Swiss national referendum of 23 September 2018
On 23 September we will vote at federal level on three constitutional amendments:
– Popular Initiative “For healthy, eco-friendly and fairly produced food (Fair-Food-Initiative)”
– Popular Initiative “For Food Sovereignty. Agriculture concerns us all”
– Federal decree on cycle paths, foot and hiking paths
The voting booklet of the Federal Council comes out in a new layout and is – as the Federal Council mentions – really somewhat more informative. That means that objections against the initiatives are less often repeated and the initiators have more space available for their arguments. An item which has been criticised for long remains unchanged: The recommendations for the election by Federal Council and parliament are printed in big types at the beginning and the end of the booklet and are emphasised by a graphics of the voting results of National Council and Council of States. From a democratic point of view it is and stays questionable to spoon-feed the citizens in such a way.
Here the three drafts shall be presented in their essentials. About the food-initiatives Current Concerns has informed several times in detail.1
mw. The Fair-Food-Initiative (short: Fair-Food) was brought in by the Swiss Green Party, the Popular Initiative “For Food Sovereignty” (cited Food-Sovereignty) by Uniterre, a peasant organisation which advocates sustainable agriculture. Both initiatives pursue similar aims. They show the wish of broad parts of the population for eco-friendly produced food of high quality, but although their will to maintain and strengthen the small-scale and sustainable Swiss agriculture. Therefore both [initiatives] are against an opening of the borders for the agrarian economy which the Federal Council is striving for for quite some time now.
With a Yes to one – or better to both – initiatives the sovereign can prevent agricultural agreements with the EU or other free trade agreements including agriculture.
The voting texts (see box 1 and 2) mention the demanded changes in agriculture clearly understandable but partly all too much in detail. But let us not be led on side tracks: essential is the fundamental alignment. As help for a political classification we recite some crucial arguments of the initiative committee out of the voting booklet and comment it in the context of the objections of the Federal Council.
Fair-Food: “Food shall be produced in accordance with animal welfare and environment under fair working conditions. This is the will of the consumers. The Fair-Food-Initiative promotes sustainable agriculture in Switzerland. […]. Farmers shall reach a fair price with their products. The initiative promotes merchandising of regionally produced food. This doesn’t make them more expensive but more fresh and healthy.[…] ”3
Food Sovereignty: “Our initiative promotes a domestic peasant agriculture which is profitable and diverse, which produces healthy food for the population and at the same time meets the social and ecological requirements.”4
Federal Council to Fair-Food: “The initiative was unnecessary because according to Swiss law already today high requirements to domestic food production are in place.5
Federal Council to Food Sovereignty: “The popular initiative aims at a politics as it was pursued until the beginning of the 90s. It would annihilate the achievements of the agricultural politics of the last 25 years – in this time agriculture was increasingly focused on the market.”6
Comment: The aims of both initiatives correspond with the claims of the report Agriculture at a Crossroads: The regional, small-scale agriculture shall be strengthened all over the world. Because Swiss agricultural politics doesn’t comply with these aims up to now both initiatives want to oblige the federal authorities to them. Instead parts of the Federal Council, of the federal authorities and of the parliament pursue since the beginning of the 90s the direction of an increasing EU-integration. “Stronger alignment to the market” therefore means in the first line preparation for an agreement with the EU on agriculture (and other agreements of free trade). The initiatives counteract.
Fair-Food: “Nearly half of the food and animal food in Switzerland today is imported. Instead of limitless free trade also for imports a quality strategy is needed. […] The Fair-Food-Initiative improves the declaration so that consumers have a free choice. Products from a fair trade and of peasant family businesses shall be advantaged. […].3
Food Sovereignty: “In order to promote a production under social and ecological conditions which comply with Swiss norms, the federal government charges tariffs to the import of agricultural products and food which don’t conform with these norms; they can forbid the import of these.” (FC Art. 104c para. 8 new see box 2)
Federal Council to Fair-Food (similar to Food-Sovereignty): “The initiative claims that as a matter of principle Swiss standards are valid for imported food, too. […] These standards could interfere with trade agreements. If Switzerland creates unilateral trade barriers it endangers the advantages of this agreements for example the simplified access to international markets.”5
Comment: “Simplified access to international markets” would be an advantage above all for large pharmaceutical and engineering groups – as most of them are already present all over the world. In its synopsis for a medium term further development of agricultural politics of 1 November 2017, the Federal Council reveals that it intends to sacrifice agriculture in favour of the export industry: “Border barriers for agricultural goods are to be dismantled through mutual market opening within the framework of free trade agreements in order to create new export potential for agricultural products, food and industrial products.”8
Both initiatives oppose such understanding of free trade agreements – which in reality lead away from freedom and threaten the existence of Swiss farms.
