The Swiss “burqa ban” is coming. A good 51 percent of those entitled to vote spoke out on Sunday in favor of a ban on face covering in public spaces. This means that in future Muslim women will no longer be allowed to wear a nikab or burqa on Swiss streets, but disguises at demonstrations or sporting events are also prohibited. Carnival disguises, on the other hand, remain permitted – and medically necessary coverings such as corona face masks.
How exactly the corresponding legal regulation will look is still open and will be a matter for Parliament. With the successful referendum, however, the Egerkinger Komitee, which is critical of Islam, managed to have the prohibition of veils written into the constitution. For its proponents – in addition to right-wing and conservative circles as well as some women’s rights activists – the ban makes an important contribution in the fight against religious extremism and protects women from oppression and discrimination.
The opponents – liberal, left and green parties, as well as several religious women’s associations – emphasized in the voting campaign that such a ban would undermine religious tolerance and would not help oppressed women, but merely ban them from the public. Although the opposing camp caught up in the latest polls, the supporters narrowly prevailed on Sunday.
A free trade agreement with Indonesia was also voted on
In particular, the small central Swiss cantons and the majority of French-speaking western Switzerland voted yes. For Switzerland, following the ban on building minarets adopted in 2009, the ban on veiling is the second successful initiative that is critical of Islam. However, it is not alone in Europe with such a ban: Countries such as France, Austria or Denmark also prohibit full veiling.
In the case of the free trade agreement with Indonesia, the yes votes also predominated: almost 52 percent voted in favor. The agreement is the free trade agreement of the Efta countries (Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway) with the populous Indonesia, which was approved by parliament in 2019. But because green and peasant circles held the referendum against it, a vote was now taken. The main accusation of the opponents: palm oil may be imported into Switzerland at low customs tariffs under the agreement.
The tariff discounts are linked to sustainability requirements – for example, the fact that no rainforest may be cut down for production. But opponents argue that the requirements could not offset the negative effects of the palm oil industry. Ultimately, however, the majority of the population was convinced by the large camp of supporters, which includes the bourgeois-conservative parties as well as the large business associations and the farmers’ association.
The Swiss electorate said no to the introduction of an electronic identity in accordance with the law already passed by parliament. The planned regulation stipulated that the state should play a subordinate role in the introduction of an e-ID. According to the law, issuers of an E-ID could be cantons, municipalities, but also private companies that would only have to be certified and monitored by the federal authorities.
A consortium of 20 large private and state-affiliated companies, the Swiss Sign Group, was ready to issue an e-ID if the law was passed. But apparently the population was more skeptical about the state’s reluctance to use digital proof of identity. A clear 64 percent of those entitled to vote voted against the E-ID law. Data protection activists in particular had sharply criticized the regulation and collected signatures for a vote against it.