‘A weapon of war’: Swiss politician calls for neutrality referendum

Swiss politician Christoph Blocher, known as the father of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, has called for a referendum to preserve Switzerland’s neutrality.

Voters line up to vote in a referendum in Switzerland
Will Switzerland hold a referendum on neutrality? Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Blocher said the vote was necessary after Switzerland decided to join the European Union’s sanctions efforts, which he said were “a weapon of war”, echoing the language of Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Blocher also said that Switzerland had decided to go to war with Russia. 

While Blocher said he was currently examining whether or not to launch the referendum himself, it was crucial that Switzerland “takes care of (neutrality) now” to preserve it for the future. 

The SVP has been heavily critical of Switzerland’s sanction efforts, saying it is an erosion of the country’s long-held principle of neutrality. 

Switzerland’s President Ignazio Cassis and a range of independent commentators have disagreed however, with the former arguing that “playing into the hands of an aggressor is not neutral”. 

Blocher has been a hugely influential figure in Swiss politics through his work with the SVP, Switzerland’s largest party, which Reuters described as “the dominant force in Swiss politics”. 

Sanctions on Russia: Is Switzerland still a neutral nation?

In order to launch a referendum, Blocher, the SVP or any other interested party or citizen would need to collect 100,000 signatures. 

Is Switzerland no longer a neutral nation? 

International law professor Oliver Diggelmann, from the University of Zurich told The Local on Tuesday that although Switzerland’s announcement was significant, it did not represent an end to Swiss neutrality. 

“Switzerland remains a neutral country,” Diggelmann said. 

“(Neutral) states have a legal obligation, which comes from their status as permanent neutrals, to not participate militarily in an armed conflict between states and to not support a conflict party with arms.”

Diggelmann emphasised that being committed to neutrality did not mean a commitment to doing nothing. 

UPDATE: How Switzerland could be impacted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine

“Yesterday, the Swiss government recognised that not fully sanctioning such a blatant violation economically would make (Switzerland) an indirect accomplice of the aggressor. It openly positioned itself against a great power, even though only economically, which also marks a cesura in the Swiss political culture.”

Swiss historian and former diplomat Paul Widmer agreed, telling Swiss news outlet 20 Minutes on Tuesday “the policy of neutrality means that Switzerland does not take sides in a conflict.” 

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Zurich approves simplified path to Swiss citizenship

Voters in Switzerland’s most populous canton on Sunday approved a proposal which will make it easier for foreigners to get Swiss citizenship.

Zurich approves simplified path to Swiss citizenship

The vote passed with 69.1 percent support, making it the most popular of the four initiatives put to the polls. 

Around 350,000 foreigners live in Zurich, which is roughly one quarter of the population – although the percentage is as high as 50 percent in some municipalities. 

The successful proposal called for Zurich’s naturalisation process, including the citizenship exam, to be made uniform across all 162 municipalities. 

The questions in the exam will now be centralised on a cantonal level. 

The test will include 350 questions about Swiss history, tradition, politics and culture, with a focus on Zurich. 

Anyone taking the test will be given 50 questions at random and must answer at least 30 correctly to pass. 

More information about the citizenship process in Zurich can be found at the following link. 

EXPLAINED: How Zurich wants to make naturalisation easier

What else was decided on Sunday? 

Voters in Zurich also decided to reject a proposal to lower the voting age to 16, with 64.1 percent saying ‘nein’ to the proposal. 

A proposal to provide for more parental leave – and even up gender imbalances between fathers and mothers – was also rejected. 

Finally, voters supported law changes which sought to enshrine Zurich’s climate change goals in the cantonal constitution. 

A detailed breakdown of the vote can be seen here.