Likely yes to same-sex partnerships
Exit polls suggest the Swiss have given their approval to legalising same-sex partnerships in a ballot on Sunday.
The electorate was also deciding on whether the country should increase security and asylum cooperation with the European Union. It is not yet clear how that vote went.
The GfS research institute said that trends indicated 60 per cent approval for the gay-rights proposal.
Bern-based GfS, which analyses polling data on behalf of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, added that the result of a vote on joining the Schengen and Dublin accords was likely to be close and that turnout had been high.
Thirteen EU member states as well as Norway and Iceland are signatories to the Schengen and Dublin treaties. Britain and the Irish Republic are due to join later this year, while the new EU countries will participate at a later stage.
Under the accords, Switzerland would agree to abandon systematic identity checks on its borders but link up to a Europe-wide electronic database on wanted and missing persons, illegal immigrants and property.
The Swiss would also sign up to an agreement which allows member countries to reject asylum seekers if they have filed a request in another signatory country prior to coming to Switzerland.
Both accords – part of a second series of bilateral treaties with the EU – were approved by the Swiss government and parliament last year.
People’s Party challenge
But the rightwing Swiss People’s Party alongside the isolationist group, Campaign for an Independent and Neutral Switzerland, collected enough signatures to force a nationwide vote on the issue.
They have argued that joining the passport-free zone would trigger a wave of foreign criminals entering the county. They also said it would compromise Switzerland’s sovereignty and that the accord was a step towards full EU membership.
Some leftwing groups are also opposed to the Schengen and Dublin accords because of reservations about data protection rules.
But supporters say participation in the Schengen Information System (SIS) and the European fingerprint database for asylum seekers, Eurodac, would make Switzerland a more secure place and help reduce the number of asylum applications. Another argument is that the Schengen three-month visa would give a boost to the tourism industry.
Three of the four main political parties, the business community as well as trade unions have all come out in favour of Schengen/Dublin.
It is one of two key foreign policy ballots in Switzerland this year. In September the electorate is due to decide on granting access to the Swiss labour market to citizens of the ten new EU member states.
The most recent opinion polls showed a 55 per cent majority in favour of the Schengen/Dublin treaties, but support has dropped considerably over the past few months.
Swiss voters were also deciding whether homosexuals should be allowed to register their partnerships.
Registration would grant them the same legal rights as married couples in the areas of pensions, inheritance and taxes, but same-sex couples would not be allowed to adopt children or have access to fertility treatment.
The law, which would bring Switzerland into line with neighbouring Germany and France, was passed by parliament last year. But opposition came from a small conservative religious party, the Federal Democratic Union, which collected enough votes to force a referendum.
Opponents said there should be no national legislation on an issue which went against Christian values.
Registered partnerships already exist at a regional level in cantons Zurich, Geneva and Neuchâtel.
Switzerland would only be the third non-EU member state to join the Schengen and Dublin agreements on closer police and asylum cooperation.
The treaties are part of a second set of bilateral accords with the EU.
The rightwing Swiss People’s Party challenged the treaties to a nationwide vote.
The law on same sex partnerships would bring Switzerland into line with neighbouring Germany and France.
Gay couples in Switzerland would receive some of the same legal rights as married couples, but they would not be allowed to adopt children.
Registered partnerships already exist in three cantons in Switzerland.
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