The provision of essential services by the public authorities is being discussed today under the term “service public”. The new name is based on a change of attitude. Originally the idea of basic supplies arose from a socio-political tradition oriented towards mutual assistance, and it has been supported by a comprehensive state-political concept. The provision of essential services was deliberately set up and developed further as the basis for the securing of the Swiss people’s livelihood. Thus it has been possible to establish, over several generations, a sound basis for our common good and equal opportunities, which is well-anchored in the minds of the Swiss citizens. Though poor in natural resources, Switzerland nevertheless laid the foundations for its very attractive habitat and workplace with a well-developed infrastructure. Both the quality of life for the population and the quality of Switzerland as a business location have evolved over the centuries and have been established at a high level. For the benefit of all, our state created a more than sufficient, well-engineered and high-quality infrastructure for peripheral regions as well as for the agglomerations. Deliberately a policy of decentralized settlement was pursued and the development of rural and mountain areas was promoted, all this with the aim of strengthening social cohesion in our country.
In spatial planning, transport, housing and agricultural policy as well as in the organisation of primary care, the integration and internal cohesion played an essential role, while Swiss values such as personal responsibility and personal contributions or even the principle of subsidiarity were by no means ignored.
Thus the basis for high performance and commitment in the population was created, for a true equality of opportunity, for stability and reliable economic security.
Our educational and health care systems, our transport infrastructure (including post and telephone), the law and security we enjoy, our national defence, energy and water supply as well as the food production and supply in our own country, all these are pillars of our public service. Last but not least the administration was set up and conducted as a service provider. All these fields of duties were oriented towards the goal of serving the citizens. “Service to the citizen” was demanded of the involved authorities (executive, administrative and public companies). Of course, it was up to the citizens, respectively the tax payers, to finance these basic services to secure the livelihood of all – without any ranking according to wealth and income. Yet our direct democracy also enabled the citizens to exercise the right of determination and control over the provision of essential services in our country. At the same time the cooperative idea, which is deeply entrenched in our country’s body of thought, offered the necessary flexibility – to close supply gaps by means of self-initiative and personal contributions through the creation of cooperatives.
In recent years efficiency and effectiveness took the place of solidarity and internal cohesion. Under a cost pressure which was at least in part artificially constructed everything that turned out to be not worthwhile was rationalized. In the wake of globalization propaganda, the neo-liberal economic doctrine gained more and more acceptance. Previous views on economy and social coexistence were – although tried and tested time and again – rescinded by means of the definition of the “free market” and the indiscriminate application of the economic principle. In order to measure up to global competition, existing structures had to be weakened and ultimately replaced by globally marketable business entities. Small and medium enterprises disappeared or mutated into global players due to mergers and acquisitions. Services which were not profitable were rigorously removed from the range of services. Valuable jobs fell victim to cost pressures or, more accurately, to yield optimisation and so did products and services the potential benefit of which was regarded as too low. Public tasks which had so far been classified as strategically important were tied back, or else diverted into the free-price sector (privatisation of municipal utilities, water, energy, transport and telephone).
The economization of life undermines fundamental values in our society and will eventually leave gaps which threaten our existence. The internal cohesion between town and country but also between generations is being undermined.
By eliminating the cost-pushing “risk groups” from the efficiency program of essential services, we risk deteriorating into a two-class society.
An indispensable feature of essential services is food security. We therefore have to assign highest priority to food production in our own country. There may be one or two persons who lack the imagination to understand what a starving population means to a sovereign state. A mere glance at the crisis areas is sufficient to realise how hunger can destroy livelihoods. Although touted repeatedly – the free market has until now never helped to solve the problem of hunger and poverty. There is an opinion prevailing most notably in government circles that Switzerland could compensate for any shortages in the food supply in times of crisis by free access to the market. This is simply wrong.
This is also why the provisions for local agriculture in the Federal Constitution pursue supply-policy objectives. Nevertheless, the Federal Council is adopting an economic and thus a supply-securing policy that could threaten the existence of the Swiss population in a supply crisis. The attitude of the Federal Council towards the claim for food sovereignty and security definitely shows no statesmanlike and responsible supply policy. The decision to delegate this responsibility to the market requires a correction on the part of parliament or in the last instance of the people.
Local agriculture and consequently the security of supply are being watered down mainly by means of the new system of direct payments (formerly federal subsidies). National-policy, social-policy and supply-policy aspects are rationalised away from agricultural policy, true to the rules of the neo-liberal economy. The deliberately targeted structural change (small farms have to disappear in favor of larger agricultural holdings; i.e. industrialisation of agriculture) together with the insistence on cost competitiveness on the international agricultural markets triggered an irreversible dwindling of the farming community. In this way the vital security of food supply through domestic production is being jeopardised and a gap is opened in the defensive strategy of our state and our sovereignty.
New freedoms were defined: Free movement of persons, goods, capital and services. Growth and competitiveness in the world market prices prevailed as the dominant parameters for a supposedly promising economic policy. In the slipstream of these targets, there was a leveling of the economies of Europe, which once had had a wide variety of performance profiles and competitive advantages. This was done without regard to the different cultures, country-specific capabilities, national circumstances and national political interests. Deregulation, liberalization, and the very narrowly defined competitiveness based only on price led to uniformity, egalitarianism and it finally shut out any competition. An example is the development of the Italian and French automotive industry. Peugeot, Renault, Fiat, once the pioneers on the international automotive market, are struggling to survive and lost their independence quite some time ago.
