The Swiss system of direct democracy can be a model for the European Union according to Jørn Dohrmann, a conservative Danish politician and senior member of the EU parliamentary delegation for relations with Switzerland.
Dohrmann says it is important for the 28-nation bloc to increase citizens’ participation to prevent the gulf between the political elite and ordinary people from widening.
In an interview with the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper, Dohrmann agreed that Swiss-style direct democracy could “in principle” serve as a model.
“It is important for people to have a say on the big issues,” he said. However, he warned against having too many public ballots.
“If there are too many votes, there is always a risk of citizens thinking only of themselves and losing sight of the greater picture,” said Dohrmann, who has been sitting in the Danish parliament for the rightwing Danish People’s Party since 2001.
In a report published three weeks ago, the European Commission called for increased efforts to boost citizens’ participation in the decision-making process.
The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI)external link, the first tool of direct citizen participation at the transnational level, was introduced in April 2012.
Dohrmann said non-EU member Switzerland had to see for itself how to break the impasse with Brussels over the application of the controversial immigration caps approved by Swiss voters in February 2014.
“Switzerland has to say what it wants and then stand by its decision. It is not possible to say ‘Yes’ and then ‘No’ and then something else,” Dohrmann said.
Fifteen months after the ballot there is a political deadlock in Switzerland over the issue with the political right accusing the government of dragging its feet. Several groups have called for a second vote on the issue.
For its part, Brussels has ruled out re-negotiating a bilateral treaty with Switzerland – saying the free movement of people is a fundamental policy tenet of the 28-nation bloc.
Nevertheless, Dohrmann expressed cautious optimism about a solution to the conflict, possibly after the October parliamentary elections in Switzerland.
He said the bilateral treaties were in the interest of Switzerland but the past few months had shown that immigration and refugees were also an issue for many member states of the EU.
“The bilateral path [for ties between Switzerland and Brussels] still has a future. But it is arduous and takes a long time,” he said.
Urs Geiser, swissinfo.ch