Excerpts from Claude Longchamp’s talk on direct democracy in Switzerland to the Armenian OSCE delegation:
“Switzerland has a parliamentary democracy built around consensus. Here, the people are the opposition. They exercise their rights to challenge the decisions of the government and parliament through the instruments of the initiative and the referendum."
“The merger of parliamentary democracy and people's rights can lead to problems, because a country with too much opposition is no longer governable. In the main conflict between Switzerland and Europe the nationalist Swiss People's Party is in the opposition. The party has thereby used rights that belong to the Swiss people. That is why Switzerland is blocked in Europe and over the question of migration.”
“With regards to the question of identity, Switzerland is split between nationalists and those who are for an open Switzerland. The outcome is uncertain. Currently, the nationalists are stronger. Therefore, we are distant from Europe. This division has also led to questioning about what the disadvantages of direct democracy are."
Longchamp said the outstanding Swiss infrastructure illustrates the strength of direct democracy. "Switzerland has an excellent infrastructure. Their schools are the best in Europe, as are their railways. This is above all due to direct democracy, because the government had to learn to respect the will of the people on important decisions."
Switzerland had learned an important lesson from the railway boom of the 1850s. Private railways sprouted up everywhere, creating chaos in the young country. "The consequent shift in opinion at that time is what led to the nationalisation of the Swiss federal railways."
Translated from German by Kathleen Peters, swissinfo.ch