Following Swiss voters’ rejection of higher pension payments, Interior Minister Alain Berset insists that the result doesn’t mean voters support raising the age of retirement. He also believes a failure to pass pension reforms would threaten national stability.
On Sunday, 59.4% of voters came out against a people’s initiative calling for a 10% boost in benefits from the state retirement fund – a move supported by the political left but deemed far too costly by its opponents.
“The initiative was clearly, but not crushingly, defeated,” Berset told the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) on Monday.
“Many people are aware that the cabinet and parliament are working on a major reform of the pension system and a Yes would have threatened this project. I see the result as support for the path taken by the cabinet, which is working towards a balanced solution that can gain a majority.”
The goal of the government’s Retirement 2020 programme, which parliament will start debating on Monday, is to ensure the financing of pensions from 2020, when the Baby Boomer generation – those born between the end of the Second World War and the mid-1960s when the birth rate was high – will begin to retire, placing more strain on the pension system.
The proposal includes raising the retirement age to 67 (from 65 for men and 64 for women at present).
However, Berset denied that on Sunday, the Swiss had implicitly backed raising the age of retirement.
“The issue was whether pension payments should be increased by 10%. The age of retirement had absolutely nothing to do with it. It seems clear that a general raise in the age of retirement wouldn’t be able to get a majority. It would put the entire reform at risk,” he said.
“That said, it’s worth noting that 40% of the electorate did support boosting pension payments.”
Over the past two decades, voters have rejected nine proposals on pensions – either to review their financing or to raise the retirement age to cope with an ageing population.
Ahead of the latest debate in parliament, Berset said that if the reforms were to fail this time, it would not be because of Switzerland’s bicameral parliamentary system – in the Senate a centre-left alliance had been most vocal whereas in the House of Representatives it was the centre-right – but because some people were insisting on the most rigorous demands.
“Whoever does that bears a lot of the responsibility,” he told the NZZ.
“If the reforms fail, we’ll have to fill the widening financing gap caused by retiring baby boomers somehow anyway. If action isn’t taken promptly, the pension system will generate debt and payments would quickly become very high. It would be dangerous for the stability of the country. I’m therefore appealing to everyone involved: stop playing games!”
swissinfo.ch and agencies