The initiative can be implemented in a way that meaningful investment will be promoted

The initiative can be implemented in a way that meaningful investment will be promoted

Interview with Prof Dr Rainer Schweizer, former Professor of Public Law, including European and International Law, University of St. Gallen

Preliminary note: before each question there is a quote from the Federal Council’s commentary in the booklet they sent to each household prior to a vote (henceforth referred to as ‘booklet’)

Booklet p.10: “The adoption of the initiative would lead to a restriction of the freedom to conduct business and competitiveness. The federal-related companies would not be allowed to strive for profit, which would discourage innovation and development in basic services. That would weaken the public service.”

Current Concerns: Is it true that the innovation and the development of SBB, Post and Swisscom would be restricted if there was a Yes to the initiative? Or in other words: would they have to use its income solely for better services, thus cheaper train tickets and parcels, more operated railway ticket offices and the reopening of the closed post offices?

Prof Rainer Schweizer: There are several private and public companies which strive for profits, but for certain reasons do not distribute profits. The legislature, which implements the constitution, can determine how the profits are to be used, one being to reduce the price of the services of the public service for the country’s residents, on the other hand if necessary also on substantive, technical and operational innovations and developments. For example, the fact that the various products of SBB are now available on Internet and iPhone is consistent with the initiative text. The same applies to the large investments which Swisscom puts in the network expansion. The initiative can be implemented in a way that such efforts are not hindered but promoted by the concentration of resources.

Booklet p.7: The initiative calls for “to pursue in the field of basic services no fiscal interests”. This is to ensure, “that profits of the public companies based on basic provision of services will not be distributed in the form of dividends to the federal government.”

So, should the corporations be transformed in different types of companies at a Yes for the initiative?

This is not necessary; certain adjustments in the federal laws and regulations would be sufficient.

Booklet, page 6/7: “According to the initiative text the cross-subsidisation of other divisions* would be prohibited. It is unclear if this refers to the cross-subsidisation within the federal state, within the nation-related companies or to the cross-subsidisation from companies to the federal state.”

*      the initiative text states “other management areas”, which is a distortion of the initiative text.

Which cross-subsidisations would be banned by the initiative?

“Cross-subsidisation in other administrative areas”, which means areas with different purposes would be prohibited, so for example, from the postal services to logistics departments of the army.

Booklet, p.6: “Within the public service cross-subsidies are common. Due to the fact that less profitable services are financed by income from profitable services, everybody receives the same services at the same price and the same quality: this is why a priority letter (A-Post) costs the same to any destination in Switzerland.”

So the Federal Council has understood what kind of cross-subsidisation the initiative allows?

The commentary of Federal Council provides a true example of the allowed “cross-subsidisation” within the full range of postal services. The Postal Act already regulates in Art. 19 that the income generated by the postal services from the reserved services may not be used for cross-subsidisation for services outside the provision of basic service.

Booklet, p.7: “In case of an adoption of the initiative the federal-related companies would have to adhere to more stringent accounting standards. They would have to separate provision of basic services from other services in their accounts.”

Would such a definition in terms of transparency not in any case be desirable?

Such information in invoices would be very useful. The post offices today sell a range of products, whose profitability would be interesting to know.

Thanks for the interview, Professor Schweizer.     •

(Interview Marianne Wüthrich)

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