‘A healthy environment and robust economy belong together’

The party is in favour of introducing incentives to encourage energy efficiency and energy reduction Keystone

The energy revolution – which could lead to fewer fossil fuels and a gradual phase-out of nuclear energy – could benefit the economy, says the Swiss Liberal Green Party.  It seeks to build a sustainable society using free market remedies. spoke to its president, Martin Bäumle.

This content was published on May 15, 2015 - 16:56

In the upcoming federal elections in October, the Liberal Greens hope to consolidate the surprising 5.4% share of the vote they received in 2011. To do so, the ambitious centrist party must first recover from a major defeat in March over their first people’s initiative. Their proposal to replace value-added tax (VAT) with an energy tax was rejected by 92% of voters, the worst result of any initiative in a long time.  Martin Bäumle, what are the two top priorities for the Liberal Green Party for the next legislature following the Swiss elections in autumn?

Martin Bäumle: Firstly, to implement the energy revolution using free market means as much as possible. We are in favour of introducing incentives to encourage energy efficiency and energy reduction so we can reduce damage to the environment and build a sustainable society. Secondly, we seek to preserve and strengthen Switzerland as a good place to live and do business. This is the reason we support, for example, the development and expansion of the Swiss Innovation Park. The Liberal Greens want to reconcile sustainable environmental development with broad economic interests. Are they not opposing objectives?

M.B.: No, quite the opposite. A healthy environment and robust economy inevitably belong together. If not all is well with the environment, then people suffer and the economy can no longer function. On the other hand, businesses can also make money from environmental development.

Free market solutions are critical. If businesses can make money with the environment, for example with Cleantech, then they are motivated to do something. However, if you force or prescribe something, it gets more difficult. You feel like you have to do something but won’t profit from it. And if you won’t benefit, then you are against it. In March, Swiss voters clearly rejected your “Energy Rather Than VAT” initiative. What are your party’s proposals for nevertheless accelerating the energy revolution?

M.B.:  We are still convinced that introducing an incentive system, rather than subsidies, is the way to go to best implement the energy revolution. This means reducing fossil energy sources, executing the phase-out of nuclear energy and boosting the share of renewable energy. We will now work on this constructively as well as further develop our proposals in order to find solutions and incentives that will attract wide support. In the four years since Fukushima, opposition to an energy revolution is again on the increase. Do you believe the Swiss cabinet’s Energy Strategy 2050, which is expected to lead to an exit from nuclear energy and to better climate protection, still appeals to the majority of Swiss?

M.B. The right has tried to put a stop to it for a long time.  Every occasion, including the strong Swiss franc, is used to oppose and fight the energy revolution. I hope the centrist parties won’t play along and will instead stay on the course that we have adopted: implementing the first part of the energy strategy and deciding on and introducing an efficient system of incentive taxes as soon as possible. The implementation of the initiative “against mass immigration” has sparked fierce debate since February 9, 2014. For the European Union, quotas are incompatible with the free movement of people treaties. How far are you willing to go in order to rescue the bilateral accords?

M.B.: We must search for a pragmatic implementation of this initiative that fulfils the constitutional obligations yet still preserves the bilateral treaties. This is far from easy, but there are perhaps solutions, such as the model proposed by the former Secretary of State Michael Ambühl. According to this, Switzerland could invoke a safeguard clause when a certain level of immigration is exceeded. This could be introduced by other EU countries with similar problems.

I am of the opinion that we can meet both goals pragmatically. There is, however, the unlikely scenario that we won’t find a solution and the people must decide. In this case, our party is committed to the bilateral agreements rather than to a strict or legalistic implementation of the initiative. The bilateral agreements are the clear priority for our party. What are the Liberal Greens’ remedies to cushion the impact of the strong Swiss franc? 

M.B. In our view, the strong franc isn’t a real problem. A completely exaggerated discussion is taking place on this issue. In contrast, the implementation of the “against mass immigration” initiative, which could lead to a labour shortage and uncertainty for many companies, is a far bigger burden on the economy.

Certain branches of the export industry are certainly affected by the strong franc, but those that have done their homework should have the problem under control. They had four years to cushion their risks. Tourism is another area that is of course impacted, but there are also structural problems here that were hidden for years.

It would wrong for us now to intervene with support measures and the wrong remedies. It is nevertheless critical to develop in a positive way the framework conditions for the Swiss economy and to remain innovative, which is one of our priorities. Islam has sparked much polemic in recent years: debates about headscarves, radicalisation, terrorism. What position should the Islamic religion occupy in Swiss society?

M.B. As a secular party, religious freedom is of fundamental importance for us. Everyone should be able to practise the religion of their choice in their private lives. The majority of Muslim inhabitants in Switzerland live a normal life, just like you and me. One should not dramatise the situation. There are however radicals and there are certain problems that we must tackle. One should intervene if people don’t act the right way. This is however independent from religion.

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