Emmen awaits naturalisation ruling

Dossiers about citizenship applicants are circulated to voters

A controversial decision by the people of Emmen, in canton Lucerne, to deny Swiss citizenship to applicants of Yugoslav extraction is coming under court scrutiny.

This content was published on July 9, 2003 minutes

On Wednesday, the Federal Court is due to rule on an appeal from applicants who were turned down in a popular vote in March 2000.

Peter Schnellmann, the mayor of Emmen – an industrial suburb of Lucerne – hopes the appeal will be rejected, but admits that the system is unworkable.

The Federal Court is considering an appeal brought by five individuals and families who were deemed unsuitable to become citizens by the commune.

In 1999, voters in the commune won the right to decide which foreign applicants are awarded citizenship and which are turned down. Normally naturalisation requests are decided by communal assemblies or committees.

Since then 97 people – 85 of them from former Yugoslavia – have seen their applications rejected.

Just one in five applications for citizenship from Yugoslav nationals succeeds in Emmen, against a success rate of four out of five for all other nationalities.

Media interest

Huge media attention was focused on Emmen after voters turned down 39 out of 57 naturalisation requests in 2000. All the unsuccessful candidates were from former Yugoslavia.

The controversy sparked by the vote led Emmen to suspend its practice of popular votes on citizenship issues for more than a year.

Schnellmann, who is in Lausanne to hear Switzerland’s highest court pronounce on the appeal, says media attention has subsequently diminished.

But he told swissinfo that regardless of the Federal Court ruling, Emmen would need to rethink its strategy.

“It is not tenable to have a certain category of people always refused citizenship. The parties are agreed that the law has to be changed.”

swissinfo, Ariane Gigon Bormann (translation: Morven McLean)

Key facts

Foreigners and their children make up 28 per cent of the population of Emmen.
The first popular vote on naturalisation was held on September 12, 1999.
Since then 97 people have seen their bids rejected, 85 of them from former Yugoslavia.
In one round of voting in 2000, 39 former Yugoslavs had their applications rejected. Some subsequently appealed.

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