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Parties put integration at top of agenda

All parties agree that integration is helped by learning a Swiss national language (pixsil)

Swiss political parties have turned their attention to the controversial topic of integration, ahead of next autumn's crucial parliamentary elections.

The four main parties in government are due to meet in the capital, Bern, on Thursday for discussions to see if they can find common ground on the issue.

In Switzerland a lack of integration among foreigners means more chance of being unemployed and in poverty, or of having problems with the law. Calls for better integration measures have been mounting.

The political world has been quick to latch onto the issue. All four parties have already set out their integration agenda, most recently from the Social Democrats.

The centre-left party is basing its policy on the "integration agreement" in the new foreigners' law and approved by voters in September. The legislation calls on migrants to learn one of Switzerland's languages and to abide by the country's laws and values.

"In the new foreigners' law there is for the first time ever in Swiss history an article on integration, which could be the basis of a nationwide integration policy," party president Hans-Jürg Fehr told swissinfo.

"We are of the opinion that this should be realised as quickly as possible."

Similar approach

The centre-right Radical Party's slogan is "integration makes Switzerland successful", but its approach is still similar to that of the Social Democrats.

Party president Fulvio Pelli believes that integration can only be achieved if there is some give and take.

"There can't only be a readiness to integrate on the part of foreigners, all residents must contribute something," he said.

The centre-right Christian Democrats have taken a different approach, focusing their attention on the Muslim population in Switzerland with their "freedom of religion and integration" policy.

"We put together our policy on Muslims first. This encouraged other parties to form their own integration policies," said its president Christophe Darbellay.

He also sees the foreigners' law as a basis for a wider strategy. "There is a lack of initiative when it comes to applying it. People who always talk about integration are against it when it's time to pay the bill."

Many Swiss politicians and integration specialists find though that the SFr14 million ($11.2 million) set aside by the government to support the new measures introduced by the law is not enough.

Tougher line

The rightwing Swiss People's Party, which traditionally takes a tough line on foreigners, says that the country's rules should apply to everybody. It adds that "guests" in Switzerland should also be responsible for their own integration.

"The central point is that it is language that allows people to move around in society and to feel comfortable," said the party's leader, Ueli Maurer.

The People's Party considers itself to be the pack leader when it comes to policies concerning foreigners, but says it does not mind if other parties try to catch up ahead of the 2007 elections.

But Darbellay has criticised the People's Party for making political capital out of the integration question and not offering any concrete solutions.

"There are currently three cabinet parties who want to find solutions," he said.

It seems that a middle-left coalition on the issue is the most likely outcome of Thursday's talks. Pelli admits as much.

"Several parties believe that integration is the solution to many problems of the future. It will be easier with these parties," he said

Fehr is also confident ahead of the meeting. "We need majorities in the Bern political world for integration policy and this will only come about with a middle-left collation."

swissinfo, Christian Raaflaub

In brief

Last September, 68% of the population voted in favour of the new foreigners' law.

This legislation is aimed at improving the situation for foreigners who are long-term legal residents in Switzerland. But it also calls on foreigners to do their share.

This year, all four main political parties drew up their concepts for integration. One of the most important factors appears to be language.

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Governing parties

A government party is a party with at least one seat in the Swiss seven-strong government.

Since 1959 the parties have been: Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, Radical Party and Swiss People's Party.

Until 2003 all the parties except the People's Party had two seats (magic formula). The People's Party then won a second seat at the expense of the Christian Democrats, reflecting the fact it had become more popular with the electorate.

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