Update: 15.06.2016

40 years' membership in the ECHR – a reason to celebrate

On 28 November 1974, Switzerland could finally implement the legal act: some short time ago Swiss women were given the right to vote on a federal level. This meant the obstacles were removed and Switzerland was allowed to participate in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). This step was important and correct for Switzerland. The ECHR basic rights have since had a decisive effect on the Swiss constitutional state and influenced the drafting of the new federal constitution in 1999. Today the ECHR is applied at a daily basis by administrative and legal authorities all across the country and has an effect on everyday life.

Federal Council: more calmness in dealing with Strasbourg

The Swiss People’s Party (SPP) has always opposed Switzerland’s opening towards Europe. Its polemics against the ECHR and the ECtHR keep growing in importance. The party seems to bother about the fact that the joint judges of the Council of Europe member states have in some cases criticised Switzerland and urged Switzerland regard human rights. The party is planning to collect signatures for an initiative directed against the ECHR in 2015, a year in which national elections will be held. On 19 November 2014, the SPP representative in the Federal Council, Ueli Maurer, has launched a report in which he asked the Federal Council to apply to the parliament to call for a formal termination of the ECHR.

The Federal Council has clearly voted against the plans forwarded by Ueli Maurer. In a communiqué it stated that «a termination of the ECHR is clearly no option for the Federal Council». Since the Court only registers a violation of the Convention very rarely, and since various convictions of Switzerland have led to changes in legislation and legal practice which have been generally accepted, the Federal Council is calling for a «more relaxed attitude towards Strasbourg». In the Federal Council’s view, a termination of the ECHR would isolate Switzerland in foreign policy and would be detrimental to the system for the protection of human rights by the Council of Europe.

Federal Council acknowledges the importance of the ECHR for Switzerland

The rebuttal by the Federal Council of the demand by Ueli Maurer must be seen in the context of the adoption of a report which the Federal Council had prepared in response to a postulate. In this report, the Federal Council also acknowledges the positive influence the ECHR had on the Swiss legal system over the past decades. It closely describes the exact circumstances of Switzerland’s accession in 1974 and sheds light on the question as to how far the ECHR and the ECtHR have been influenced by Switzerland. In addition, the report shows that the ECHR has contributed to the stability of the countries surrounding Switzerland and their legal systems, which has been of greatest importance for Switzerland.

The report also focuses on Switzerland’s future prospects as a member of the Council of Europe. In this connection it states that the Confederation considers subsidiarity as important principle of jurisdiction of the ECHR and that the Confederation will also in future promote efficient reforms of the control system. And not least it addresses the potential conflicts with the ECHR that certain popular initiatives have visualized. The report also states that the Federal Council still is striving to «resolve the set of issues in a factual and politically sustainable manner».

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