Food sovereignty: The new Art. 104c para 4 aims to definitively ban the use of GMOs in agriculture. (see box 2) 7
Federal Council: Apart from for research activities, Switzerland has a moratorium on genetic engineering, which has already been extended three times by the parliament. “The extension of the moratorium until 2021 should allow a thorough and objective discussion on the possible use of GMOs in Swiss agriculture.”5
Comment: The Federal Council is ignoring the referendum of 27 November 2005, in which 55.7% of the votes and all cantons had banned the use of GMOs in agriculture for five years. The threefold extension by the parliament corresponded to the clear will of the people – otherwise the referendum would certainly have been taken. The ongoing debate in parliament is expected to lead to a further extension until 2021. (SRF Tagesschau, Swiss Radio and Television daily news of 1.3.2017) On the other hand, the Federal Council has always campaigned against an extension of the moratorium in disregard of the will of the people. Today it does it again. Whose interest does the Federal Council work for?
Let us not get ripped off again on 23 September!
As a reminder: Due to an unprecedented voting campaign, on 24 September 2017 the sovereign approved a counter proposal to the “For food security” initiative of the Swiss Farmers’ Union (SFU). At every corner hung posters, make the voters believe that it was about strengthening local agricultural production and peasantry. Some top representatives of the SFU were persuaded by false promises to withdraw their initiative and make propaganda for the counter proposal.9
Even before the referendum in July 2017, Federal Councillor Johann Schneider-Ammann, head of the EAER (Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research), had clearly stated that the counter proposal had completely different objectives than the withdrawn popular initiative: “New is [in the counter proposal, mw] that cross-border trade becomes a matter of course. The initiative would have been a step backwards; it would have increasingly sealed off the country. […] This closure had to be prevented. We must be able making our trade relations successful, and in each case, agriculture must also make concessions and face increasing competition.” To put it in a nutshell: “An interpretation according to which the counter proposal would make the border guard permanent and additionally protect the internal market, is certainly not right.”10
As in the voting booklet such captious statements of course were not written, the people agreed to the sham (today’s Article 104a of the Federal Constitution).
The counter proposal of 24 September 2017 was designed to subjugate the Fair- Food-Initiative and the Initiative for Food Sovereignty in advance, as its author the Council of States Commission for Economic Affairs and Taxation (EATC) has stated in November 2016. With the counter proposal, the commission “wants to accomplish a better starting position for combating these two initiatives”.9
Even more clearly becomes Johann Schneider-Ammann in the debate of the Council of States on 29 November 2016: “The Commission’s concept is […] not only based on the one initiative that we need to handle, but also on the three that are approaching us and need clarification […]”. In the current voting booklet, the Federal Council “manages” the matter by writing twice that the two initiatives should be rejected because the orientation of agricultural policy towards the market was confirmed by the voters on 24 September 2017.
A strange kind of logic, as the sovereign has the freedom to correct this agricultural policy orientation on 23 September 2018.
