In an exclusive interview, the strongman of the political right in Switzerland, Christoph Blocher, tells swissinfo.ch why the Swiss People’s Party has launched an initiative aimed at enforcing a hardline proposal to deport foreign criminals.
Government, parliament, numerous judges as well as the business umbrella organisation are against the initiative. “For the political establishment it is a sheer power struggle,” says the 75-year-old billionaire, former justice minister and member of the most popular of the four main political parties in the country.
“The will of the people is not being implemented,” criticises the People’s Party after voters in November 2010 approved its initiative to deport foreign criminals. Even before parliament could pass an implementation law, the People’s Party launched its so-called enforcement initiative. On February 28, the Swiss people will have the final say on the issue.
The initiative would set directly applicable law in the constitution, undermining parliament’s role as legislative body. In this interview, Blocher justifies the move.
swissinfo.ch: Mr Blocher, the people are not always right, are they?
Christoph Blocher: Of course, they are. The voice of the people is not God’s voice, but neither is the voice of the politicians. It’s a different question altogether: the decision of the people should be respected, even if politicians are not in agreement.
“Switzerland has one of the strictest deportation laws in Europe,” said Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga in a popular late night talk show on public television, SRF.
She argued that parliament passed laws that will allow for the deportation of foreigners convicted of serious crimes. “But even second-generation immigrants will be expelled automatically for committing a minor offence under the enforcement initiative.”
Sommaruga argues that the original deportation initiative, approved by voters in 2010, did not rule out a safeguard clause, in line with the state of law. She says judges will have to decide whether a safeguard clause still applies if the enforcement initiative wins a majority, as voters also enshrined the principle of proportionality and European Human Rights Convention.
Sommaruga says the hardline initiative “wants people to take over the task of parliament and to set law”, creating legal insecurity and enshrining contradictions in the constitution.
swissinfo.ch: Being a former cabinet minister, are you not part of the political establishment – or ‘classe politique’?
C.B: No. I coined this phrase in 1992, but always in a negative sense. In Switzerland, it is impossible to have a political establishment that overrides the will of the people, but unfortunately, it is on the rise.
Relevant economic institutions, such as banks, trade associations and so on are part of it. Any big names that are against the majority of the Swiss people are ‘un-Swiss’.
swissinfo.ch: Until now, Swiss democracy has not allowed the Swiss people to change the constitution, but they can determine a direction, which parliament turns into law. Why do you want to change that?
C.B.: I don’t want to change it. However, as the authorities as well as parliament – and now even the Federal Courts – are ignoring the law approved by the people as well as the constitution, we need the enforcement initiative to impose the 2010 vote.
swissinfo.ch: But parliament decided differently. Isn't the People’s Party simply ignoring the separation of power, which is an important pillar of Swiss democracy?
C.B.: The separation of powers applies to the state powers: parliament, government – namely the cabinet and the administration – and justice. However, all three powers are subject to the people’s law. This is what’s special about Switzerland. It is the only country in the world where citizens can determine legislation. So far, we have fared pretty well with it, which is also the reason why Switzerland is doing better than some other countries.
By approving the deportation initiative, the Swiss people and the cantons decided for the automatic deportation of foreign criminals. The people and all cantons rejected the counterproposal, which said that - just like today - judges should decide whether a criminal can be expected to cope with deportation.
But then parliament passed a law which is very similar to the refused counterproposal including a safeguard clause for the offender, which is described as hardship clause. The idea is that foreign criminals should not automatically lose their rights of residence. This undermines democracy. The enforcement initiative aims to prevent this.
swissinfo.ch: Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga says that with the law passed by parliament, foreigners who have committed crimes such as murder, manslaughter or rape, are already deported.
C.B.: Here, the justice minister is not quite telling the truth. With the safeguard clause integrated into law, murderers, rapists and other dangerous criminals are not automatically deported.
In this way, we will never be able to control our disastrous foreign crime rate.
swissinfo.ch: There are some criminals who cannot be deported as their countries of origin refuse to take them.
C.B.: This only happens in rare cases. I am talking about those foreign criminals who were not deported and not about those who could not be deported. Deportation and entry bans can be enforced.
swissinfo.ch: Why were these particular foreign criminals not deported?
C.B.: Because a deportation would have been too hard for the offender. If you read some of the verdicts in cases where those criminals were not deported, it makes your hair stand on end. Nobody really thinks about the victims of such crimes.
swissinfo.ch: Opponents of your initiative argue that there are other conditions in our constitution, such as proportionality as well as the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which were also approved by voters.
C.B.: Human rights have long been enshrined in the constitution and should continue to apply.
The ECHR does not have constitutional level. It was approved without a mandatory public ballot. However, there are constitutional provisions that cannot be changed. This is so-called mandatory international law, which also applies for the enforcement initiative.
The document of the initiative clearly states that nobody will be deported to a country where the life of the offender is at risk.
swissinfo.ch: What about the principle of proportionality?
C.B.: This also holds for the enforcement initiative. The constitutional legislator has voted for proportionality together with the enforcement initiative.
However, a constitution may always lead to legal and supposed contradictions. For this reason, the principle applies that new rules have priority over old ones, and special rules have priority over general ones.
swissinfo.ch: You also want to deport foreigners who were found guilty of trespassing in combination with property damage. Is this proportional?
C.B.: You mean burglary. This is theft in combination with trespassing. Given the high number of victims and the high proportion of foreign offenders, this is absolutely necessary.
swissinfo.ch: And the same goes for people born and raised in this country to immigrant parents but who do not have a Swiss passport – often referred to as 'secondos' in Switzerland?
C.B.: Yes. Secondos are foreigners and citizens of a different country.
swissinfo.ch: Implementing the deportation initiative is not easy. Simply looking at the catalogue of offences which lead to automatic deportation without considering the wider circumstances does not do justice to the complexity of the matter.
C.B.: Deportation requires a legally founded judicial decision. Of course, the judge will consider the circumstances when passing a judgement.
Foreigners will be sentenced by a judicial decision, just like Swiss citizens. The only difference is that by committing a serious crime, the foreigners will lose their residence rights.
swissinfo.ch: For Swiss nationals it is all over and done with when they get out of prison after a few months; but a secondo might be deported to a country that is completely foreign to him or her.
C.B.: This is the purpose of citizenship. If Swiss nationals commit such crimes in England, they will also be deported as they are not English. Every country has to look after its own citizens.
swissinfo.ch: And why does the political establishment want to keep foreign criminals, even if they have committed serious crimes, in Switzerland?
C.B.: A power struggle is currently going on. Should the Swiss citizens or the political establishment decide? The Swiss people want something to finally be done against crimes committed by foreigners and that the victims are protected. However, the political establishment wants to decide alone.
Translated from German by Billi Bierling, swissinfo.ch