three-month consultation procedure the government will present a bill to parliament next year.

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The citizens' meeting

The citizens' meeting

The citizens' meeting