IMD Professor Reacts
Ref: PR002-17


Swiss people’s party plays on fear and terrorism ahead of third generation foreigner vote

IMD Prof. Stefan Michel on the upcoming Swiss vote to ease naturalization for long-settled foreigners

Imagine that your grandparents and parents and you had lived the majority of your lives in your home country but that none of you were full citizens.

That’s still possible in Switzerland but the country’s federal government hopes to rectify the situation through an upcoming vote on February 12th to grant eased conditions for citizenship to third generation “foreigners”.

Currently, the rules for granting citizenship are set in the country’s individual cantons but the vote proposes a revision to the law making it easier and uniform across the country

The revision stipulates that a third generation foreigner could be granted simplified naturalization if they were born in Switzerland, have permanent residency and have completed at least five years of compulsory schooling in the country.

Also, at least one of their parents must also have a C permit (long term residency), have gone through the Swiss school system, and lived in Switzerland for at least a decade. Finally the applicant must prove that at least one of their grandparents was either born in Switzerland or had permanent residency.

The process will only be open those up to 25 years of age, in an attempt to stop people from shirking their military service by applying after they would no longer be eligible to be in the army. 26-35 year-olds will have five years from the time the law comes into force to place their application.

I think that the law will pass comfortably, winning the popular vote and the majority of the Cantons, both required for this change of the constitution. However, two aspects seem very interesting to me.

First, the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, which holds two of the seven top ministerial positions in the country, is strongly against this new law. The party’s advertising campaign firmly plays the race card and huge posters can be seen around the country that feature prominently a woman wearing a burka. Surfing the wave of fear of Islamic terrorism, the party knows that it cannot win votes from the center, so it’s counting on keeping the xenophobic voters on their side in preparation for their next campaign against foreigners, the EU, and everything else non-Swiss.

Considering what’s happening in Washington, this is quite worrying. Democracy can only work long-term if voters are well informed. If the law passes, about 25’000 people who are 3rd generation foreigners can benefit from simplified naturalization, and only 300 of them, 300!, come from non-European countries. I would imagine not one of them ever wears a burka. This type of propaganda is not acceptable from a party which counts ministers who are in charge of Switzerland’s military and finance departments as members.

The second point that is very important to me personally is that this vote is more than a change of the constitution. I was raised in my parents’ restaurant, and I have fond memories of when we were kids, and we often celebrated Christmas with guest workers, mostly from Southern Europe, who were working in our kitchen and did not have enough money to travel home and spend the holidays with their family.

The economic miracle of Switzerland would not have happened if it was not for immigrants, at every level of the society, from domestic workers to doctors.

An overwhelmingly positive outcome of the vote would be an important symbol of gratitude to the grandchildren of those who came to our country for work and found a new life, and contributed to the betterment of the country along the way.

Stefan Michel is professor of marketing and service management at IMD and director of IMD's EMBA program. He also has two online-based learning courses Pricing Excellence in Tough B2B Markets (PE) and Marketing Management.


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