People’s Party ad leads to legal action on EU quotas vote

The Swiss People's Party is not new to criticism over their advertisements Keystone

An advertisement used during the campaign for a quota on EU immigrants last year has prompted legal action calling for the vote to be nullified and two Swiss People’s Party members being charged with racial discrimination.

This content was published on January 30, 2015 - 11:51 and agencies

A vote complaint has been submitted to the Federal Court demanding that the February 9 vote on immigration quotas be invalidated. In addition, a Bern court announced it would hear the case against People’s Party leader Martin Baltisser and his deputy, Silvia Bär, who are being charged with racial discrimination related to the advertisement.

The ad campaign, with a slogan that read “Kosovars are cutting Swiss apart!” and the true story of two Swiss attacked with knives, was released in print media during the run-up to the February 9, 2014 vote and also appeared in 2011 on the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) website.

The advertisement in question, which ran in Swiss newspapers, tells the story of two Swiss attacked by Kosovars with a knife under the headline "Kosovars are cutting Swiss apart!" The incident that the ad refers to occurred in 2011. SRF online

Undue influence

In the wake of the charges against Baltisser and Bär, Zurich-based lawyers David Gibor and Tomas Poledna, filed a complaint to the Federal Court saying that last year’s vote to re-introduce quotas on European Union immigrants – which passed with 50.3% of the vote – should be voided because the ad was used during the campaign. If Baltisser and Bär are found guilty and the advertisement is classified as racially discriminatory by the courts, Gibor points out that Swiss law states nationwide votes may not be influenced by false information. In addition, he says, the vote’s thin margin is significant in this case.

 “The SVP’s intended scandal [with the advertisement] intensified the effect of media attention,” the criminal lawyer said. “The vote came down to the wire. A difference of about 9,000 votes out of three million cast would have led to the rejection of the initiative. If the advertisement contains racial discrimination, the result of the vote has been tampered with.”

Baltisser rejects the accusations, saying that "the advertisement did not appear in conjunction with the campaign [about EU quotas]," and that the ad first appeared in August 2011.

He also said that "it comes down to the question of whether one can still raise an issue in this country, just as it happened." 

In addition to Gibor and Poledna’s legal challenge, there are several other initiatives underway to question the outcome of the vote on EU quotas. A group called Rasa is calling for a re-vote on the issue, while another group is for putting the question of larger bilateral agreements with the EU before the Swiss people.

For its part, the Swiss People’s Party has repeatedly criticised the government for dragging its heels in implementing the changes to EU quotas as approved by voters last year.

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