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Europe

Swiss Reject Tougher Citizenship Rules for Foreigners

Swiss voters rejected a plan that would make it even harder for foreigners to obtain citizenship in a referendum on Sunday, June 1, called by the far-right Swiss People's Party.

SVP posters showing brown hands grasping for Swiss passports with the word Stop

The SVP's campaign flopped at the polls

Some 64 percent of voters rejected the measure, meant to approve candidates for citizenship by secret ballot.

Switzerland's Supreme Court banned secret ballots five years ago after it emerged that some towns were regularly rejecting candidates from the Balkans, Turkey and Africa, while approving those from Western Europe. It also gave those rejected the right to appeal.

The Swiss People's Party, the largest in parliament, wanted the secret ballots back and the right to appeal scrapped.

Far-right party accused of racism

More than 20 percent of Switzerland's population is foreign-born -- the highest number in Europe -- and the issue is routinely seized on by the populist Swiss People's Party (SVP). This weekend's vote is the sixth time it has launched a popular referendum on the subject.

Switzerland's multi-party government -- which includes two SVP ministers regarded as moderates -- is against the initiative which it deems arbitrary and discriminatory, a view shared by most members of parliament.

The SVP has transformed itself from a small farmers' party into a fiercely populist force with a strong anti-immigrant message over the past decades, and scored 29 percent in last October's general elections.

SVP poster

People wait for a bus in front of the controversial SVP poster deemed racist in last year's polls

The party was accused of racism by a United Nations expert during last year's general election for a poster showing three white sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag.

This time around, the party plastered the country with posters showing a sea of black and brown hands grasping for a pile of Swiss passports, with the word "STOP!" in huge letters.

With polls showing a lack of support for its proposal, the SVP ran advertisements blaming foreign-born residents for violent crime.

Switzerland has some of the toughest naturalization laws in Europe, defining nationality by virtue of blood. Those who want to get Swiss passports must live in Switzerland for at least 12 years, they have to pass tests on Swiss language and culture, and those born in Switzerland have no automatic right to citizenship.

Children who have one Swiss parent and the partners of Swiss citizens can benefit from a fast-track procedure.

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