EXPLAINED: What’s at stake in Switzerland’s November referendums?

Switzerland’s voters will go to the polls on November 29th to decide on two popular initiatives. Here's the issues to be decided.

EXPLAINED: What’s at stake in Switzerland's November referendums?
Swiss voters will weigh in on two issues on November 29th. Photo by AFP

Just two months after Switzerland posed five questions to the populace – including a bid to restrict migration – Swiss voters will again go to the polls. 

This time, two issues are on the ticket. 

‘The Responsible Business Initiative’

What is this about?

According to the portal of the Federal Council, “Swiss companies are expected to uphold human rights and comply with environmental standards, not just in Switzerland but also when doing business abroad”.

However, the authors of this initiative, a coalition of human rights and environmental organisations, argue that these measures don’t go far enough.

READ: Switzerland makes 400 million francs available for coronavirus vaccine 

The initiative seeks to force Swiss companies to examine whether they, as well as their subsidiaries and business partners, can comply with internationally-recognised human rights and environmental standards.

Unless they can prove that they followed all the required norms, companies will be liable for damage they caused – whether to humans or the environment.

READ: Everything you need to know about Switzerland's 'corporate responsibility' referendum 

What is the government’s position?

For the Federal Council and the parliament, “the initiative goes too far, in particular regarding the rules on liability”.

They say that to be effective, this measure must be coordinated at the international level.

READ MORE: Swiss activists launch referendum bid against Covid-19 measures

Initiative ‘For a ban on financing war material manufacturers’

What is this about?

Swiss companies produce weapons, or parts for weapons, while Swiss investors finance war material manufacturers both locally and abroad. 

In Switzerland, the arms industry is subject to strict regulations, and a licence is required to manufacture and export. Nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, cluster munitions and anti-personnel mines are banned; they may neither be manufactured nor traded. And it is also illegal to fund the production of such weapons.

The initiative committee, composed of an organisation called ‘Switzerland without an Army’, along with left-leaning groups and political parties, wants to ban the financing of all arms manufacture.

It also wants to prohibit loans to arms manufacturers, making it illegal to hold shares in such companies or to invest in funds that contain their shares. 



READ: Everything you need to know about Switzerland's referendum to ban military exports 

What is the government’s position?

According to the Federal Council and the parliament, “the initiative clearly goes too far and will not prevent wars”.

And since the production of war materials serves to finance social programs, they argue that such a ban would affect various foundations, the state old-age and invalidity pension schemes, and other pension funds.

The economic effects of this measure “would be felt not only by arms manufacturers, but also by their suppliers, which include many small and medium-sized businesses”.

The Federal Council and the parliament recommend that voters reject both initiatives.




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Merkel’s conservatives suffer heavy losses in two German state elections

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative party suffered heavy losses in two key regional elections Sunday, early estimates showed, as voters vented anger over pandemic setbacks and a face-mask procurement scandal.

Merkel's conservatives suffer heavy losses in two German state elections
Baden-Württemberg state leader Winfried Kretschmann of the Greens voting on Sunday. Photo: DPA

The votes in the southwestern states of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate were being closely watched as a barometer of the national mood ahead of a general election on September 26th – when Merkel’s successor will be chosen.

In wealthy Baden-Württemberg, Merkel’s centre-right CDU was set for its worst-ever result at 23 percent, according to exit polls by public broadcasters ARD and ZDF.

READ ALSO: How elections in one state could show what’s to come in post-Merkel Germany

As in the 2016 vote, the Green party took first place again, garnering more than 31 percent.

Baden-Württemberg is Germany’s only state run by a Green premier, Winfried Kretschmann, who has been in office since 2011.

He could now choose to maintain his current coalition government with the CDU, or build a new one with the centre-left SPD and the pro-business FDP, which each took around 10 percent of votes.

What happened in Rhineland-Palatinate election?

In neighbouring Rhineland-Palatinate, the CDU placed second with 25-26 percent of votes, down from almost 32 percent in the previous regional election.

The centre-left SPD shed some support but held onto first place, at 33-34 percent, according to the estimates.

Malu Dreyer, Social Democrat state leader of Rhineland Palatinate. Photo: DPA

The result paves the way for popular SPD state premier Malu Dreyer to continue governing with the pro-business FDP and the Greens, who more than doubled their score.

READ ALSO: Merkel’s party braced for slap in the face as polls take place in two German states

Because of the pandemic, a higher than usual number of votes were cast by mail, and observers cautioned that the final results could still change as ballots continued to be counted.

If confirmed, the results mark a worrying start for the CDU/CSU to what has been dubbed Germany’s “super election year”.

Merkel’s federal government, which includes the SPD as junior partner, initially won praise at home and abroad for suppressing the first coronavirus wave last spring.

But it has increasingly come under fire over Germany’s sluggish vaccination campaign, a delayed start to free rapid testing, and a resurgence in cases despite months of shutdown.

The CDU and its Bavarian CSU sister party have also been roiled by damaging claims about MPs apparently benefitting financially from face mask deals early on in the pandemic, forcing three lawmakers to step down in recent days.

The mask scandal “weighed heavily on the election fight”, said CDU secretary general Paul Ziemiak.