Swiss voters have decisively rejected tougher rules on expelling foreign criminals which the country’s political far-right had hoped would win support on the back of a wave of anti-immigration sentiment sweeping across Europe. The “enforcement initiative”, proposed by the powerful Swiss People’s party (SVP), could have seen foreigners ejected for relatively minor offences, such as threatening public officials. But it was defeated in a referendum on Sunday, with 59 per cent voting against, according to final results. Its rejection followed a counter offensive mobilised by business leaders, civil organisations and academics against the SVP’s populist campaign, which included posters showing black sheep representing foreign criminals.
Patrick Emmenegger, political scientist at the University of St Gallen, said the counter offensive was “one of the most aggressive we have seen in Switzerland” and could have lessons for June’s UK referendum on EU membership.
When opponents play on emotions and populism, “you have to get your hands dirty, and sharpen your message”, Mr Emmenegger said.
Switzerland has been relatively unaffected by the crisis created by thousands of refugees fleeing wars in countries such as Syria, especially compared with neighbouring Germany and Austria. But fears have risen of uncontrolled immigration, with foreigners comprising about a quarter of Switzerland’s population.