Swiss citizenship For Members

How Switzerland’s Social Democrats want to introduce ‘citizenship by birth’

The Local
The Local - [email protected] • 13 Dec, 2021 Updated Mon 13 Dec 2021 16:10 CEST
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Here is a Swiss passport. Getting one might require answering a few wacky questions. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Swiss citizenship could be made much easier to achieve under a new set of rules by the country’s Social Democrats, including allowing citizenship by birth in a manner similar to the United States and France.

Switzerland’s Social Democrats want to relax Switzerland’s tough naturalisation and citizenship rules to allow “citizenship by birth”, potentially providing an easier path to citizenship for more than a million Swiss residents. 

In an interview with Swiss media, MP Paul Rechsteiner said ‘jus soli’ - the principle where a person can acquire citizenship by birth, should be introduced in Switzerland. 

Rechsteiner, Switzerland’s longest-serving parliamentarian, says the country’s sizeable foreign population - which is estimated to be at around 25 percent - are excluded from the democratic process. 

READ MORE: How to apply for Swiss citizenship: An essential guide

“Switzerland today is a three-quarter democracy. A quarter of the people have a foreign passport. They are excluded from civil rights.”

“Anyone who is born in a country, grows up here, works, spends his life, i.e. is part of the economy and society, should also have the appropriate rights as a citizen. That is a democratic and human rights principle.”

Currently, even third generation immigrants face barriers to citizenship in Switzerland, which has one of the tightest citizenship regimes in Europe. 

COMPARE: Which European countries have the toughest rules for gaining citizenship?

Rechsteiner however said rules would be put in place to prevent “birth tourism”.

“Birth tourism is not meant by jus soli”, Rechsteiner said, pointing to a proposal from Germany whereby one parent must live in the country for five years before citizenship can be bestowed. 

Rechsteiner said the Social Democrats wanted to phase out township citizenship, i.e. where the ultimate citizenship decisions are made at a municipal level. 

“Township citizenship is a relic from the state's early years. The main thing was to regulate who is responsible for the citizens when they became poor, that is, were dependent on support,” he said 

“That is long gone. Today this system is no longer up to date, and it is also unfair.”

“In eastern Switzerland in particular, it is unfortunately the case that it often depends on the municipality whether you get the passport or not. 

“There are those who are very open about this. And others who do everything to prevent naturalisation.”

As The Local has reported previously, there are a myriad of examples where citizenship decisions made at a municipal level have led to absurd results. 

People have been knocked back for not knowing about animals in the local zoo, for not liking hiking and for not remembering the correct year that 18th-century landslides took place. 

READ MORE: The nine most surprising questions on Switzerland’s citizenship exam

How likely is this plan? 

While the Social Democrats are one of Switzerland’s major parties, such a plan is likely to encounter some resistance, particularly from the far-right Swiss People’s Party who have consistently advocated for a tough naturalisation framework. 

Rechsteiner cited the fight for women’s suffrage as an example of how these difficulties might be overcome. 

“When it came to women's suffrage, it seemed impossible for a long time in Switzerland to change anything,” he said. 

Women did not receive the right to vote in Switzerland until 1971, while they did not have full voting rights in all Swiss cantons until 1990. 

“That is too little for our self-image to be a proud democracy. We finally need a citizenship that reflects Switzerland and is suitable for the future.”

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The Local 2021/12/13 16:10

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