mw. Usually, the national parliament and the State Council as well as the cantonal parliaments do their job diligently and stick to the clearly specified legal provisions for a declaration of invalidity initiatives. But in accordance with the jurisdiction of some cantons the Government and as a second instance the Cantonal Administrative Court are cognizant to decide whether the people are entitled to vote on an initiative. So for example in the Canton of St. Gallen, where the Governing Council and the Administrative Court invalidated the initiative “for the elementary school”, which wants to prevent the introduction of Curriculum 21 and wants to reduce the number of foreign languages taught in the elementary school from two to one (press release of “Verein Starke Volksschle St. Gallen” (Association for a Strong Elementary School St. Gallen, from 21.6.2015).
Encouragingly, on the other hand, a decision from the Canton of Lucerne: There the Governing Council has requested the Cantonal Parliament on 25 September 2015, to declare the people’s initiative “One foreign language in elementary schools” invalid. The arguments of the Government Council, however, are so absurd that the parliament clearly opposed against this request.
Although the canton is not a member of the HarmoS Concordat (according to which two foreign languages are prescribed at primary school member cantons), the two “independent” experts, the Government had consulted, came to the conclusion that the cantons were obliged to have two foreign languages in primary education. Because according to the Education Article 62 para 4 of the Federal Constitution of 2006, the cantons would have to harmonize public schools. No one denies this. But it is in the meantime well known that in the individual cantons neither Curriculum 21 nor two early foreign language can be mandatory enforced by this article with its general wording. This fact is of course not new to the Lucerne Government Council, so its “rationale” sounds quite adventurous:
“With the initiative ‘One foreign language in elementarty school’ the current model of foreign language teaching is at risk with regard to ‘harmonisation’, and it would make the canton of Lucerne an island in the way foreign languages are taught. Therefore the initiative violates the mandate of harmonisation in the Federal Constitution and thus the overriding federal law.” Also the initiative disregarded the commandment of unity of matter, because the voters “could decide that only one foreign language is taught in elementary schools, however, not whether this should be English or French”. Therefore, a dilemma would be created for the voters … (Media release Government Council of Canton of Lucerne from 25.9.2015)
Should the existence as a “language island” be so unconstitutional? Quite apart from the known fact that the “previous model of foreign language teaching” cannot be “disharmonised”, as it was never harmonised: some cantons start with English, others with French, and the Canton of Appenzell-Innerrhoden and newly also the Canton of Thurgau shifts teaching of the second language to the upper school. Particularly interesting is the redefinition of the “unity of matter”, as it is now a negative definition: because not all details of the future legal instrument are known at the time of the referendum, it would violate this commandment? Then, most voting submissions would disobey the commandment of unity of matter! Incidentally, hardly any submission can be formulated more clearly than the Lucerne foreign language initiative: “One foreign language is taught in elementary schools.”
The Lucerne Government faces much more a dilemma: Education Director Reto Wyss, who of course is sitting at the same time in the EDK (Education Director Conference) … is the contact person in the aforementioned press release.
Let’s come now to the good continuation of this story. The Education Commission of the Lucerne Cantonal Council (Parliament) invited to its meeting in addition to the consultant of the government also an opposing expert, Professor Andreas Glaser of the University of Zurich. He concluded succinctly, “that after today’s federal legislation the canton of Lucerne, which is not joining the HarmoS Concordat, cannot be obliged to two foreign languages in elementary schools. The unit of matter was not in question.” After that statement the Education Commission agreed to the validity of the initiative addressing it to the cantonal council unanimously. Their reasoning delights every friend of direct democracy: “For the EBKK [Commission for education, training and culture] the right of initiative is a strong means and on weight as a democratic right.” The Commission will therefore allow for a substantial process and will not exclusively rely on a legal argumentation. “Also because there stands expert opinion against expert opinion, it advocates unanimously the principle ‘in dubio pro populo’ (in case of doubt ask the people) and thus the validity of the initiative.” (Media release of the Education Commission from 20.11.2015)
The cantonal Council proved worthy of the high level of understanding of democracy in its upstream Advisory Commission: it voted for the validity of the popular initiative “a foreign language in elementary schools” (Protocol of the Lucerne Cantonal Council from 1.12.2015) with 112 of 113 votes with one abstention. •
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