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Swiss Say "No" to Eased Citizenship

DW staff (wo)September 28, 2004

Voters in Switzerland have rejected government proposals aimed at relaxing the country’s strict laws on citizenship for second and third generation immigrants.

Anti-foreigner propaganda led the Swiss to reject easing naturalizationImage: AP

The government's argument saying young people born in Switzerland were being left out of the democratic process lead to the referendum to ease naturalization laws. But after a controversial campaign marred by openly anti-foreigner propaganda, voters said "no" to any change.

Switzerland has one of the largest per capita foreign populations in Europe -- over 20 percent. Most were born and brought up in Switzerland, but they cannot vote, and they are barred from certain jobs, such as working as police. The government proposed making citizenship automatic for third generation immigrants, and easier for the second generation.

But Swiss voters said "no" on Sunday to both proposals, in a move which Green Party parliamentarian Cecile Buhlmann said would send the wrong signal to many young people.

The campaign against the measures was characterized by controversial publicity from the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, which produced posters showing black and brown hands snatching at Swiss passports and mock newspaper articles suggesting Moslems would soon outnumber Christians in Switzerland.

But the party's secretary general, Aliki Panayides, defended the campaign, saying candidates for naturalization must show they are truly integrated.

Recently, however, Swiss communities have shown they believe some people can never be integrated -- candidates with Balkan or African roots are often rejected, even if they fulfill all the legal requirements for naturalization.

After this vote, that system remains intact. Swiss citizenship will continue to be a long and complicated process, in which local communities have the final say.