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Covid-19 thaw Swiss direct democracy to resume in September with packed agenda

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The most contentious subject is likely to be the freedom of movement agreement with the EU.

(© Keystone / Gaetan Bally)

After the cancellation of the May 17 votes due to Covid-19, citizens will be asked to vote on five separate subjects on September 27. 

On Wednesday, the Swiss government finalised the subjects for the first nationwide vote since the start of the coronavirus crisis. In addition to a vote on the European Union freedom of movement agreement, the Hunting Act amendments and tax deductions for childcare costs (all carried over from the cancelled vote of May 17) citizens will decide on the issues of paternity leave and the purchase of fighter aircraft. 

“The government is aware that the voting menu is extensive, but it considers it acceptable,” Federal Chancellor Walter Thurnherr told the press. The Swiss have voted a dozen times on five different items at the same time, and the number even rose to nine in 2003, he said.  

Free movement 

The most contentious subject is likely to be the vote on the free movement of people. The initiative, which reflects worries among some Swiss about immigration in general, demands that the government scrap the freedom of movement agreement with the EU within a year. 

If the initiative were accepted by voters, the text states that Swiss authorities would have just one year to negotiate the end of the existing free movement agreement with Brussels. If no solution is found, the government should end the agreement within a month, which could risk the collapse of other bilateral agreements with the 27-nation bloc. 

Parental perks

The people will also decide on September 27 on a two-week paternity leave proposal. It is expected to cost CHF230 million per year and would require an increase in employee contributions.  

The Swiss will also vote on increasing tax deductions for parents. The referendum was launched in opposition to parliament’s decision to increase the general deduction for parents from CHF6,500 to CHF10,000 on taxable income. This comes on top of an undisputed increase in the federal deduction for third-party childcare costs from CHF10,100 to CHF25,000.  

Combat aircraft and hunting 

The Swiss will also vote on whether or not the army should acquire new fighter aircraft for CHF6 billion. In 2014, the army’s plan to procure 22 Swedish Gripen jets was rejected by 53.4% of voters.  

Nature conservation organisations, for their part, are contesting the revision of the Hunting Act, which aims to regulate certain species and prevent damage or a danger to humans. The reform permits targeted individual shooting and provides for a transfer of powers from the federal government to the country’s 26 cantons. 

SDA-Keystone/ac

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