Swiss Red Flag

Swiss Red Flag

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By Colm Howard-Lloyd, Director of Public Affairs

Switzerland is best known for filling the world’s Duty Free shops with giant chocolate, army knives, and perhaps for the fact that its entire adult male population is armed.

For political geeks though Switzerland, like their flag, is a big plus; it’s the home of direct democracy.

At the heart of this fundamental principle that every citizen should take part in decision-making is a raft of compulsory votes, four times a year. The government, in the shape of the Federal Council (who share the role of head of state, and rotate the role of president) proposes many of these votes, with the rest being tabled by petition.

As many know though, democracy has a significant flaw. As those of us in the UK know-well, you should only ever ask questions you are happy to receive the answer to. In Switzerland this has come home to roost in their cuckoo clocks in the shape of public referenda, to adopt Paris Agreement climate change commitments.

The Swiss government went to the country to propose a series of measures to help reach its 2030 goal of cutting carbon emissions to half of their 1990 levels and to achieve net neutral emissions by 2050. Although only rejected by a small margin, the public vote has nonetheless set back progress significantly. Voters also rejected a proposal to become the second country ever to ban artificial pesticides outright.

It seems that these votes reflect not a lack of concern about the environment but a concern about the economy, particularly as we recover from a global pandemic. Chatter in the local media, which seems to yodel through the Cantons in the run-up to a referendum, points clearly to concern that these proposals would increase the cost of food, the general cost of living, and put jobs at risk. Switzerland has form on such pragmatism, and has in recent times rejected both universal income and increased holiday entitlement at the polls.

In other G7 news the Swiss government has also rejected the commitments made by others to reform tax for multinational corporations. “Switzerland will take the necessary measures to continue to be a highly attractive business location” wrote the State Secretariat for International Finance in an email that implies this proposal won’t even get as far as the ballot box!

Thankfully here at Cratus we still believe that local democracy isn’t just a good thing, but vital. If you would like to talk about how we can help you build relationships between the public and private sector drop me a line.

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