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People's Party plays its signature tune

Christoph Blocher greeting the People's Party faithful Keystone

Justice Minister Christoph Blocher has won unanimous backing for tougher asylum laws at the general assembly of the rightwing Swiss People's Party.

This content was published on April 8, 2006 - 19:14

In addition the first signatures were collected for a referendum challenging Switzerland's SFr1-billion ($770 million) contribution to the ten new European Union member states.

Ueli Maurer, president of the People's Party, opened the conference in Maienfeld, canton Graubünden, and warmed up delegates by criticising recent government behaviour.

Money should not be handed out, he said, without knowing how it would be raised.

Last month the Senate followed the House of Representatives in adopting an extension of a programme introduced in the 1990s aimed at helping eastern European countries transform into market economies following the collapse of the Communist regimes.

The programme does not specify how the money for the so-called Cohesion Fund is to be raised, although the government pledged to submit the funding details to parliament by the end of this year.

At least 50,000 signatures need to be collected over the next three months to force a vote likely to take place next year ahead of parliamentary elections.

Maurer also took a shot at Economics Minister Joseph Deiss, who had himself taken a shot at the People's Party for launching the referendum.

"Mr Deiss appears to have a rather twisted grasp of the democratic right of the people," he said.

"Tragedy"

Blocher, one of two People's Party members in the Swiss cabinet, then took the stage and launched into a defence of the new foreigner and asylum laws, which as justice minister he had masterminded.

"The fact is that most asylum seekers are unable to come up with any reasons for being given asylum," he said. "And many don't provide any identity papers, making it that much harder to deport them."

Blocher told delegates current measures were insufficient. People who were obliged to leave the country were hardly going to offer to cooperate, he said, adding that the asylum process as it is, especially second court cases, took far too long.

Blocher maintained that anyone wanting to work in Switzerland could, and that the legislation would merely provide better protection against abuse of the asylum system.

"It would be a tragedy for Switzerland as a business location if our social system were licensed to the entire world," he said.

Delegates unanimously backed both laws.

More signatures

Last week a coalition of leftwing parties, churches and charities handed in more than 160,000 signatures against the foreigner and asylum laws to the Federal Chancellery, forcing a national referendum.

The new measures include rejected asylum seekers no longer receiving social welfare payments and the dropping of admission to those who could not provide valid identity papers within 48 hours.

In addition the maximum detention for foreigners awaiting deportation would be raised to 18 months.

Swiss voters will have the final say on the new asylum and foreigners laws which were approved by parliament last year.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The new law on foreigners favours EU and Efta nationals and limits the migration of non-European and unqualified workers. The migration of family members also becomes harder.

Under the asylum law, asylum seekers no longer receive social welfare payments and the maximum detention for foreigners awaiting deportation has been raised to 18 months.

Both laws were approved by parliament last December.

As part of the second set of bilateral treaties with Brussels, non-EU member Switzerland, pledged to provide SFr1 billion to ten new EU member states mainly in eastern Europe.

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Key facts

The Swiss People's Party, in its present form, was founded in 1971.
It is the largest party in the House of Representatives with 55 out of 200 seats.
It also holds eight out of 46 seats in the Senate and has two members in the Swiss cabinet: Samuel Schmid and Christoph Blocher.

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