The Swiss will vote on Sunday on a conservative party initiative making it considerably easier to deport foreigners who commit crimes. But many say the proposal endangers not only the Swiss economy, but democracy, too.
"Yes to the deportation of criminal foreigners" says the poster. The accompanying illustration is of a white sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag. This is how the Swiss People's Party (SVP) is campaigning for the adoption of the so-called "implementation initiative."
According to the SVP, the implementation initiative shouldn't even be necessary, because the party pushed through a "deportation initiative" in 2010. Back then, the majority of Swiss people voted, in a referendum, in favor of stricter regulations for the deportation of foreign criminals. However, the SVP claims that the judiciary, with the support of politicians, thwarted that initiative by imposing sentences that were too lenient. It hopes that, with this new referendum, Swiss citizens will make sure that the "will of the people" is enforced: "With your YES, you, the voters, will ensure that action is finally taken on this issue."
The leader of the SVP, Toni Brunner, gives this explanation for why the action taken against foreign criminals has to be stepped up: "In view of the big migration flows and the problems that go with them, it's necessary to place the necessary emphasis on security in Switzerland again." Many people, he said, were so scared of criminals that they scarcely dared leave the house any more. "The fact is that the majority of violent crimes - rapes, for example - are carried out by foreigners," Brunner claimed.
Drive too fast, be verbally abusive, and you're out
Unlike the earlier "deportation initiative," this time a detailed mechanism sets down the conditions under which a person would more or less automatically lose his right to remain, with no chance of appeal. There would be two categories of crime. Anyone who commits murder or grievous bodily harm, is involved in human trafficking, or abuses the social welfare system would be thrown out of the country immediately. The idea that convicted murderers should have to leave is something many critics of the initiative can also understand. But doubts already start to surface with regard to the criminal offence of abuse of the welfare system. Should any of the hundreds of thousands of foreign workers, who include German and French executives, give false information in order to scrounge welfare benefits, they could easily fall foul of the new ruling.
A foreigner would find himself being deported equally fast if he committed a lesser crime from the second category. These include common assault, trespass, and threatening an official. If he has had to serve a prison sentence or pay a fine in the past ten years, for any reason, and then commits one of the crimes in this category, again: no leniency would be shown. Overtake once on the wrong side on the autobahn, and shout at a policeman years later - even if you were the chief executive of a Swiss company and very much in demand, that would be the end of your stay in Switzerland. A quarter of the people living in Switzerland have a foreign passport, the majority of them from EU countries.
This is why Heinz Karrer, the president of the Swiss business federation Economiesuisse, is strongly opposed to the SVP's initiative. "This initiative is hugely damaging to the Swiss economy," he declared. Critics say that the initiative is a not a real solution, and that the changes wouldn't even affect the people the Swiss are actually afraid of. It wouldn't scare off criminal gangs, for example, says Stefan Egli from the Committee Against the Implementation Initiative. A burglar "isn't interested in whether he will no longer be able to enter Switzerland, because in any case he's only here, illegally, to commit burglary."
However, many Swiss are against the initiative, mainly for reasons of principle. They are concerned that the courts would effectively no longer have any possibility of considering how best to proceed: If convicted of these crimes, deportation would be automatic. The Committee Against the Implementation Initiative says: "The initiative is swinging a wrecking ball against Switzerland: against the fundamental values of our democracy, against the pillars of our constitutional state." The Committee also finds it "barbaric" that the changes would also apply to so-called "secondos" - the descendants of immigrants who live in Switzerland, but who do not have Swiss citizenship. They complain that the law is concerned solely with a person's passport, without taking their individual situation into account.
The appeal by 120 Swiss professors of law is no less strongly worded. "The aim of the initiative is completely to eliminate judicial discretion when evaluating the consequences of crimes under the law relating to aliens. This would overturn the principle of constitutional action, in particular the principle of proportionality," it says.
In the newspaper Schweiz am Sonntag, Thomas Stadelmann, a practising federal judge, abandoned his reserve. He wrote: "A decree - even if reached by a majority - that disregards or even does away with minority and individual rights is inadmissible and not compatible with the concept of Swiss democracy that has prevailed to date." In an allusion to the National Socialists' treatment of Jews, Stadelmann cannot even rule out "that at some point we will be voting on issues like the ones that became law in Germany in the 1930s, when entire religious groups were deprived of their civil rights."
A broad resistance has come together against the initiative. It includes the entire government, the parliament, most of the political parties, the church, and the business federation. Nonetheless, polls are predicting a neck-and-neck race between advocates and opponents. In recent days, the opponents have been slightly ahead. If the initiative is adopted, Switzerland would have some of the strictest provisions in the whole of Europe for deporting foreigners who commit a crime.