Experts call for reform of federalism

Experts say the country needs to reform its federal system

Switzerland must reform its federal system if it is to be more competitive and less isolated, says a study.

This content was published on February 14, 2005

The report, published on Monday by the think tank, Avenir Suisse, calls for the creation of six “super regions” around Switzerland’s main cities to help act as motors for growth.

Experts said the current federal system of 26 cantons and more than 3,000 local authorities was hampering economic growth and lacked transparency and efficiency.

“Small isolated structures which lead to protectionism, costly public services, striking differences in tax levels and a complex decision-making process are the downside of Swiss federalism,” said Avenir Suisse.

It added that federalism was originally designed to remain close to the people and allow a liberal economic policy, but had instead resulted in barriers to economic growth.

The think tank, which is closely linked to the Swiss business community, therefore called for the creation of new super regions in an effort to close the gap between richer urban areas and poorer rural communes.

Six metropolitan areas

The study said it was a reality that Switzerland consisted of six metropolitan regions around the cities of Zurich, Basel, Bern, Geneva, Lausanne and Lugano, which spanned across the traditional cantons.

It said certain powers, such as transport, education and health policies, should be handed over to these regions in order to promote growth and relieve the economic burden on some cantons.

But it stopped short of calling for a merger of cantons.

In a first reaction, Luigi Pedrazzini, the head of the conference of cantonal governments, called the proposal a "utopian vision with little chance of success".

The study also recommended further steps towards improving the system of financial subsidies paid by the federal authorities towards the cantons.

Redressing imbalance

It said that a reform of the federal system, approved by voters last year, was a first step to redress the imbalance.

Another proposal called for the domestic market to be opened up by easing labour restrictions and improving access to public infrastructure, including the power grid, in an effort to boost Switzerland’s competitive edge.

The government has already made some moves in this direction. In November it presented a draft law aimed at doing away with restrictive labour regulations and cracking down on cartels.

swisssinfo with agencies

Key facts

Switzerland is made up of 26 cantons and more than 3,000 communes.
The federal, cantonal and local authorities levy separate taxes under the Swiss federal system.
The study found that the six metropolitan areas account for more than 80% of Switzerland’s gross domestic product.

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