‘Italy should learn from Swiss direct democracy’

"Direct democracy is a powerful tool for all citizens, whatever their age group," says Davide Wüthrich, a Swiss from Italy zvg

Forcing a nationwide ballot is too easy: while appreciating Swiss direct democracy, Davide Wüthrich warns against a trivialisation of people’s rights.

This content was published on February 7, 2016 - 11:00

The 27-year-old engineering graduate student is one of the new voices of Switzerland’s diaspora who have started a Youth Parliament of the Swiss AbroadExternal link. In a series of interviews, talks to members of the group’s committee. What do you want to achieve as a member of the new youth parliament of the Swiss abroad – first of all in Switzerland, and second in your country of residence?

Davide Wüthrich: I would like to see a flourishing new contact platform for young Swiss abroad, developed by youth for youth, based on social networks and the tools our generation uses, like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Davide Wüthrich: I am 27 years old, and I was born and raised in Turin, Italy. The lure of foreign travel made me spend a secondary school exchange year in the US where I learned to appreciate a different reality from the one I grew up with. Fascinated as I am by science and architecture, back in Italy I registered at the civil engineering faculty of the Turin Polytechnic and graduated there in 2010. My Swiss origins prompted me to leave Italy and move to Lausanne for a master’s in hydraulic engineering at the Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL). After a year’s thesis work in Australia, the beauty of the Lausanne region and the superior lifestyle convinced me to return to EPFL, where now I am doing a doctorate on the impact of waves on structures. In my free time I like sports, playing tennis and going out with friends. I love travelling and discovering new places – it’s a passion I got from my parents even as a young child. Living in Switzerland, I learned to appreciate this wonderful country, where I wouldn’t want to change anything except maybe a few small things: a couple more centigrade in winter, a little less fog in spring and maybe even a glimpse of the sea.

Within this community I would like to take part in discussions, sharing of life experiences, and debates on current issues. I would like to see this community becoming a place to express opinions and make the voice of youth heard along with our needs, which are often forgotten and not taken into account by the institutions.

It would be great to organise events to get to know people, spend time together, build lasting links of friendship, and even meet up years later over a beer in some other part of the world.

It is important that we young people be able to see ourselves as an integral part of this new community so that all may contribute to its development, depending on their opportunities.

There are lots of us and we are spread all over the world – we live different lives, but we are all Swiss, even if most of the time we forget our origins because they are submerged in the lifestyle of the country where we live. What does direct democracy look like in your country of residence? Are there options that you especially appreciate? And ones that you miss having?

D. W.: Living in Switzerland as well as in Italy has given me a good understanding of both political systems.

Though they are neighbouring countries, Switzerland and Italy are really two very different places when you think about direct democracy.

When I was 18, I got the vote in both countries. I soon came to realise that in Switzerland there is a lot of voting going on, sometimes too much, but at least I got the impression that my opinion counted more.

In Italy, we elect a parliament every five years, and in between the people are rarely asked to give their views, to say nothing of taking part in the political process.

In Switzerland votes happen about four times a year and the people are constantly being called upon to work with parliament, which has to reckon with constant grassroots evaluation.

Personally, I think that Swiss direct democracy is a wonderful thing, which Italy would do well to copy.

Then again, it is so easy to launch a referendum or people’s initiative that it can lead to votes on rather trivial stuff, distracting public opinion from more important issues. In most countries young people vote less often than people of other age groups. Isn’t direct democracy a prime agent for young people to communicate their political needs and ideas?

D. W.: I agree completely that we young people need to make better use of this tool to promote initiatives and make our voices heard.

Platform for young Swiss expats

The youth parliament of the Swiss Abroad was set up only a few months ago and is still in its infancy.

It’s primarily an online platform which brings together the about 350 members across the world for debates and other exchanges of ideas via social media and skype. interviewed 11 young Swiss expatriates who are leading members of the youth parliament. Our questions focus on issues of participatory citizenship in their countries of residence and in Switzerland.

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But lack of interest on the part of young people in political life is a given in a lot of countries around the world, not just in Switzerland.

I think that not voting doesn’t mean not having an opinion, but not thinking the issues are important enough.

Often we young people feel alienated from political life, as we do not see ourselves reflected in the institutions.

Direct democracy is a powerful tool for all citizens, whatever their age group. But often we young people encounter an additional problem: not being taken seriously by adults and institutions.

Often youth groups work with very small budgets that limit their range of activity, so they get to feel they don’t count or have any influence.

Greater involvement by youth in decision-making processes could certainly awaken our interest and make us really get involved in things – our youth parliament is definitely going in that direction. Since the attacks in Paris, Europe has been obsessed with the terrorism of the Islamic State group. Is the fight against Islamic extremists, which has led to the restriction of individual freedoms, a danger for democracies?

D. W.: Increasing state security to combat Islamic extremism, as we are seeing in France and the US, certainly means limitation of individual freedoms.

But this does not mean that the people cannot express their opinion through direct democracy.

I think it is important to emphasise the fact that we live in a world with very complex international relations and it might be counterproductive and hazardous to involve the people in matters where they don’t have a full overview of things.

Anyway, stricter control of the Internet and social networks only harms people with something to hide. Those who go on working within the legal framework should have nothing to fear.

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