In connection with the four freedoms, the limits have been marginalized, free trade zones were created and free trade agreements were created. The impact of these agreements reaches far beyond the pure freight traffic – because these contracts impose foreign law on the parties and thus massively undermine the sovereignty of nation states. The consequence of such agreements is also the loss of autonomous influence and the loss of shaping economic policy in their own country. The slogan is that the “invisible hand” will make everything alright. Meanwhile we experience and observe the example of Greece, and see where the journey leads when the anonymous market takes over the diktat. High unemployment, economic and financial crisis are impacting the current economy, and politics seems to be powerless and at the mercy of events. But appearances are deceptive. There is no “invisible hand”. The “invisible hand” is actually the tangible interests of high finance and in its wake, blinded politicians who impose an economic concept on us that produces many losers and a small elite of winners. Under this aspect we can classify the current economic developments, the indebtedness of the states and the plundering of the citizens by the Treasury. Meanwhile, the “locusts” have been targeteding another worthwhile object, and politics has obediently followed. The so-called public markets are being privatized. These markets have a significant profit potential, as existential needs are covered and which makes them difficult to avoid. Initiated by the WTO (World Trade Organization) this process has already begun and corresponding contracts have been negotiated behind closed doors.
New Zealand and Australia are the countries who first started the new management practices of public administrations and enterprises. The wave of reforms under the name of New Public Management (NPM) spread across the US and Great Britain and finally reached the European mainland, as well. A reduction of bureaucracy and a modernization of public administrations were promised. In the future, public administrations should fulfill their tasks effectively, efficiently and in a customer-oriented manner. Interestingly, NPM has considerably strengthened the power of especially the administration versus the executive and the legislative branches. The citizen in the role of the customer is reduced to a buyer, and is no longer the creator of public services. This reversal of roles must first be understood and analyzed. Today the authorities tell the customer what to do. Earlier the citizens gave the orders and the competencies to the administration. Particularly striking is the momentum within the administrations, the related, rapidly increasing amount of administrative work, staffing needs and the increasingly pervasive patronization of citizens by the administration (Swiss Federal Office of Public Health, Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture, etc.). The administrative, centralized burden of control has infinitely increased in recent years and continues to increase with each reform (education, health). It stresses “the parties responsible for providing information”, so that they can barely fulfill their real work. In fact, NPM is unfit for Switzerland. New public management strains not only the principle of separation of powers, but also the direct democracy and the militia system.
NPM is therefore nothing more than an attempt to make the public tasks marketable. In a first step, they are deprived of the determination and control by the citizens (public schools/school administration/school management) and in a second step, they are privatized (Swisscom or private Spitex). In addition to health care (hospital lists/flat rate per case, etc.), the Post (closure of unprofitable post offices) as well as the SBB (Swiss Railways) are being removed by the commercialization of public tasks more and more from the original order to contribute to the cohesion, and consequently, the internal coherence. Above all, the profitable sectors within the basic services are becoming more attractive to investors and are marketed according to the free market.
The red carpet is rolled out for a path into the neo-liberal future of basic services. TiSA (Trade in Services Agreement) is the agreement which the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, Switzerland, the EU and some countries in Asia and Latin America are currently negotiating behind closed doors. (Current Concerns repeatedly reported about this agreement.) The negotiators call themselves “really good friends of services”. Since June 2013, they have regularly met behind closed doors in the Australian UN embassy in Geneva. Secret, because they are afraid of a public discussion of the ongoing privatization of basic services. This signals to us that this is a very important project and we cannot allow ourselves to hand over the future of the basic services with its existential products and services.
There are many reasons to fight the “commercialization” of cohesion and solidarity. The question only arises: Where should we start? In the foreground there is the return to the main pillars of a solid sustainable economy. The livelihood for the population is of central importance. In our country it is about self-determination, about the freedom of action when determining our safety, our social, and economic policies. In recent decades, this freedom of action has been deforested significantly. A reforestation is urgently required. And, just as the young wood in the forests does, reclaiming our sovereignty requires a relatively long time. We will have to set milestones. The first phase includes the understanding that there are industries in which the public interest is to be classified higher than revenue, competitiveness and growth potential. In the second phase it comes to mitigation. We must ensure that in the future the basic services are no longer part of free trade agreements. This means, of course, a clear rejection of TTIP and TiSA. Likewise, the negotiations with the EU have to be conducted in a way that the provision of basic living services for our country remains an internal matter and the interference from the outside is rejected. The next phase is committed to the future determination of basic services in Switzerland. The return to basic values and a stronger emphasis on cohesion and solidarity should be the purpose. Thanks to direct democracy, this return may come from the people of Switzerland. Let’s tackle this opportunity. Election Day is on 18 October 2015. Let us elect people’s representatives into the Council of States and the National Council, who seriously assume their responsibilities to the voters and who stand up for the freedom and independence of Switzerland. •
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