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Frontex: How Switzerland’s ‘border vote’ on May 15th could impact travel

On May 15th, voters will decide on three issues. Rejection of one of them, the so-called Frontex, could have consequences on travel to and from Switzerland. This is how.

Frontex: How Switzerland’s 'border vote' on May 15th could impact travel
Swiss border controls could become more systematic if Frontex is rejected on May 15th. Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Since 2011, Switzerland has participated in the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), which monitors the external borders of the Schengen area.

The European Union has decided to strengthen this agency by giving it more financial resources and staff. As a member of the Schengen area, Switzerland is called upon to increase its annual contribution beyond what the country has provided so far — 24 million francs donated in 2021, along with six members of staff.  

The EU wants Switzerland to raise its contribution to 61 million francs per year and 40 employees by 2027.

The Federal Council and parliament have agreed to participate in the expansion of Frontex, arguing that ending this cooperation would have significant repercussions on security, asylum, cross-border traffic, tourism and the economy in general.

READ MORE: How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

However, opponents of the law, including mostly left-leaning groups, are arguing that “Frontex is responsible for the violent policy carried out against migrants at the external borders of the EU” and is complicit “in human rights violations and unlawful deportations”.

The latest poll, conducted in April 20th by Tamedia, Switzerland’s largest media group, shows that 49 percent of voters support the government’s proposal, with 7 percent still undecided.

What would happen if the proposal is rejected at the polls?

One of the consequences of the refusal would be that international travel could become more difficult not only for Swiss citizens, but also for people coming into Switzerland.

The reason can be summed up in one word: Schengen.

Right now Switzerland, though not part of the European Union, is a member of the passport-free zone of 26 countries, which abolished internal borders, allowing unrestricted movement of people within the zone.

Swiss travellers take for granted the ease and convenience of travelling from one Schengen country to another without systematic customs checks, as is the case with those arriving from outside the EU.

However, if Frontex is turned down on May 15th, “Switzerland could be excluded from Schengen, so the freedom of movement would be limited”, the Federal Council and the parliament argue in the referendum materials distributed to all voters’ households.

“This would harm the tourism industry and would have repercussions on our economy and relations with the EU”.

Government pamphlet distributed to voters in French-speaking regions. Photo: The Local

The reason is “because financial participation in the development of the European Border Protection Agency is considered to be an integral part of the Schengen Treaty”, according to a report in Tribune de Genève (TDG).

The article pointed out that “in every airport in Europe, passengers are classified into two strict categories, ‘Schengens’ and ‘non-Schengens’. The former can go straight to the boarding gate after the security check. And the others have to stand in a queue for passport control. Same on arrival”.

If the proposal is tuned down, the EU member states will have to decide whether Switzerland can remain in the Schengen zone. “If it is not an unanimous ‘yes’, then the agreement falls automatically, causing complications for trips abroad”.

It would also discourage visitors from third nations from including Switzerland on their tour of Europe. Depending on their nationality, they would have to apply not only for a Schengen visa, but also for an additional one allowing them to enter Switzerland.

Frontex opponents, however, downplay its importance, claiming that issues other than convenient travel are more pressing.

“The partitioning of Europe – in which Frontex plays a central role – is not a solution, but a racist and imperial response”, according to Livia Tepper, spokesperson for the anti-Frontex committee.

The committee’s main focus is not the ease of crossing borders but deportation of illegal migrants  and asylum seekers from Europe —a claim that the government denies, arguing that “Switzerland is actively engaged in the protection of human rights”.

What else is at stake on May 15th?

Sunday, May 15th, sees the latest round of Swiss referenda. 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What’s at stake in Switzerland’s May referendums?

On a federal level, three questions are up for consideration: Netflix and streaming, organ donation rules and Frontex. More information on these votes are available at the following links. 

READ MORE: What is the ‘Netflix vote’ and how could it change TV in Switzerland?

EXPLAINED: What Switzerland’s ‘organ donation’ vote means for you

Frontex: How Switzerland’s ‘border vote’ on May 15th could impact travel

There are also dozens of referendum questions being asked at a cantonal level all across the country. 

In Zurich, voters will go to the polls to decide on several questions. 

Perhaps the most relevant for Local readers is the referendum on improving the naturalisation process, including making the system uniform across each of the canton’s 162 municipalities. 

Detailed information is available at the following link. 

EXPLAINED: How Zurich wants to make naturalisation easier

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First same-sex couples get married in Switzerland

The first same-sex couples tied the knot in Switzerland on Friday following a referendum that changed the landscape for gay rights in the country.

First same-sex couples get married in Switzerland

 Among the first to get married were Aline, 46, and Laure, 45, who have been together for 21 years and converted their civil union into marriage at the plush Palais Eynard in Geneva.

Beneath a sparkling chandelier in a mirrored salon, and with a dozen or so close friends and family in attendance, the couple exchanged touching words recalling their years together and love for each other.

Holding hands throughout the ceremony, they signed the official documents, followed by their witnesses.

“I am now very pleased to announce that you are officially married,” said the Mayor of Geneva, Marie Barbey-Chappuis, who conducted the first ceremony in person.

READ MORE: ‘Deviance and morality’: The history of the same-sex marriage movement in Switzerland

The room burst into applause as the couple exchanged a kiss.

“It was very moving. It’s a big moment and sends a very strong message to society — being free to love and be loved,” Barbey-Chappuis told AFP afterwards.

“The symbolism was particularly strong and the emotion too”.

It was high time that marriage became perfectly equal in Switzerland. “It marks a moment in the history of Switzerland and of the institution of marriage.”

Switzerland is one of the last remaining western European nations to adopt same-sex marriages. The Netherlands was the first to make the change in 2001.

The Swiss government’s plans to introduce “marriage for all” were challenged by opponents, who successfully triggered a referendum on the issue that was held last September. But 64.1 percent of voters backed the introduction of same-sex marriage in he wealthy Alpine nation.

Switzerland decriminalised homosexuality in 1942. Before Friday, same-sex  couples could only register a civil partnership. However, that status does not provide the same rights as marriage, including for obtaining citizenship and the joint adoption of children.

READ MORE: Everything that changes in Switzerland in July 2022

Same-sex couples can now marry in civil ceremonies and enjoy the same rights as other married couples.

Same-sex foreign spouses are now eligible to apply for citizenship through a simplified procedure and same-sex couples are now permitted to adopt jointly.