Some political monsters of the past lie dormant under the winter snow, but they are sure to rise again in spring. What can Switzerland expect from politics in 2019?
To look into the future, we first need to take stock of what has gone before. And due to the often glacial pace of Swiss politics, plenty of major political projects were left unfinished in 2018. They are sure to come back to haunt us. Here is part one of our annual review and forecast.
1. Pensions and taxation reform: slow progressend of infobox
When voters reject two major reform packages within a short period, what do you do? Mix up the ingredients and send them back in one big package to make the proposals look more appetising? This is what the Swiss government is trying with its combined taxation and pension funding proposal, which comes after two major 2018 upsets.
In February, voters rejected the Corporate Tax Reform III; a government proposal to align tax legislation with new international standards, thus avoiding punitive sanctions. A few months later citizens also turned down the Old Age Pensions 2020 proposal – an attempt to adapt the social security system to the economic and social challenges of the future.
With the new mega-package, so, government and parliament are hoping they can square the circle. The goals are the same: to make corporate taxation comply with the new standards, and ensure ongoing funding – at least in the medium-term – for the social security system.
The referendum campaign to oppose the package will be fought by the youth wings of the Greens and the conservative right People’s Party; if they manage to secure the necessary 50,000 signatures, voters will go to the polls on May 19.
2. Heading to the polls on climate changeend of infobox
Much ado about nothing: that would be a good title for at least the first act of the Revision of CO2 legislation, debated in the House of Representatives during the winter session. But with one major difference from Shakespeare’s play: given the impending signs of doom on the climate front, there was nothing to laugh about.
The House, tasked with implementing Switzerland’s pledges under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, spent several days discussing the bill. Proposals came from right and left; there was discussion as to how and where greenhouse gas emissions might be reduced, such as by taxing airline tickets or putting up the price of petrol.
At the end of the debate, however, part of the political centre stood up and walked out, and the House ended up rejecting the government’s proposal.
The right, led by the Swiss People’s Party (currently the party with the most popular nationwide support), refused to back any proposal that it viewed as harmful to the country’s economy. On the left, not even the red-green camp managed to support the revised legislation, which it saw as insufficiently ambitious and watered down.
In 2019, the bill will go to the Senate, and the debate will start all over again.
Meanwhile, politicians will not be the only ones to have their say in 2019. Signatures are already being collected for a “glacier initiative”, which will call for an end to the use of fossil fuels by 2050. If it gets enough support it will eventually go to voters, who may yet play the leading role in the next act, rather than simply providing the chorus.