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Voters to have last word on citizenship

"No to the selling off of Swiss nationality," says the People's Party

(Keystone)

The rightwing People's Party has succeeded in forcing a vote on the thorny question of allowing communities to decide on individual citizenship applications.

The party announced on Friday that it had collected more than the required 100,000 signatures for its people's initiative "for democratic naturalisations".

The party wants to give the people the last word on whether foreigners should be allowed to become Swiss.

In total, 103,000 signatures were collected in support of the initiative, and these were handed in to the Federal Chancellery on Friday.

The party's proposal challenges a 2003 Federal Court ruling on Switzerland's citizenship procedure, which effectively meant that citizenship requests could not be decided at the ballot box, by local parliaments or other assemblies.

The judges said failed candidates must be given a reason for their rejection, to avoid arbitrary decisions.

Voters in the town of Emmen near Lucerne had, for example, turned down applicants from the Balkans, apparently only on the basis of their nationality. This pattern was repeated in other parts of central Switzerland.

A similar attempt by the People's Party to give cantons and local authorities full authority in granting Swiss citizenship was turned down by parliament in October.

Short-circuited

At a media conference on Friday, the head of the People's Party Ueli Maurer said the decision-making powers of the people were being increasingly "short-circuited" by the authorities.

The Swiss system of direct democracy means that people often vote on issues from the appointment of teachers in a village school to whether the government should revise pensions.

For his part, parliamentarian Ulrich Schlüer said the court's decision went against the principle of autonomy and violated the rule concerning the separation of powers under direct democracy.

The initiative is aimed at enshrining in the constitution the right of voters to decide on naturalisation requests. The party wants communities to be free to decide on how best to proceed on citizenship questions and is against allowing appeals against negative decisions.

Schlüer also denounced a plan proposed by a Senate committee earlier this month which would allow local votes on naturalisations but would also permit appeals. He said this would turn democracy into a "farce."

Final say

Voters have generally been against easing citizenship rules in recent years, and could toe the People's Party line, say observers.

Last year, they rejected a simplified naturalisation procedure for young foreigners for the second time in a decade.

Citizenship applicants must win approval from three different authorities, including their local council.

Switzerland has one of the lowest levels of naturalisation in Europe. Foreigners currently number 1.5 million – about 20 per cent of the population.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

In 2003, the Federal Court ruled that a rejected application for citizenship must be justified.

This decision effectively banned local votes on naturalisation procedures.

In parliament, two proposals on giving local authorities more autonomy on this issue have been discussed.

The Swiss People's Party had forced a nationwide ballot to grant voters more of a say on citizenship procedures.

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