9 December, 2014

Switzerland ready to quit the European Convention on Human Rights?

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Category: Council of Europe, Human Rights, Political hate speech, Strasbourg, Switzerland Country:
Viktor Szabados
2 pm

Some politicians in Switzerland seek popularity by proposing even to quit the European Convention on Human Rights

How this can happen in one of the most wealthiest countries and with one of the oldest constitutions in the world? An answer is populism and political extremism mixed with the tools of direct democracy. The right-wing populist party Swiss People’s Party – SVP intends to remove all obstacles introducing their legislation changes (accepted earlier by referendums) initiated by them even if human rights (the European Convention on Human Rights) would have to fall as victim to it.

An analysis by Viktor Szabados, consultant and facilitator of the No Hate Speech Movement of the Council of Europe, living and working in Switzerland since February 2014.

First on confrontation with the EU 

I remember as I was moving to Switzerland in February – working on a project – and the “against mass immigration” initiative has been just accepted. The Swiss People’s Party – SVP which was the main proponent of the initiative celebrated the referendum outcome as a major victory. The party’s head Toni Brunner stated: “This is a sea change in Switzerland’s migration policy. It is clear that immigration will have to be massively restricted.”. I would ask myself if Mr Brunner and its colleagues really did consider the consequences of their initiative or just continue to play the political game?eu

Linked to this decision the Swiss Federal Council is charged with introducing a new immigration system within three years. That is how things work after a referendum was accepted. However to implement this initiative the fundamentals of the relationships with the EU are at stake. The Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (EU/EFTA) must be renegotiated and adapted to Switzerland’s new immigration system (most probably with quota). The freedom of movement for workers is part of the free movement of persons and one of the four economic freedoms of the EU: free movement of goods, services, labour and capital. EU and member state officials confirmed several times that there is no negotiation on fundamental rights. Citizens of the member states of the European Economic Area (EU and EFTA including Switzerland) have the same right of freedom of movement inside the EEA. The European Union and Switzerland have also concluded a bilateral agreement on this. Even there are three years to implement this initiative programmes such as in education (Erasmus+) and research (Horizon2020) are already partly frozen as a reaction of the EU on the referendum results which dominate in all existing and potential bilateral negotiations between the EU, its member states and Switzerland.

Easy solutions for immigration and the Swiss economic model

In fact Switzerland has almost as much population as the neighbouring Austria (around 8 mio.) however over a total area of only a half of the area of Austria (41,285 sq km). Driving a car or taking a public transportation might be difficult not just in rush hours. These circumstances are consequences of the Swiss economic model and previous decisions which led to this. Even if these could be interpreted for many people as problems we should never stick problems and propose “easy solutions” by creating confusion and searching and identifying enemies without being honest and having objective analysis of the situation.

For me it seems that even in the most directly led democracy of the world things can be interpretedchat wrongly and voters can be influenced to decide without considering all possible consequences of any legal change. On the one hand since February the consequences of the “against mass immigration” initiative are continuously on the news and on the other hand the party (Swiss People’s Party – SVP) which initiated this referendum does not stop to incite against foreign labour and citizens with foreign origin. However there are benefits for all by the highest immigration rate of the world without controversy and the demand for foreign labour is a result of the Swiss economic model as well.

The Swiss People`s Party and their ideas

The Swiss People´s Party´s – SVP political interpretation of Swiss sovereignty is against human rights and based also partly on hate speech. Is foreign labour in Switzerland really a problem or more a necessity? As of 2014, 23.4% of Switzerland’s population are foreigners (Germany: 9%). The net immigration is 80,000 people per year, 1% of the total population (three times more than e.g. in Germany, four times more than in the U.S.). Every year 30,000 – 40,000 people receive Swiss nationality (this represents a per capita rate of about three times that of both Germany and the United States). According to the European Commission about 1 million EU citizens live in Switzerland and another 230,000 cross the border daily for work, while 430,000 Swiss live in the EU. Immigrant workers make up a large part of the Swiss workforce in several industries. The long term unemployment rate in Switzerland is well-balanced (over years around 3%, half of them 54.1% Swiss and half of them 45.9% foreigner citizens) despite high immigration rate. The EU shows a much higher rate (around 10%). The law unemployment rate shows that immigrants are actively involved in the job market and contribute to the welfare of Switzerland. This shows that the Swiss economic model with its benefits for investors and companies are depending on foreign labour. The demand and consumption of the foreign labour in Switzerland has also a self-generating effect on the economic growth and social security systems.blocher

The direct democracy in Switzerland provides interesting tools to pass laws by direct voting differently than in the representative democracies across Europe where most of the decisions are made through representatives elected every 4-5 years. A constitutional initiative allows Swiss citizens to put a constitutional amendment to national vote, if 100,000 voters sign the proposed amendment within 18 months. Voters than decide by a simple majority whether to accept or reject the initiative which in case of acceptance becomes automatically part of the Swiss Constitution. The federal bodies has 3 years to implement the accepted changes. Actually the “against mass immigration” initiative was approved just by a little majority (50.3% yes against 49.7% no).

