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Frenchman barred from Swiss citizenship over speeding offence

In yet another example of Swiss authorities denying citizenship to eligible candidates, a French citizen’s application for naturalisation has been finally rejected because he was caught speeding.

Frenchman barred from Swiss citizenship over speeding offence
If you speed, you are not Swiss. Photo by Denny Müller on Unsplash

The speeding incident dates back to 2017 and the rejection of naturalisation application to 2018, but the final verdict of the applicant’s appeal was published only on Thursday. 
This is what we know:

The Frenchman, whose identity was not revealed, has lived in Switzerland for 40 years and owns several multi-million-franc businesses here.
In 2017, the Geneva resident reportedly drove past a 40-km/h construction site at 80 km/h and was subsequently slapped with a 540-franc fine.
His citizenship application was initially rejected in 2018, because the naturalisation committee took his careless driving to mean than the candidate was “not successfully integrated.” His appeal against the decision failed.
READ MORE: Reader question: What does being ‘successfully integrated’ in Switzerland mean? 

This may sound like a trivial reason to deny a passport to an otherwise upstanding resident, but it is in line with Switzerland’s strict naturalisation criteria, which include complying with the country’s laws.

Not paying your taxes on time, having unsettled debts or being the subject of debt collection proceedings, and having a criminal record — which the Frenchman has, after being caught speeding — can also preclude naturalisation.

READ MORE: Why your Swiss citizenship application might be rejected – and how to avoid it

Law is law, but some decisions seem to be arbitrary.

For instance, an 18-year-old man was recently naturalised in Aargau, even though he was caught shoplifting in 2021.

Even though some officials opposed naturalisation, finding the young man’s behaviour “disrespectful,” these objections were overruled on the grounds that shoplifting incidents happened when the man was a minor, and he was granted Swiss citizenship after all.

READ MORE: Why the case of a teenager getting Swiss citizenship has sparked controversy

Failing the cheese test

But there are also other examples of arbitrary rulings.

One involved a British café owner in canton Schwyz, who was denied citizenship after failing to answer a question about the origins of a Swiss cheese dish, raclette. 

Another well publicised example was a Dutch woman living in Aargau, whose first attempt to get a Swiss passport was turned down because she complained about the noise of cow bells in her village.

In 2020, an Italian man was denied Swiss citizenship because he failed questions on the test about animals in the local zoo. The decision was, however, overturned by a federal court. 

And there is also the case of a family from Kosovo, long-term residents in Switzerland, who have had their application for citizenship refused, partly due to their habit of wearing jogging bottoms in town and not greeting people in the street.

The reason? You guessed it — lack of integration.

READ MORE: Sweatpant-wearing family denied Swiss passports

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For members


EXPLAINED: The new bid to ease Swiss citizenship laws

A new initiative launched this week aims to shorten residency requirements for foreigners in order to quality for Swiss citizenship. Here's what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: The new bid to ease Swiss citizenship laws

The move, called a “Popular initiative for a modern nationality right (initiative for democracy),” is spearheaded by an organisation called Aktion Vierviertel in German and Action Quatre Quarts in French.

The group is campaigning for foreigners who have lived and worked in Switzerland for at least five years — rather than 10 years as is required currently — to be able to apply for a Swiss passport.

“Political participation is one of the cornerstones of democracy. Whoever has to obey the laws must [also] have a say,” the association said, pointing out that this right is denied to a quarter of the population, or two million foreigners, who contribute to Switzerland’s economic, cultural and social life.

READ ALSO: ‘Broken system’: The fight to make it easier for foreigners to get Swiss citizenship

One of the members of the initiative committee, Nadra Mao, is of Somali origin. Born in Bern, she acquired Swiss nationality when she was nine.

“40 percent of Switzerland’s population comes from immigration, but 26 percent of them don’t have a Swiss passport,” she said.

“The five-year period for naturalisation is already in effect in Germany and France,” she added.

Currently, people are required to have lived in Germany for eight years before applying for citizenship (although it can be reduced in some cases), however, the government is planning to reduce it to five years. 

Another supporter of the initiative, MP Lisa Mazzone — who has a migration background herself — agrees that this is “a necessary project for modern Switzerland, a recognition for all the foreign people who live, work, and weave their social ties here”.

The organisation now has until November 23rd 2024 to collect the 100,000 signatures that are needed to launch a referendum.

‘Not integrated’

Not everyone, however, agrees with the proposed change.

“After five years of living in Switzerland, foreigners are not integrated,” according to MP Erich Hess, who said he is “totally against the initiative.”

As for the former Federal Councillor Pascal Couchepin, he said the initiative is “doomed to failure, it has no chance”.

He added that “five years to become Swiss is very short”.

What are the current rules?

For ordinary naturalisation, 10 years of residency are required, though years spent living in Switzerland between ages of eight and 18 count as double.

The five-year rule already applies to foreign spouses of Swiss citizens: they must have lived for a total of five years in Switzerland, have spent the year prior to submitting the application in Switzerland and must have been married to and living with the Swiss citizen for three years. 

READ ALSO: The 7 common mistakes to avoid when applying for Swiss citizenship