Canton of Bern clears the way for Jura's self-determination

Grand Council gives green light to merger referendum next November · If citizens of Bernese Jura and canton of Jura vote for, a new all-Jura canton will be created · Bernese Jura party PSA considers the vote "a unique chance"

The Grand Council of Bern on Monday gave its final green light to the holding of a referendum on the merger of the two Juras. By 94 votes for and 51 against, the Grand Council accepted to allow a vote in canton of Bern's northern French-speaking municipalities (an area known as Bernese Jura), so that its citizens can say if they want to unite with the canton of Jura in order to create a new all-Jura canton.

The referendum is to be hold on November 24th, both in the Bernese Jura and in the canton of Jura. If both territories vote for the merger, the governments of Jura and Bern must engage in a negotiation leading to the election of a constituent assembly. This assembly will be responsible for drafting the Constitution of the new all-Jura canton.

The Bernese Council has also accepted (albeit by a narrow margin) that individual municipalities in the Bernese Jura can organize their own referendums in order to remain within the canton of Bern. This also goes the other way round: if the general referendum fails (and thus there is no merger), each municipality in the Bernese Jura can hold a vote in order to individually join the canton of Jura.

The Autonomous Socialist Party of Southern Jura (PSA, main party advocating the merger of both Juras) has said that the vote is "a unique chance" for the people of both Juras.

The procedure does not foresee the possibility of outright independence from Switzerland.

French-speaking minority in a German-speaking canton

French-speaking Jura had been fighting for their independence from German-speaking Bern since the 1950s. Two referendums on the issue were hold in 1974 and 1975. Then, the Catholic northernmost districts of Delémont, Porrentruy and Franches-Montagnes opted for secession, while the Protestant districts of Moutier, Courtelary, La Neuveville and Laufon (i.e. the Bernese Jura) voted for remaining with Bern.

Pro-secession organizations considered that the issue had not been definitively settled. In 2006, the Bernese Jura got its own elected assembly, while remaining a part of the canton of Bern. Last year, the governments of Jura and Bern signed a the Declaration of Intent, an deal through which they agreed to hold the 2013 referendum.