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Swiss politician Gössi clarifies controversial pension statement

Petra Gössi im Bundeshaus
Surprised by the strong reaction to her statements, the politician explains Keystone

The leader of Switzerland’s centre-right Radical Party, Petra Gössi, received a furious backlash from pensioners and other Swiss who live abroad because of her statements to the Blick newspaper about the Swiss old-age pension system.

“Increasing the pension helps the wrong people, namely pensioners abroad who generate no added value in Switzerland. We sweeten their retirement and the next generations have to foot the bill,” she was quoted as telling Blick for a story published on June 21.

Gössi has since said that “the Swiss abroad are of course entitled to their old-age pension and have the same rights as those who are living in Switzerland.” A follow-up interview with her seeks to clarify the situation. Can you understand this outrage?

Petra Gössi: I can understand the irritation that resulted from a somewhat clumsy and insensitive communication, and I take responsibility for that as leader of the party. That’s part of the job.

I have received many responses via e-mail, both positive and negative, but mainly negative reactions from Swiss abroad. Above all, the messages showed that the text was not understood in the right context. Blick did not twist the message, but other media then put it in the wrong context. 

2020 old-age pension reform

The pension reform is a proposal to increase the retirement age of women to 65. It is currently 65 for men and 64 for women.

New pensioners would receive CHF70 more per month, which would be funded by a 0.3% increase in the amount that is deducted from people’s salaries.

The conversion rate of the second pillar would be reduced from 6.8 to 6%. The VAT rate and some of the retirement credits would increase. If it was not an attack on pensioners abroad, what did you mean by it?

P.G.: We have always said that we do not want to make any pension cuts. We are not currently discussing the existing old-age pension, but rather a sham reform that was initiated, which proposes applying the “watering-can principle” by giving CHF70 ($73) more per person for the old-age pension, costing the next generation a lot of money but providing them with no benefits. (The German phrase, “watering-can principle”, refers to spreading money around in different places more or less equally and independently of whether it is merited or not.)

From as early as 2035, we will have an annual deficit of CHF7 billion. Even raising the pension age to 67 would not be enough to plug this hole. The 2020 Pension Scheme Reform is not enough to refill the coffers, particularly as a result of the pension increase of CHF70. There were better suggestions on the table that followed less of a watering-can principle and instead wanted to do more for the poorest. However, the Social Democratic Party and the Christian Democratic Party unfortunately did not support these socially just solutions.

We have therefore more or less backed a proposal that would have increased the pension of the poorest and would also have brought many benefits to Swiss abroad, who do not receive any supplementary benefits. So you have also thought about the Swiss abroad, but still talk about a “retirement for which the next generations have to foot the bill”…

P.G.: Swiss abroad also have to bear in mind that the hole in the old-age pension fund is being filled by an increase in VAT (a value-added tax, or consumption tax) and a higher contribution being deducted from salaries. The pension entitlement of people abroad is undisputed – they have nothing to fear. But they do not have to contribute to financing the old-age pension through higher VAT. This means that young people, including the grandchildren of Swiss abroad, will have to pay out even more, making it a suggestion that treats the different generations unequally. The current pensioners in Switzerland do not have to contribute to the increase in pension payments either…

P.G.: Those who are already receiving a pension and are living in Switzerland will pay 0.6% more VAT, but do not get the additional CHF70. This means that this reform will result in less money in their wallets at the end of the month than before. Swiss abroad, however, do not receive any supplementary benefits. Imagine that only a fraction of the Swiss people who live abroad, well over 750,000 in number, return – that would put a huge strain on the supplementary benefits …

P.G.: That’s right. Of course, the returners would have the same rights as every Swiss citizen living in Switzerland. Look, I am a liberal through and through.

Everyone is free to live where they want to. And it goes without saying that everyone should receive their pension and be able to do what they want with it.

Translated from German

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR