What’s on the mid-term horizon for Swiss voters? In 2018, eight people’s initiatives were launched, on topics ranging from health costs to arms exports.
“The Swiss blockbuster” was how Nicolas Bideau, head of promotional agency Presence Switzerland, described recently the role direct democracy plays in the nation’s image abroad.
Of course, this doesn’t mark a major change; Switzerland has always been a champion of people participation. But with populism and dissatisfaction with elites growing in several countries (including most recently in France), interest in the Swiss system is also on the rise.
The key cog in this system is the people’s initiative: an instrument allowing citizens to put any topic, any issue, to national vote, as long as they collect the requisite 100,000 signatures within 18 months.
2018 saw six such initiatives decided upon by voters, all of them, as it turned out, rejected: From an attempt to scrap the public broadcasting licence fee system to the ‘Swiss law first’, 'sovereign money', 'sovereign food’, as well as 'fair food' and cow horn initiatives.
Three other proposals, about labour market access, the promotion of bicycle infrastructure and banking secrecy were withdrawn by the respective initiative committees.
An initiative aimed at closing down nuclear power plants failed to collect enough signatures.
The current year also saw the next crop being launched, both by citizen’s groups and political parties – eight in total.
Social themes are high on the agenda, with the Christian Democrats, for one, launching a campaign for lower health insurance premiums. The party wants the government to take action as soon as insurance premiums rise too high compared to wages and prices.
The Social Democrats are also focussing on health, currently one of the biggest preoccupations of Swiss citizens. Though not yet officially launched, early 2019 should see their proposal to limit insurance premiums to 10% of one’s salary.
The Workfair 50+ association launched an initiative to protect older workers through ongoing contributions to the pension fund for all those insured, while at the other end of the age spectrum, several groups want to protect children and youth from tobacco advertising– by banning it outright.
Finally, in the social policy area, an initiative launched by a critic of the state protection body for children and adults wants to ensure more rights for families of needy people – and not simply guarantee state intervention in cases of abuse.
Arms, animals, and judges
On the ethical front, the initiative called against arms exports to countries in civil warwants to limit the Swiss sales of war materials following a June announcement by the government that it was relaxing the rules. They demand that the people and parliament be consulted about such sales.
Animal and environmental groups also launched the no factory farms in Switzerlandinitiative, which calls for a constitutional amendment to protect animal rights and dignity in the agricultural sector.
And, lastly, the so-called justice initiative wants future federal judges not to be elected by parliament, as is currently the case, but rather chosen by lot – with candidates gaining entry through professional competences rather than party affiliation.
And while these initiatives will be busy collecting signatures in 2019, one other initiative has passed that stage already: a proposal to end Switzerland’s free movement of people agreement with the European Union has been handed in by campaigners from the Swiss People’s Party and the Campaign for an Independent and Neutral Switzerland group.
In less than two months Swiss voters will have the final say on a proposal by the Green Party to limit urban sprawl.
It is the 216th initiative in Swiss history to come to a nationwide vote.