20 September 2017: Ignazio Cassis was elected Switzerland’s new federal councilor. He could have been the first member of the Federal Council with dual citizenship – if he hadn’t decided to renounce his Italian citizenship even though no legal obligation exists.
Since 1992, Switzerland has allowed its citizens to have dual citizenship. Thus, for 25 years now, the legal obligation to give up one’s other citizenship no longer exists: no matter how it was acquired. Just like Switzerland, many other states have come to accept dual citizenship in recent years. This development is in line with international law, which gradually recognizes citizenship – including dual or multiple citizenship – to have a human rights dimension as it forms a central element of a person’s social identity. From a legal perspective, there is therefore clearly no obligation for Ignazio Cassis to renounce his Italian citizenship.
Is it fair to ask of him to surrender his foreign passport anyway? Being a political question, this can be answered in different ways. One could argue, for example, that Cassis has close ties to Italy and therefore has a strong interest in keeping both passports. However, one could also question his loyalty towards Switzerland having in mind that as the head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs he might have to represent Switzerland in negotiations with Italy one day. But again – should we then, for example, not also ask politicians to give up property in other countries?
The main question probably is whether a person is trustworthy and capable of holding a political office and not whether that person has one or more passports. Legally it is clear that the latter is not an obstacle.
Barbara von Rütte
Doctoral student, nccr – on the move, University of Bern
On 1 November 2017, Ignazio Cassis became one of the seven Swiss federal councilors. His election is historical, as Cassis is the first member of the Federal Council not to have had Swiss citizenship at birth and he could have been the first member of the Federal Council with dual citizenship – if he hadn’t decided to renounce his Italian citizenship in the months preceding the election. The nccr – on the move publishes a short series of blog posts reflecting on legal and political questions concerning elected politicians with dual citizenship.