Swiss keep citizenship barriers in place

The People's Party ran a controversial campaign against easing citizenship rules Keystone

In a nationwide vote on Sunday a majority of cantons have rejected parliament-backed plans to ease restrictions on citizenship.

This content was published on September 26, 2004 - 15:36

Another vote on slowing down Post Office reform was also thrown out, but a ballot on introducing statutory maternity benefits looked likely to pass.

Final results showed that plans to ease citizenship rules had failed to secure a majority of the cantons – a necessary hurdle for any vote to change the constitution.

French-speaking cantons overwhelmingly approved the proposals, which were supported by the government, parliament and three of the four main political parties. But the majority German-speaking cantons were intent on throwing them out.

Voter participation was higher than usual at 54 per cent, according to Claude Longchamp, GfS director.

One proposal envisaged speeding up the naturalisation procedure for people aged 14 to 24. Another sought to grant automatic citizenship to children born in Switzerland of foreign parents, provided they met certain criteria.


The proposal also foresaw standardising the regular citizenship procedure across the country. This would have reduced the minimum residency period required before one could apply for citizenship, and set maximum fees for citizenship applications.

Opponents, led by the rightwing Swiss People's Party, said the proposals would have undervalued Swiss citizenship. In the run-up to the vote, the party ran controversial newspaper advertisements warning that Muslims would eventually become a majority in Switzerland if the citizenship rules were eased.

Supporters underlined the importance of integrating young foreigners into Swiss society by giving them full political rights.


Another controversial issue before the public was the introduction of statutory maternity benefits.

If the vote clears the final hurdle at the ballot box, working women would be eligible for 14 weeks’ paid maternity leave. Voting trends indicate the benefits will be accepted.

Currently it is mainly up to individual employers whether they pay maternity benefits, although the principle was enshrined in the Swiss constitution more than 50 years ago.

Many large private companies and employers in the public sector have implemented maternity leave schemes voluntarily, but women in unregulated branches of industry have no entitlements.

Postal services

A third issue that has been voted on is a proposal to slow down the restructuring of the state-owned Post Office. That too was rejected after failing to carry a majority of cantons.

The government, parliament and the main parties, except for the centre-left Social Democrats, were against the initiative by trade unions and the country’s leading consumer group.

The Post Office evidently convinced voters that, despite cuts, it would continue to keep up a nationwide post office network, notably in remote mountain regions.

Opposition to the Post Office restructuring, including the closure of up to 800 subsidiaries, has been particularly strong in rural areas as well as in the French- and Italian-speaking parts of the country.


In brief

The Swiss have been voting on easing rules for Swiss citizenship, introducing statutory maternity benefits and slowing down restructuring plans for postal services.

The citizenship votes and the people's initiative on the postal service failed to secure a double majority of the cantons and the popular vote needed to pass.

The maternity benefit vote needed only a simple majority.

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