How the extreme Right hijacks direct democracy

How the extreme Right hijacks direct democracy


Written by: Liz Fekete

The IRR European Race Audit (ERA) publishes today two briefing papers on the Swiss referendum against minarets and the ways in which direct democracy can be hijacked by the extreme Right.

On 29 November 2009, Switzerland became the first country in Europe to vote to curb the religious practices of Muslims when a referendum, banning the construction of minarets on mosques, was backed by a strong majority. ERA Briefing Paper no. 1, ‘The Swiss referendum on minarets: background and aftermath’, provides a comprehensive documentation of the Swiss referendum. ERA briefing paper no. 2 puts the Swiss vote in context. In ‘Direct democracy, racism and the extreme Right’, ERA documents forty cases, involving either petitions or citizens’ initiative referenda, that have been held to curtail the basic rights of BME communities, asylum seekers, migrant workers, foreign residents and European Muslims. Both papers draw attention to the ways in which extreme-Right and anti-immigrant parties – like the Italian Northern League, the Austrian Freedom Party, the French Front National and the Swiss People’s Party – are manipulating particular forms of direct democracy in ways that put representative democracies under threat.

The IRR notes that under the European Citizens’ Initiative of the Lisbon Treaty, if the signatures of one million EU citizens are gathered from a significant number of member states, then the petitioners will be able to present a legislative or treaty amendment, and invite the Commission to act upon it. Yet many of the initiatives we document – most notably the Swiss referendum on minarets – actually violate the fundamental rights of minorities. It is in this context that the ERA asks that ‘those in power note the ways in which the extreme-Right and anti-immigrant electoral parties have manipulated people’s power to bring about xenophobic outcomes and institutionalise racism and discrimination – and the consequences of this process in terms of the rise of racial violence and hate crimes.’

The IRR European Race Audit is publishing regular briefings aimed at drawing attention to aspects of European racism today and its impact on minority communities.

Download the free briefing papers at the links below.

Related links

Download ERA Briefing Paper no.1: ‘The Swiss referendum on minarets: background and aftermath’ (pdf file, 152kb)

Download ERA Briefing Paper no.2: ‘Direct democracy, racism and the extreme Right ‘ (pdf file, 200kb)

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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