On the last weekend of February the Swiss are called to cast their ballots on four different issues. The most controversial one pictures the peaceful Swiss (the white sheep) kicking out all foreigners who are criminal offenders (the black sheep).
For many decades Switzerland has experienced a steady influx of foreigners. In the 60ies a wave of Italians arrived who came for construction labour. Later refugees from Vietnam, Tibet, Sri Lanka, the Balkan countries, Africa and other countries applied for asylum. However there are also many Europeans (Germans, French, Italians etc) working in Switzerland (about 2/3 of all foreigners). According to the official statistics the foreign population is around 15% (others even claim 25%).
Foreign tourists are most welcome.
However, nowadays many Swiss are quite sensitive about the growing number of foreigners residing in Switzerland. And now, to make matters worse, scores of refugees are pouring into Europe. Many Swiss are really alarmed. They feel that our small country can’t cope with this huge influx. There are fears that the many Muslims arriving here will not integrate easily and cause trouble. Indeed, 73% of the prison population consists of foreigners. The billboard above reads: “Finally let’s achieve security!” (German: Endlich Sicherheit schaffen).
At the same time many Swiss are genuinely touched by the suffering and misery of the many new refugees seeking shelter in Switzerland.
The major political parties as well as the government are against this initiative. They say that there are enough laws in place to deal with delinquent foreigners and that such a new constitutional law would violate international law.
The Swiss democratic system is very direct! Any citizen can try to bring about a change in the constitutional law with a referendum or bring in a new one through a federal popular initiative. All that is needed are at least 100’000 valid signatures within 1 ½ years for an initiative or 55’000 valid signatures within a hundred days for a referendum. When that target is reached it takes a little while. But then the Swiss are called to cast their ballots on the issue.
For years the Swiss government wanted the country to join the EU. The Swiss have resisted these moves. That is certainly one area where the direct democracy has made a difference. However in reality the Swiss reject most initiatives or referendums.
This democratic process is one of the main reasons for the political stability of Switzerland.
Addendum: The initiative above was rejected by 58.9%.