Border cantons demand reinforcement of Border Guard Corps

Border cantons demand reinforcement of Border Guard Corps

mw. On Tuesday, 11 June, the National Council will vote on whether to endorse two state initiatives from the Cantons of Grisons and Valais, which call for an increase in personnel and better equipment for the Border Guard Corps (GWK). The people of Valais and Grisons are not the first to call on the Confederation to improve security at national borders: Other border cantons such as Basel-Stadt, Basel-Landschaft and St. Gallen have already submitted similar state initiatives, and another one is currently being outlined in Ticino.
Protecting the security of Switzerland is a central task of the Confederation. Its optimal fulfilment is a must and must not be capped for financial reasons (end of 2018: 2107 full-time jobs). It is therefore incomprehensible that the Council of States – which would have to be particularly committed to urgent matters put forward by the cantons (!) – wants to sink the two professional initiatives, albeit with a relatively small majority.
The National Council now has the opportunity to take countermeasures and go with its Security Policy Committee SPC-N, which clearly approved the initiatives on 8 October 2018. This would give the Council of States the opportunity to reconsider its decision of 6 March.  

According to the Federal Constitution, each canton has the right to submit initiatives to the Federal Assembly (Article 160 paragraph 1). Cantonal initiatives are decided by the respective cantonal parliament and then submitted to the Federal Assembly.

Text of the state initiative of the Canton of Grisons

“On the basis of Article 160(1) of the Federal Constitution, the Canton of Grisons submits the following state initiative:
1.    Border guards must at all locations be staffed in such a way that they can perform their duties in accordance with the existing security situation and the security needs of the population.
2.    There may be no staff cutbacks in the Border Guard Corps but its staff is to be increased and reinforced with materially up-to-date equipment and infrastructure, so that the Border Guard Corps can satisfactorily meet the growing challenges today and in the future, in the area of its customs and security tasks as well as that of illegal migration”.
The Valais state initiative makes the same demands in terms of content as the Grisons one.1

Excerpts from the reasons given for the initiatives

Increasing dangers and risks at our borders require a reinforcement of the Border Guard Corps.

“Ensuring security is one of the most important core tasks of a state. The Border Guard Corps is the Confederation’s largest civilian security body and has established itself as a proven component of Switzerland’s security architecture. From the point of view of the cantons and the population, it ensures security and stability, not only on Switzerland’s external border, but also in the neighbouring inland regions. With its controls of imported goods, the GWK also prevents serious offences such as smuggling (of drugs, weapons, people, etc.). Due to the massive increase in migration, especially illegal migration, in recent years in most border regions of Switzerland, the GWK and its employees are repeatedly being pushed to their limits. […] The Canton of Grisons can only deal with the current and future dangers and risks in the areas of cross-border crime and irregular migration, as well as the latent threat of terrorism, in partnership with the GWK.” (17.318 Grisons)
It should be added that the GWK’s tasks also include participation in Frontex’s activities at the EU’s external borders, where around 40 GWK members work around 1200 days a year.2

No cost-cutting exercises at the expense of internal security!

The Canton of Valais points out that the Federal Government also intends to save jobs in the area of internal security with its 2017-2019 stabilisation programme: “This will also put the GWK in the focus of a personnel reduction. This at a time when migration flows from the South are increasing, the situation in the Middle East is fragile, terrorist attacks are becoming everyday occurrences, cross-border crime shows no sign of abating and the need for security among the population is growing. For these reasons, the GWK must not continue to reduce its staff. Rather, new jobs must be created, so that the GWK may continue to master its core tasks, taking into account the increasing risks and a constantly changing situation” (18.307 Wallis).

The concerns of the two initiatives have also been brought forward by other cantons.

Both initiatives refer to earlier proposals from other cantons (BL, BS, SG). This demonstrates the urgency of the situation and strengthens the weightiness of the cantons vis-à-vis the Confederation.

Parliamentary debates to date

  • Summer 2018: A majority of the Council of States Security Policy Committee (SPC-S) rejects the two initiatives.
  • 25 September 2018: Council of States joins the Commission minority and endorses the initiatives (25 votes to 19).
  • 8 October 2018: Security Policy Committee (SPC-N) requests the National Council to follow the recommendation of the Council of States.
  • Winter session 2018: In the budget debate, both councils approve the creation of 44 additional full-time jobs in the GWK.
  • 11 February 2019: SPC-S thus considers the concerns of the two state initiatives to be fulfilled and unanimously requests the Council of States to scrap them.
  • 6 March 2019: Council of States narrowly adopts the Commission’s proposal (20 to 17 with 1 abstention) and scraps the initiatives.3

The National Council Commission maintains its support for the two initiatives

On 8 April, the SPC-N decided by 15 to 9 votes not to approve the decision of the Council of States, but to continue to support the state initiatives of Valais and Grisons. Excerpts from the considerations of the SPC-N:
“The majority [of the commission] criticises the fact that the Federal Council overrides the Parliament’s resolutions to compensate the increase of the GWK above department lines, and that it is too tardy in boosting the staffing of the GWK. After the parliamentary decision in favour of an increase of personnel in December 2018, the SPC-N wants to see the Federal Council’s multi-year concept for the re-enforcement of the GWK finally realised. The problems at the border, as e.g. migration pressure and criminal tourism, are still present. Against this background, the SPC-N considers the main concern of the state initiatives 17.318 and 18.307 to be still unfulfilled. It therefore requests its Council [...] not to agree to the depreciation of the initiative” (Report by the Security Policy Commission of the National Council of 8 April).
It is to be hoped that on 11 June, the National Council will say no to the depreciation of the initiatives by the Council of States, so that it can re-examine the matter.     •

1    State initiative 17.318 of the Canton of Grisons, Re-enforcement of the Border Guard Corps, submitted on 15 November 2017; State initiative 18.307 of the Canton of Valais, submitted on 26 March 2018.
2    <link http: ezv de home themen auslandeinsaetze einsaetze-gwk0 frontex.html external-link seite:> (In German)
3    Report of the Security Policy Committee of the National Council on the cantonal initiatives 17.318 GR and 18.307 VS from 8 April

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