Switzerland Immigration Politics Essay

940 words - 4 pages

In order to have a complete understanding of the politics of immigration in Switzerland, it is crucial to realize the impact direct democracy has in shaping public policy and public opinion. Hanspeter Kriesi and Alexander Trechsel, two prominent Swiss political scientists, consider direct democracy not only to be the “most crucial institution of the Swiss political system” but also the most developed system of its kind in the world, both in terms of significance and in terms of sheer numbers. Swiss voters took part in 321 referendums between 1960 and 2003, over seven per year on average, by far the most numerous of the 47 nations in the Council of Europe. The importance of direct democracy in ensuring the continued salience of the immigration debate in Switzerland and its impact on attitudes towards immigration results from its role as “a truly system-formative device, greatly impacting on party competition, government, Parliament, the legislative process and policy making at all levels of the federal state.” This section outlines the structure and workings of direct democracy in Switzerland followed by an evaluation of its use and impact on the Swiss political system, particularly the ever-present debate on immigration policy.
There are four major elements that together form the core of Swiss direct democracy: mandatory referendums for constitutional amendments, optional referendums, as well as popular initiatives and their counter-proposals. As previously mentioned with regards to the 1992 referendum on joining the European Economic Area, mandatory referendums occur because “any amendment of the Constitution” is subject “to the approval of a double majority of both the people and the cantons.” This requirement was first enshrined in the Constitution of 1848, as a means of preventing the “tyranny of the majority.” Between 1848 and 2005, voters approved 74% of mandatory constitutional referendums. When the Constitution was revised in 1874, the optional referendum was introduced allowing “the holding of a referendum on any change to federal legislation…” which can be requested “by 50,000 voters or eight cantons within a period of 100 days after the publication of the law.” Of the 2181 parliamentary decisions eligible for an optional referendum from 1848 to 2005, only 156 were subject to them. Of these 156, only 46% were successful in rejecting legislation that had been passed by Parliament.
The already expansive institution of direct democracy was further extended in 1891 with “the introduction of the popular initiative for the partial revision of the Constitution” that must also be accepted by a double majority of people and cantons. In order to present a popular initiative to the electorate, organizers must gather 100,000 signatures within eighteen months. Interestingly, popular initiatives can consist of complete proposals for constitutional modifications or merely a “proposal that simply states a general goal of changing the...

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