The Swiss People’s Party – SVP had already several initiatives addressing civic rights such as “against the construction of minarets” (2009, 57.5% yes) and “for the expulsion of criminal foreigners” (2010, 52.3% yes). These two referendums go now in the second round. In August 2014 the SVP party presented its new initiative “Swiss law comes first, instead of foreign law”. In combination with recent decisions of the European Court of Human Rights the SVP party argues that foreign judges decide without any control what Switzerland should do or not do in terms of violation of human rights (declaring the European Court of Human Rights as an UFO of Strasbourg). The party underlines that what human rights do mean and how they can accurately be limited it should be only up to Switzerland, the Swiss people to decide.ufo

The right-wing populist party SVP wants to be again on confrontation. But this time not only the EU/EFTA relationships are the subject. With this proposal the Swiss People’s Party – SVP intends to remove all obstacles introducing their former legislation changes based on referendums even if international treaties such as on human rights (the European Convention on Human Rights ECHR of the Council of Europe) have to fall as victim to it.

The proposal want to bring either the European Court of Human Rights to adopt their views to the sovereign decisions made in Switzerland by referendums or force the Swiss authorities to terminate the treaties regulating the international standards and violation of human rights. The explanation of the initiative says: “Should it be the the case for example that the initiatives “against the construction of minarets” and “for the expulsion of criminal foreigners” would be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights or with the interpretations of the European Court of Human Rights and no reservations could be expressed, Switzerland must terminate the European Convention on Human Rights.” The European Court of Human Rights was set up in Strasbourg by the Council of Europe Member States in 1959 to deal with alleged violations of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights.

The National Assembly says No

Fortunately there is not a broad-based public support. The responsible commission of the Swiss National Assembly which has to prove all initiatives before it can be voted on is not supporting it (besides SVP). The NGO “dialogue ECHR” the NGO Platform Human Rights speaks of a sham. This initiative intends to be of the breakdown of civil and human rights in Switzerland. The initiative would not only affect the fundamental rights of the Swiss population, but also the protection of human rights in Europe. The NGO started its campaign for human rights on the 40th anniversary of Swiss adaption of the European Convention on Human Rights this year (Dialogue ECHR). Also the Swiss section of Amnesty International says that this initiative project threatens fundamental human rights which could be limited by accepting such an initiative.

The Swiss National Youth Council (SAJV-CSAJ) which is also in charge of the No Hate Speech Movement campaign in Switzerland gave also a short statement on occasion of the Human Rights Day under the motto: Human Rights Are Swiss Rights.


It seems that politicians act everywhere similarly. No matter if this is in a direct democracy such as in Switzerland or in a representative democratic system across Europe and beyond. They want to gain popularity by addressing issues which are obviously important and not easy to solve. Solutions and the information provided to the voters should somehow explain the possible consequences of any legal change caused by referendums, initiatives. As we can observe it is sad to see how the Swiss People’s Party – SVP would try to use the tools of direct democracy in order to implement legal changes which actually are not in line with international treaties such as fundamental personal freedoms (mass immigration) or human rights (criminal foreigners, minarets).

Summing up we can say that there is at least one big advantage of the debates about international treaties, human rights and how important they are for everyone. This way there can be a public verification generated of the values lied down in the European Convention on Human Rights.


More information: 

Swiss Federal Authorities – Consequences of the Swiss vote on the free movement of persons http://www.admin.ch/aktuell/00726/index.html?lang=en

Human Rights – Swiss information platform www.humanrights.ch, http://www.humanrights.ch/de/menschenrechte-schweiz/inneres/direkte-demokratie/voelkerrecht/svp-initiative-schweizer-recht-fremdes-recht

NGO “Dialogue ECHR” http://schutzfaktor-m.ch/, http://www.humanrights.ch/upload/pdf/140812_Dialig_EMRK_MM.pdf (German),   https://www.facebook.com/SchutzfaktorM

Swiss National Youth Council – No Hate Speech Movement Switzerland http://www.sajv.ch/de/news/news/2014/12/08/menschenrechte-sind-schweizer-rechte/https://www.facebook.com/nohatespeechCH

Swiss Center of Expertise in Human Rights (SCHR) http://www.skmr.ch/

Harmonised Unemployment Rate (Eurostat) http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/tgm/table.do?tab=table&plugin=1&language=en&pcode=teilm020

Swiss unemployment rate report (German) http://www.seco.admin.ch/themen/00374/00384/index.html?lang=de&download=NHzLpZeg7t,lnp6I0NTU042l2Z6ln1acy4Zn4Z2qZpnO2Yuq2Z6gpJCGd4N_fWym162epYbg2c_JjKbNoKSn6A–

SVP party initiative “Swiss law comes first, instead of foreign law” text (German) http://www.svp.ch/de/assets/File/Positionspapier_def.pdf?doaction=return&emailid=37A9D0E7-E505-465D-AEF11E5638CB0C5A&email=crausaz@svp.ch&nocache=1

SVP party explonations to the initiative (German) http://www.svp.ch/aktuell/referate/warum-die-schweizer-ihr-recht-weiterhin-selbst-bestimmen-sollen-schweizer-recht-geht-fremdem-recht-vor/

Council of Europe: A Convention to protect your rights and liberties http://human-rights-convention.org/

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  1. Pingback: Europe – a bureaucratic oxymoron? | Ideas for a greener environment, a fairer society and a future driven by sustainability

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