Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga, a Social Democrat, went into Wednesday’s meeting reasonably secure in the knowledge that her proposals would not be accepted, newspaper Tages Anzeiger reported.
Nevertheless, her department said that she had gone ahead anyway because she “wanted to show through the proposals that she takes the will of the people seriously”.
The initiative for the expulsion of foreign criminals, launched by the far-right Swiss People’s Party, was accepted in a referendum 2010.
Since then, ministers have struggled to find a way to implement the provisions of the initiative, since the concept of automatic expulsion for foreign criminals runs contrary to a variety of international legal principles and obligations that Switzerland has signed up to.
Sommaruga has received criticism for the delay, criticism she will now be able to deflect since she can no longer be seen as the reason for the hold-up.
One of the difficulties in framing the new law involves determining what the correct threshold should be in order for a foreign criminal to qualify for expulsion.
The Swiss People’s Party has sought automatic expulsion for any foreigner committing any level of crime, including minor offences. On this basis, an estimated 16,000 foreigners would have been expelled in 2009, including some 3,200 from EU countries.
The other alternative presented by Sommaruga is to expel only those foreign criminals who have committed serious crimes incurring jail sentences of six months or more. This would have affected 3,400 foreigners in 2009, only 790 of whom were EU citizens.
Many critics, including foreign minister Didier Burkhalter, are concerned that any such law would infringe the free movement of people and create further tensions with the EU.
The government has asked Sommaruga to come back with a less severe proposal before the summer break.
Switzerland is not currently on the best terms with the EU, having announced recently its intention to invoke a safeguard clause in its bilateral agreement with the union, which will restrict the numbers of work permits granted to the citizens of eight East European EU member states.