Performance and political stability thanks to our federalism

by Pierre-Gabriel Bieri

The National Federalism Conference which was held in Montreux last week [26 to 27 October] showed that the institutional set-up of Switzerland with a live view of the current challenges is not outdated. On the contrary it represents a factor for competitiveness and prosperity.

A term involuntarily estimated, but hard to understand

On 26 and 27 October 2017, the fifth Federalism Conference was held in Montreux. This event was launched by the Conference of Cantonal Governments and is held every three years since 2002. But, what exactly does federalism mean? This question, which passers-by were asked unexpectedly in front of the camera, regularly caused hesitation and embarrassment. Yet a survey early this year showed that there is a strong identification with this term: 59% of the “opinion leaders” (mainly politically right-wing) and 46% of the general public (more leftist than right-wing) see “an inviolable fundamental principle”, and these numbers are higher compared to earlier surveys. Only a very small minority would question federalism.
Quite a few people are not sure what it is exactly about and many want more detailed information. Schools could be incorporated into this reconnaissance work such as the media. In this sense, one feels a slight disappointment in reading some press articles which reported on the Conference in Montreux, but were unable to reflect their spirit or just the content reliably. Sure, celebrating federalism in this official meeting which was organised by insiders came a little to its limits. However, a rich program with interesting presentations was offered which would have earned to be shown to a broader audience.
The original contribution of the political scientist Michael Hermann is worth a special consideration: He pointed out that the alleged “weakness” of federalism in reality represents its strengths. He also emphasised the importance of the numerous intersecting trenches (linguistically, geographically, financially), allowing to move minorities and majorities without risking a confrontation of entire blocks.

A factor of political stability

To the chapter “main challenges”, such as digitalisation or cyber risks, “experts” and politicians debated about the possibilities of smaller cantons to develop flexible and original solutions and about the greater resistance of decentralised and redundant systems. Concrete examples confirm that centralisation doesn’t go necessarily with performance and speed.
Federalism is a very important political issue. But what is its interaction with economy? Does it slow down or favour even Switzerland’s extraordinary competitiveness? The Conference in Montreux dealt also with this question. A scientific study concluded that federalism helps to optimise public services, that it drives the innovation spirit and the competition or that it absorbs uneven distribution of incomes and therefore reduces the need for redistribution.
In a much more fundamental way it was underlined that the main and most important effect of Swiss federalism lies in the great political stability and that the economy will benefit of the stability. The foreign companies which settle in Switzerland are looking for exactly this stability. This asset cannot be underestimated in a time in which other European countries are negatively influenced by contradictory demands of the community. In addition, there is the possibility of exchange with geographically and culturally related authorities which are able to understand the problems and needs of companies located there.

Actions in favour of federalism!

Obviously, Federalism was not invented to stimulate the competitiveness of Switzerland, but it has created a political and social framework which promotes prosperity. In this sense, it deserves to be defended systematically, not only with words, but also by acting relentlessly against the technocratic plans and too simple solutions which want to move competences to the top. The freedom and the responsibility which are called for companies are also due to the basic political communities, namely the cantons.
This vigilance effort embodies a practical application of federalism which is likely to be understood by the people. And just as carefully you have to explain it.     •
(Translation from German Current Concerns)

Source: Centre patronal, press and information service of 1 November 2017