Political campaigns Compromise: the biggest asset in Swiss politics

Logo and profile Claude Longchamp with Swiss parliament building
The government risks missing another strategic aim if the spirit of compromise does not return to Swiss politics.

Swiss politicians have a tough nut to crack this summer: the free movement of labour between Switzerland and the European Union. Brussels insists on the free market, including for wages, but Bern wants to keep high Swiss salaries at any price. It’s going to be fiddly, but there’s a tried-and-tested approach to finding a solution: more negotiations!

The government wants to achieve three strategic goals by the next parliamentary elections in October 2019:

– An overhaul of the country’s corporate tax system, following voters’ rejection of a first proposal last year;

– To make progress on reforming the pension scheme. An initial set of proposals was also thrown out by voters last year;

– To secure the future of the bilateral agreements with the 28-nation EU, Switzerland’s main trading partner.

These goals will be difficult to achieve, as there’s a disconnect between politicians and voters: both chambers approved the corporate tax and pension reforms, but both issues were rejected at the ballot box.

Switzerland’s political system is based on broad compromises in parliament so that solutions are not vetoed in referendums. But this traditional system is under pressure: confrontation increasingly prevails over consensus.

Today, every other decision in parliament relies on temporary alliances – often between very different political groups – which can push through their proposals with small majorities and without any consideration for the losing side.

Claude Longchamp is a senior political expert and one of Switzerland’s most experienced and highly-regarded political scientists and analysts.

He founded the polling and research institute GfS Bern, which he headed until his retirement. Longchamp has analysed and commented on votes and elections on SRF public Swiss television for 30 years.

This text is part of #DearDemocracy, a platform on direct democracy issues, by swissinfo.ch. Contributors, including outside authors frequently share their views.

This winner-takes-all attitude in parliament has a price: the losing side can try to challenge decisions in a popular vote. This is precisely what happened with the proposed reforms of the corporate tax and the pension system.

Red lines and Europe

More than 25 years ago, Swiss voters threw out a framework agreement of cooperation with the EU: the European Economic Area. Since then, relations between Bern and Brussels have been structured with several sets of bilateral agreements, including the free movement of labour, the single border Schengen visa regime and financial contributions towards the development of Eastern Europe.

These bilateral accords have to be updated regularly to bring them in line with legislation both in Switzerland and the EU: for this reason, a new framework agreement between the 28-nation bloc and Switzerland has been under consideration for some time. It includes an arbitration body to rule in cases of legal disputes between both sides.

A point of dissent is the protection of the comparatively high salaries in Switzerland compared with those in EU countries. And again, finding a viable compromise in parliament may not be enough to win a possible referendum vote.

Parliament has found a solution for an arbitration mechanism….

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