Justice minister rules out hasty reform of citizenship laws

The Swiss justice minister, Ruth Metzler, has ruled out any knee-jerk reaction to recent controversy over Switzerland's naturalisation laws.

This content was published on April 1, 2000 - 16:12

The Swiss justice minister, Ruth Metzler, has ruled out any knee-jerk reaction to recent controversy over Switzerland's naturalisation laws. Her comments come as a government-appointed committee considers whether there should be a right of appeal for people whose citizenship applications are turned down.

Ruth Metzler made it clear that the government intends to proceed slowly on any reform of Switzerland's citizenship laws.

Addressing a women's conference of her Christian Democratic Party in Delemont, canton Jura, she also said the cabinet would avoid passing judgement on citizenship issues, and particularly on a recent vote in the central Swiss town on Emmen.

In that ballot, on March 12, residents refused to grant citizenship to applicants from eastern Europe and the Balkans, but approved applications for eight Italians. Under rules in place in certain communities, such as Emmen, residents have the right to vote on whether citizenship should be granted to applicants living in their community.

In her speech, Metzler ruled out government intervention in cases such as the Emmen, saying the cabinet could only try to improve overall conditions for integrating foreigners.

On the issue of asylum seekers, she said returning them to their country of origin was the first priority.

She dismissed as a bad idea, an offer from the French-speaking canton of Geneva to take in those Emmen residents whose citizenship applications had been refused. Metzler said there was no provision in law for such a move, and that the people would have difficulty integrating because they spoke German, not French.

The Emmen vote sparked nationwide controversy, and led to the setting up of a panel of experts to consider whether foreigners whose citizenship applications have been turned down should be given the right of appeal.

The panel are also considering easing citizenship restrictions on people who were born and brought up in Switzerland but do not have Swiss nationality.

Currently, Switzerland has 1,4 million foreign residents, half of whom have lived here for more than 10 years.

swissinfo and agencies

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