Switzerland announces five new referendum questions

In the second round of national vote to be held on June 13th, the Swiss will have to weigh in on two initiatives and three referendums. From coronavirus lockdowns to terrorism, there are plenty of big issues at stake.

Switzerland announces five new referendum questions
After March 7th, Swiss will vote again on June 13th. Photo by Fabric Coffrini / AFP

First of all, what is the difference between a referendum and popular initiative?

A referendum happens when voters either approve or reject a piece of existing legislation. All it takes is a petition with 50,000 legitimate signatures presented to the federal administration office.

But  the Swiss can also create their own laws through citizen-driven initiatives. To get an initiative on a ballot, a petition with 100,000 signatures is required.

The Switzerland’s Federal Chancellery has approved three June referendums on Wednesday.  

Anti-Covid law 

The Swiss parliament passed the Covid-19 Act on  September 25th, 2020,  giving the government a legal basis to impose restrictions aimed at tackling the pandemic on an ongoing basis.

A group calling itself “Friends of the Constitution” collected enough signatures to trigger the referendum, arguing that the law is unnecessary and voicing concern that the government might use it to launch an obligatory vaccination campaign, although authorities deny this claim.

READ MORE: Swiss to vote in June on government’s Covid restrictions 

The CO2 Act

Switzerland finalised revisions to the so-called CO2 law on September 25th, 2020.

The legislation introduces several taxes and measures to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.

While most parties support this law, the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) launched a referendum, claiming the legislation “stifles innovation and increases bureaucracy”. 

“Its main effects are to increase energy consumption and restrict our mobility”, the party said.

Anti-terrorism law

Also in September 2020, the parliament approved a piece of reform legislation to crack down on terrorism and extremist violence.

It strengthens previous standards against terrorism and organised crime, punishing recruitment, training and travel with an intent to commit a terrorist act.

However, opponents, including Young Liberal Greens, the Socialist Youth, the Young Greens, and some human rights organisations, launched a referendum against the law revisions, arguing that the proposed measures  go too far. 

As for the two initiatives, they both focus on agricultural policy.

The Clean Drinking Water Initiative “requires that agricultural subsidies be allocated only to agricultural practices that do not harm the environment and do not pollute drinking water.”

They refer specifically to pesticides, antibiotics, and imports of fodder and fertilizers used in farming.

The initiative “For a Switzerland free of synthetic pesticides” calls for the ban of the use of these products in agriculture, in the public sphere, and would also apply to imports of products from abroad.

The initiatives were launched by the Green Party, farmers’ organisations, and environmental groups.

The next national vote will take place on Sunday March 7th.

EXPLAINED: What is at stake in Switzerland’s March 7th referendums 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Swiss decision to purchase US fighter jets could force second referendum

Switzerland's decision to purchase US-made fighter jets could be put to a referendum,

Swiss decision to purchase US fighter jets could force second referendum
Swiss fighter jets. Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

Switzerland’s government on Wednesday backed the purchase of 36 F-35A fighter jets from Lockheed Martin to replace its fleet and five Patriot air defence units from fellow US manufacturer Raytheon.

Switzerland’s current air defence equipment will reach the end of its service life in 2030 and has been undergoing a long and hotly-contested search for replacements.

“The Federal Council is confident that these two systems are the most suitable for protecting the Swiss population from air threats in the future,” the government said in a statement.

‘No Trump fighter jets’: Swiss don’t want to buy American planes

The decision will now be put to the Swiss parliament — and also risks being challenged at the ballot box, with left-wingers and an anti-militarist group looking to garner enough signatures to trigger a public vote.

The F-35A was chosen ahead of the Airbus Eurofighter; the F/A-18 Super Hornet by Boeing; and French firm Dassault’s Rafale.

For the ground-based air defence (GBAD) system, Patriot was selected ahead of SAMP/T by France’s Eurosam.

“An evaluation has revealed that these two systems offer the highest overall benefit at the lowest overall cost,” the government statement said. Switzerland is famously neutral. However, its long-standing position is one of armed neutrality and the landlocked European country has mandatory conscription for men.

“A fleet of 36 aircraft would be large enough to cover Switzerland’s airspace protection needs over the longer term in a prolonged situation of heightened tensions,” the government said.

“The air force must be able to ensure that Swiss airspace cannot be used by foreign parties in a military conflict.” 

Long path to decision 

Switzerland began to seek replacements for its ageing fleet of fighter jets more than a decade ago, but the issue has become caught up in a political battle in the wealthy Alpine nation.

The Swiss government has long argued for the need to quickly replace its 30 or so F/A-18 Hornets, which will reach the end of their lifespan in 2030, and the F-5 Tigers, which have been in service for four decades and are not equipped for night flights.

In 2014, the country looked set to purchase 22 Gripen E fighter jets from Swedish group Saab, only to see the public vote against releasing the funds needed to go forward with the multi-billion-dollar deal.

Bern launched a new selection process four years later, and a referendum last year to release six billion Swiss francs ($6.5 billion) for the purchase of the fighters of the government’s choice squeezed through with 50.1 percent of voters in favour.

During the referendum campaign, the government warned that without a swift replacement for its fleet, “Switzerland will no longer be in a position to protect and even less defend its airspace by 2030”.

Currently, the fleet does not have the capacity to support ground troops for reconnaissance missions or to intervene against ground targets.

Meanwhile Switzerland’s current GBAD system is also old and lacks the capacity to meet the widening spectrum of modern threats.

The military currently relies on a range of Rapier and Stinger short-range missiles that have been in service since 1963.