The Other Switzerland

BRUSSELS – As policymakers scratch their heads and wonder how best to absorb different cultures and religions into Europe’s very distinct national societies, they could do worse than consider some new ideas being developed in Switzerland. Switzerland, the country that recently voted to ban the construction of minarets on mosques? Absolutely.

It is time for Europe to adjust the way that it thinks about nationality, cultural roots, and how it deals with immigrants. In a world of increasing mobility, an aging Europe will badly need the immigrants of whom it is so frightened – and it should give them a voice in local politics soon (say, one year) after they arrive.

After all, it is more important for taxpayers to participate in local politics than to sit on the sidelines waiting to be given the rights of native citizens. Democratic participation is the best way to integrate people into society and make them feel that their opinions count, regardless of whether they have formal citizenship and thus the right to vote.

I should declare a personal interest here: I was stateless for a time after my birth in Geneva. My father was American, but naturalized too recently to hand his US citizenship on to me. I was born on Swiss soil, but that did not give me the right to a Swiss passport. In the end, the Irish accepted me because that was my mother’s nationality. I have a framed copy of the Act of Parliament by Dail Eireann that was needed.