Saturday 29 April 2017

Swiss vote to relax citizenship rules for 'third-generation foreigners'

Voters in Switzerland took part in a national referendum (AP)
Voters in Switzerland took part in a national referendum (AP)

People in Switzerland have voted to make it easier for "third-generation foreigners" to get Swiss citizenship.

But they rejected a complex tax reform initiative aimed at bringing Switzerland in line with international standards.

The "simplified naturalisation of third-generation immigrants" measure passed in a national referendum with 60.4% of the votes, Swiss broadcaster SRF reported.

It simplifies applications for anyone under 25 whose parents and grandparents have lived in Switzerland for years.

The measure gives young people who qualify the same fast-track, simplified access to Swiss citizenship that foreign spouses of Swiss nationals often enjoy.

SRF reported that 59.1% of voters rejected the tax reform measure, which would have scrapped a two-track tax system that offers lower rates to foreign firms to lure investment.

Experts say the tax initiative's failure means that overall rates are likely to be set higher - which would be a disincentive to companies that bring in jobs and ultimately tax revenues.

Many domestic companies, meanwhile, could see their tax rates go down.

Critics including regional government leaders and much of the political left had said the initiative would deplete tax coffers for an uncertain pay-off.

Proponents countered that the reforms were needed to keep competitive a country that has few exportable natural resources and relies heavily on globalised industries such as finance and pharmaceuticals.

The citizenship initiative affects just under 25,000 people but the long-term implications are far-reaching. Roughly one-fourth of Switzerland's total population of 8.2 million is foreign-born, one of the highest such percentages in Europe.

Switzerland, which is not in the European Union but is all but surrounded by bloc members, has been taking in foreigners for centuries.

As in some other parts of Europe, being born in Switzerland does not automatically confer Swiss citizenship.

The "third-generation foreigners" initiative strikes at a Europe-wide dilemma about how best to integrate newcomers, but generally involves people from elsewhere in Europe or Turkey whose families have been in the Alpine nation for decades.

It does not apply to migrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East who have poured into Europe in the last several years, sparking a backlash among many on the political far-right.

Sunday's referendum was the latest instalment of Switzerland's direct democracy that gives voters a frequent say on political decisions. A third issue on the national ballot involving infrastructure spending passed with 61.9% of the votes.

Voters in the eastern Graubuenden canton, or region, also decided against a bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympics. Four years ago, the region rejected a similar referendum about the 2022 Winter Games, which were eventually awarded to Beijing.

AP

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