Kelly Sans Culotte


Far Right Gains in Switzerland
Votes no to immigration, the EU, and NATO.
By Toby Eglund

SVP's Christoph Blocher, a popular multi-millionaire industrialist

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OCTOBER 23, 2003. The far-right Swiss People's Party (SVP) won the most parliamentary votes last weekend, pushing what critics call a naysayer's platform: no to immigration, no to the European Union, no to NATO. The victory threatens to inflame ethnic divisions in the already trilingual nation, and disrupt the cozy forty-four year power-sharing arrangements of Switzerland's coalition government by insuring SVP a second seat on the seven-member governing Federal Council.

The new SVP seat might be filled by Christoph Blocher, the multi-millionaire industrialist who has helped the SVP boost its voting share from 11 percent in 1987 to almost 23 percent in 1999, and 27 percent this weekend.

One in Five
Blocher is the nayest of all the naysayers. He regularly links immigrants including "black Africans" and the "Albanian mafia" to issues of crime and economics. In leadup polls, the SVP reportedly put up election posters of a black face accompanied by the slogan: 'The Swiss are becoming Negroes,' a dubious declaration on several fronts, one of them factual. According to the 1999 Swiss Statistical Yearbook, at least 35 percent of all immigrants are actually from Germany, France, or Italy. Another 24 percent come from the former Yugoslavia, 10 percent from Portugal, and 6 from Spain. The rest come from a variety of places, including Africa.

The SVP, which usually relies on German speakers, made its largest inroads in Switzerland's Francophone region. There, like elsewhere, immigration is the hot button issue.

The growing popularity of Blocher's anti-immigrant stance, like Le Pen's in France, is symptomatic of the cultural stresses of larger changes in Europe, including concessions of sovereignty to the EU, the Bush administration's heavy-handedness within NATO, increased mobility between nations, and immigration. In Switzerland, a country only double the size of New Jersey, one in five people is currently an immigrant resident or temporary foreign worker.

That's a significant percentage for a country that, until recently, was more like conservative Indiana than a melting pot like New York City. Unfortunately, unless the left moves beyond denouncing anti-immigrant bias to address immigrants' impact, or perceived impact, on things like the economy, social services, and daily life, the right will continue to monopolize the debate.

No "Magic Formula"
The balance in the Federal Council will likely tilt in favor of the SVP after the two house legislature elects the seven members of the Federal Council in December. Under the traditional arrangement, called the "magic formula", two Counselors each are elected from the long dominant center-right Christian Democrats, the center-left Social Democrats, and the center-right Free Democrats, and one from the SVP. Moderates are usually elected to assure a consensus in the government.

"A second seat in the Federal Council is obligatory after Sunday's political landslide," said SVP leader Ueli Maurer. Given the strong showing of the SVP in the last election, and the increasingly weak state of Christian Democrats, this comes as no surprise.

Since the Socialists did well in the elections, and will almost certainly keep their two seats, the practical impact of all this depends largely on how the conservatives allocate their seats to make more room for the SVP, and whether or not the new SVP member is willing to compromise.

So far Maurer staunchly backs the candidacy of the extremist Blocher. He has even threatened the unprecedented, to pull the SVP out of the government, and create an opposition if the businessman is not elected to the Federal Council. Blocher himself has pledged to hold a referendum demanding the constitution be changed to allow citizens to vote directly for the Federal Council.

This is probably just hot air. While the SVP got a plurality of the vote, the margin was slim, and nowhere near the numbers required to win a referendum. For now. However, SVP has momentum, and the balance could continue to shift.

From the Web

Switzerland Profile
Work and Health in Switzerland: Immigrants and Natives (PDF)
The Economist: What really unites Europe are faded imperial memories

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