Neuchâtel: intercultural integration in action

 

The journalist Brigid Grauman participated in an expert visit to Neuchatel. This enabled representatives from pilot intercultural cites to acquire knowledge about the intercultural strategies implemented in this Swiss Canton. She published her impressions on the Special supplement of the Global Post.

 

Grauman concluded that Neuchatel: "has some of the most progressive policies towards foreigners in Europe."

 

The emphasis of public policy on the prevention of discrimination and the encouragement of a pluralist, multicultural identity of the citizenry, has been effective. While it has a high proportion of foreign residents who represent 25% of its 170 000 people, Neuchâtel was one of Switzerland’s four cantons to vote against the banning of minarets.

 

The canton has a significant history of openness. Foreigners have been given the right to vote in the Neuchâtel’s elections since 1849. Furthermore, since 2007, after five years of residency they can stand for local government positions. Grauman’s article reports that, according to Pascal Mahon, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Neuchatel: "Like the whole of Europe, Switzerland is a land of immigration, and this is going to be increasingly true". Mahon contributed to the development of Neuchatel’s Citizenship Charter. This text lays down the fundamental principles behind Swiss democracy and is distributed to every new arrival to the canton.

 

Thomas Facchinetti has contributed significantly to the development of Neuchatel’s novel approach to intercultural integration. In 1990 he founded, and to this days runs the local foreigners’ office. "We’re a form of counter-power," he said. "We mediate between the political authorities and migrant associations."

 

Recent intercultural issues which Neuchâtel has successfully managed have involved Muslim burial rights in local cemeteries and the occupation of a public building by illegal citizens, but more often they concern less controversial issues such as holding an Italian festival in a village. The canton has measures to facilitate integration, such as easily accessible French language courses and rules about mixed housing and openness in the job market. Police and administrative officials are given special training, and even building managers receive lessons in intercultural diversity management.