In Switzerland, the people are the highest state authority. The sovereign authority decides on any amendment to the Federal Constitution. With the means of the popular initiative and the optional referendum, citizens can engage in political debate and determine how our political system is to look like and in which direction it should develop. However, for some time now this has appeared to no longer please certain people. Apparently in some cantons and at the federal level, the executive and its administrative apparatus urgently need some tutoring sessions regarding direct democracy.
Approximately twenty years ago it was still clear to every politician and to every administrative authority: As soon as the sovereign authority has decided, there is nothing more to add to or to detract from the decision. Until recently the high respect of the authorities towards the directly democratic political system allowed the Federal Council or the cantonal governments with their administrators to implement the decision resulting from the referendum, even if they themselves had wished differently.
Among the indispensable prerequisites of direct democracy is the one that the population may at any time inform themselves about a planned legislative process and about ongoing negotiations with other countries. Because only complete transparency by the government allows the citizens to form an opinion that deserves this label in a direct democracy.
A special relationship of trust between the population and the authorities was tradition in Switzerland. In dealing with each other they met on equal footing and adhered to the principle of good faith. Many citizens are also members of administrative bodies or commissions. For example, some hold a mandate in the canton and the city council simultaneously, or are Mayor and National Councillor or cantonal and federal parliamentarian, etc. The separation of powers applies in Switzerland only at the same state level; it is highly desirable, that for example a local elected official can have a say in the canton or the federal government, too. This refined interaction is based on the shared high democratic awareness and is a magnificent achievement in the history of Switzerland. But this interaction works only if all parties are willing to contribute to the preservation of the Swiss model.
Since the beginning of the nineties, the respect for the will of the people has crumbled with many law enforcement agencies and party politicians. As a result many dedicated, down-to-earth citizens have lost confidence in “the state” to a certain extent, especially at the federal and partly at the cantonal level. This has become especially evident since 6 December 1992, when the Swiss people said “No” to the EEA accession. But the exponentially increasing interference of the OECD and the United States with the internal affairs of Switzerland, tolerated by the Federal Council without having consulted the people, does not contribute to the citizens’ trust in the state.
As a consequence of the people’s “No” to the EEA, the Bilateral Agreements I and II have been negotiated between Switzerland and the EU. A majority of the citizens voted for these agreements, since they were mistaken to believe the assurances of the Federal Council and “the economy” (read: the large corporations that have their headquarters in Switzerland, but have long been abroad operating their production and business there): The citizens were deceived into believing that the Bilateral Agreements were essential for the economy and would not curtail our independence from the EU and the citizens’ political rights.
Meanwhile, many citizens have realized that the bilateral agreements primarily serve the EU and its corporations. For example, the floods of trucks pouring through our county and polluting our air, hardly contribute to the benefit of our population. And the annual net influx of more than 80,000 immigrants is simply no longer acceptable for a small and densely populated country like Switzerland. The voters have acknowledged this with their “yes” to the Mass Immigration Initiative on 9 February 2014.
Given the insidious attempts to disempower the sovereign people, it is a pleasure for any active citizen to witness how many fellow citizens there are who let themselves not be defeated. 53 federal popular initiatives have been conducted at the federal level alone between 2002 and 2014, ten of which were accepted at the ballot box! A remarkable result!
However, the would-be constitutional reformers of Switzerland are not particularly pleased with the success of direct-democratic instruments. For example, Lukas Rühli, executive member of the think tank Avenir Suisse demands reforms of the right of popular initiative, as an initiative will “[...] rarely be implemented in accordance with the desire of its founders.” (Media communiqué from 7 April 2015) True, neither the Initiative on Preventive Detention, nor the Deportation Initiative, neither the Second Home Initiative nor the Mass Immigration Initiative have been implemented so far. However, bringing the right of popular initiative in line with Rühli’s desires – not to let it “degenerate into a farce” (Lukas Rühli) – would mean putting the cart before the horse.
Among other things, he makes the following suggestions: A substantial preliminary examination of popular initiatives by the Federal Chancellery – however, its introduction, as you already know, recently flunked with timpani and trumpets as early as in the consultation procedure. Another suggestion was to increase the number of confirmed signatures from 100,000 to 210,000 (4% of the electorate).
Did the perpetrators of such ideas ever take part in collecting 100,000 signatures? If so, it would be clear to them: To collect 100,000 signatures, the collectors need exactly the same amount of time – regardless of the current number of citizens entitled to vote.
Not the right of popular initiative is to be brought into line but the Federal Council, including its administrative bubble. The Federal Assembly and the Federal Court have to adjust. In fact, by the will of the people the texts of the initiatives adopted at the ballot box are to become articles in the Swiss Federal Constitution, the supreme legal institution of our country. The authorities and their officials are responsible for ensuring that the Constitution is implemented in accordance with its wording in laws and then applied, even if this does not suit some people in Brussels or overseas. The Swiss popular initiative “Swiss law instead of foreign judges (self-determination Initiative)” was launched recently to remind the “servant” and “representative” of the people of their duty.
The surreptitious method does not quite work with respect to Curriculum 21. As reported earlier, the so-called “legal basis” of this unspeakable construct rests on a mere administrative arrangement of Cantonal Governments. Hoping that nobody would notice anything about it during three years, the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education EDK hatched its odd ideas behind closed doors. (see Current Concerns No 31/32 from 31 October 2013)
But the Swiss population is not going to tolerate this approach; many parents and teachers have already spoken out and will continue to do so. In the cantons popular initiatives are sprouting from the ground, requesting the withdrawal from HarmoS or demanding that voters can vote on the curriculum of the elementary school.
And how do the cantonal governments act? Some behave correctly as the Canton of Aargau, where the introduction of the curriculum has been postponed for a few years, so that the population can decide on the popular initiative “Yes to a good education – No to the Curriculum 21” before its implementation. Other cantons push ahead and implement the controversial curriculum rapidly. For example the Canton of Basel-Stadt has indeed literally implemented it without the so-called “adjustments to cantonal circumstances”. “Coincidentally,” the Basel Education Director Christoph Eymann, also the president of the EDK, as such, behaves as if he were the boss of the country: “We are not afraid that we remain the only ones. All cantons will take this path,” Eymann said arrogantly on 4.12.2014 on television SRF.
However, he might be tremendously mistaken! The Councillor of State of Basel-Stadt, the Social Democrat Anita Fetz, in any case has a very different view of this matter: “Let the school alone! Curriculum 21 has failed”, says Fetz in an interview. (Die Zeit, No 44/2014 of 23 October 2014)
By the way, in October of this year Christoph Eymann (Liberal Democratic Party LDP) plans to run as Council candidate and to take Fetz’s seat. The people of Basel have it in their hands to choose either him or her as their Councillor. •
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