Swiss direct democracy in action – OpEd – Eurasia Review


On the last Sunday in November, Swiss citizens once again rejected efforts by left-wing groups and NGOs to undermine the long national tradition of free enterprise, respect for private property and financial freedom. Two important proposals were presented to the Swiss people in a series of referendums, targeting both private companies and attempting to impose unprecedented burdens, threatening their ability to operate freely and profitably.

The first proposal, which received the most international coverage, was the Responsible Business Initiative (RBI). It aimed to change the law so that companies based in Switzerland could be held accountable for human rights and environmental violations, even if they took place abroad and even if they were committed. not only directly by the company, but also by their suppliers or subsidiaries. Left and progressive groups, academics, mainstream media and various “experts” and opinion makers have launched an extremely aggressive campaign for the proposal, using emotional and populist arguments about “justice” and ” global equity ”.

Naturally, opposition from the private sector was fierce, focusing on the immense costs the initiative would incur, as well as the flood of legal proceedings it would trigger. The very idea of ​​being held accountable for something another company has done is not only legally obscene, but also practically absurd. As the CEO of Nestlé pointed out: “We buy from 200,000 dairy farmers around the world every day. If that were accepted, we would be responsible for 200,000 companies ”. And of course, while such legal fees and charges seem utterly absurd to large companies, they constitute a simple death sentence for small and medium-sized businesses. One can imagine that Nestlé would muster the legal strengths that would be needed if such a change in the law were to be passed, but small businesses and family farms would simply close their doors the next day.

Nonetheless, despite the initiative’s almost comically unrealistic demands, it almost got passed. A slim majority of 50.7% of Swiss voters supported it, but in the Swiss system of direct democracy, proposals need a majority of both the votes cast and the cantons to pass. It therefore failed, because most of the country’s 23 cantons voted against it. Interestingly, voters in rural areas were against the initiative with striking consistency, unlike urban areas and large cities: support for the proposal was strongest in metropolitan areas of the country and this schism was apparent even within cantons.

In the important canton of Zurich, for example, Zurich and Winterthur were in favor of the initiative, covering 40 political zones, against the 137 more rural zones which opposed it. Nevertheless, in terms of the total number of votes, the supporters of the initiative obtained a narrow majority of 52.83% and thus won all the votes in the canton. It is therefore clear that the division in Switzerland is becoming more and more visible day by day and it is a division between the supporters of collectivism and individualism. As this result showed, those who still value individual freedom won, but the cracks are wide and deep.

The second initiative was a ban on investing and lending to companies that manufacture weapons and related components. This would have had huge implications for banks and investors and this move would have blocked billions of investments in companies like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.

The Swiss National Bank (SNB), UBS and Credit Suisse are the most exposed and all, as well as the government and the Swiss Bankers Association, have strongly opposed the initiative. In their argument against it, they pointed out some obvious points, such as the fact that it would weaken the nation’s advantageous position as a commercial site and that it would impose harmful restrictions on the investment scope of the SNB itself. , but also, and arguably more important, on banks, pension funds and insurance companies, which are already under pressure by the interest rate environment.

On the whole, the initiative was very naive, mainly based on the hope that this change would contribute to “global demilitarization”, while its supporters also failed to mention in their campaign that many of the “horrors of war” they were rallying against were already taken into account in the legislation in force. In Switzerland, the arms industry is subject to strict regulations: the manufacture and sale of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, cluster munitions and landmines are already prohibited.

As the head of the Federal Department of the Economy, Guy Parmelin, said: “The initiative would not have led to avoiding wars, but to putting pressure on pension funds and the Swiss economy.” Fortunately, a majority of Swiss citizens also acknowledged that this initiative was factually flawed and rather fueled by mere emotional rhetoric, with 57.45% of them voting against.

These two results highlight the fact that most Swiss citizens still retain a strong common sense, which is increasingly a scarce commodity in the region, but also in the West as a whole. They also show the importance of direct democracy, with all its rules and mechanisms, which ensure that big changes happen slowly and after long deliberation and consensus.

Above all, we have seen here the crucial role of the “Ständemehr” principle, ie the idea that a change of law requires not only a majority of votes, but also that of the cantons. This becomes essential as the political divide between cities and rural areas grows more and more. It is a phenomenon that is rampant in most Western societies, as populated urban centers attempt to impose their generally left-wing beliefs on the rest of the nation, and in particular on those who will actually have to pay for their big projects and their projects. promises.

But the Swiss did not stop at these latest victories: just two days after these votes, another campaign was already launched to gather support for another referendum, this one aimed at preventing any vaccine against the coronavirus is made mandatory. The “Swiss Movement for Freedom” which is at the origin of this initiative asks voters for their support to preserve “freedom and integrity” in Switzerland, by including in the Swiss constitution that anyone who refuses to be vaccinated will not suffer any social or professional consequences.

So far, the Swiss government has said there will be no nationwide vaccination mandate, but has hinted that some people in certain professions may be required to take the vaccine in order to continue to work. The initiative opposes it, but also seeks to put this promise of future forced non-vaccination in writing and in the law of the land. While I am still convinced that no one will get vaccinated against their will in Switzerland in the future, they could force people’s consent by simply restricting their freedom of movement or their ability to work. Therefore, it will be interesting to see the progress and results of this initiative as well, and whether rural areas, with half of the country’s population, still value individual freedom, which is the backbone of an enlightened society. .

All in all, whatever one may think of any of these issues and whatever political beliefs one may have, the most important thing that really stands out from all these developments is that in Switzerland , we can express these opinions directly. Each citizen is questioned before any major modification of the law and the people have the last word; not the government, not the various interest groups and certainly not the international organizations or foreign bureaucrats who know nothing about the nation and its citizens.

Yet the divisions of our “multicultural society” are more visible than ever in the Western world, and Switzerland is no different. But he has a political system in place to protect the smallest minority, which is the individual himself. Let me end with a quote from Ludwig von Mises, written in the turmoil of his time and which has important similarities to ours:

“The right to self-determination with regard to the question of belonging to a state means: whenever the inhabitants of a particular territory, whether it is a single village, an entire district or of a series of adjacent districts, make it known, by a freely conducted plebiscite, that they no longer wish to remain united with the State to which they belong at the time, but that they wish to either form an independent State or to be attached to another state, their wishes must be respected and granted with. It is the only feasible and effective way to prevent revolutions and civil and international wars. (Liberalism, p. 109)