Conclusion: When weighing up the different points of view, it becomes clear that the Fair-Food-Initiative and the initiative “For Food Sovereignty” pursue completely different goals than the Federal Council’s agricultural policy, as described here. Those who care about healthy and environmentally friendly food production, who do not want to expose our family farms to open borders for agricultural imports and thus to ruin, have the opportunity to vote twice yes on 23 September. •
1 Current Concerns No 7, 3 April 2018: Preservation of Swiss agriculture – neither nostalgic nor unworldly, but a requirement of time; Current Concerns No 22/23, 23 September 2017: Produce regionally what can be produced in the region, Press Conference on food security and food sovereignty in Berne; Current Concerns No 19, 15 August 2017: Food security must be ensured!;Current Concerns No 28, 13 December 2016: Popular initiative “For Food Security”, No “walls up policy”, but a commandment of the hour – not only for Switzerland; Current Concerns No 14, 30 Juni 2016: Where will Swiss agriculture go from here?by Dr rer publ. Werner Wüthrich
2 Voting text Fair-Food-Initiative: Voting booklet p. 28/29: voting text Initiative “For Food Sovereignty”: Voting booklet p. 38/39
3 Voting booklet, p. 24/25
4 Voting booklet, p. 34/35
5 Voting booklet, p. 26/27
6 Voting booklet, p. 36/37
7 Voting booklet, p. 39
8 “Gesamtschau zur mittelfristigen Weiterentwicklung der Agrarpolitik (Synopsis for a medium term further development of agricultural politics)” Swiss Federal Council 1. November 2017, p. 49
9 cf. Current Concerns No. 19, 15 August 2017: “No to the counter-proposal on ‘Food security’”
10 “Bauern stehen unter Heimatschutz”, interview with Federal Councillor Johann Schneider Amman in “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” from 8.7.2017
11 Report of the Council of States Commission for Economic Affairs and Taxation (EATC) from 3. November 2016, cited in Current Concerns No. 28, 13 December 2016: “Popular initiative “For Food Security. No “wallis up policy”, but a commandment of the hour – not only for Switzerland.”
The Federal Constitution shall be amended as follows:
1 For the implementation of food sovereignty, the Swiss Confederation shall promote a domestic peasant agriculture that is profitable and diverse, producing healthy food, and that meets the social and environmental expectations of the people.
2 It shall ensure a supply of mainly domestic food and foodstuff and the preservation of natural resources in their production.
3 It shall take effective measures with the aim of:
a promoting an increase in the number of people working in agriculture as well as in structural diversity;
b preserving cultivated areas, especially crop rotation areas, both in terms of scope and quality;
c ensuring farmers’ rights to use, reproduce, exchange and market seeds.
4 It shall prohibit agricultural use of genetically modified organisms and of plants and animals that have come about with the help of new technologies by means of which the genome is altered or recomposed in a way that is not natural.
5 It shall undertake the following tasks, namely:
a It supports the creation of farmers’ organisations that are geared to ensure that the supply offered by farmers and the needs of the population are coordinated.
b It ensures transparency in the market and works towards fair prices being set in all branches and chains of production.
c It reinforces direct trade between the farmers and the consumers as well as the regional processing, storage and marketing structures.
6 It shall pay special attention to the working conditions of agricultural workers and shall ensure that these conditions are kept uniformly throughout Switzerland.
7 To maintain and promote domestic production it shall raise tariffs on imports of agricultural and food products and regulate the volume of imports.
8 To promote production under social and environmental conditions that meet Swiss standards, it shall raise tariffs on imports of agricultural and food products that do not meet those standards; it may ban their import.
9 It shall pay no subsidies for the export of agricultural products and foodstuffs.
10 It shall ensure information on the conditions for the production and processing of domestic and imported foods and the awareness thereof. It may set its own quality standards regardless of international norms.
Transitional provision for Art. 104c
The Federal Council will submit the statutory provisions necessary for the implementation of Article 104c to the Federal Assembly within two years after its adoption by the people and the states.
(Translation Current Concerns)
The Federal Constitution shall be amended as follows:
1 The Confederation shall strengthen the availability of secure high quality foodstuffs produced in a resource-saving and environmentally and animal-friendly manner and under fair working conditions. It shall specify production and processing requirements.
2 It shall ensure that imported agricultural products to be used for human consumption satisfy at least and in principle the requirements under para. 1; with respect to more processed and composite foodstuffs and animal feeds it shall be working towards this goal. It shall promote fair trade products and products from farms that cultivate the land.
3 It shall ensure that the adverse effects of the transportation and storage of foodstuffs and animal feed on the environment and the climate will be reduced.
4 The Confederation has in particular the following powers and duties:
a It shall legislate on the authorisation of foodstuffs and animal feeds and on declarations of production methods and processing procedures.
b It may regulate the awarding of tariff quotas and adjust import duties.
c It may draw up compulsory target agreements with the food industry, and in particular with importers and retailers.
d It shall encourage the processing and marketing of regionally and seasonally produced foodstuffs.
e It shall take measures to curb food waste.
5 The Federal Council shall define medium and long-term goals and report regularly on the degree to which targets are achieved. If targets are not met, it shall take additional measures or strengthen the existing ones.
Transitional provision to Art. 104a (foodstuffs)
If the implementing legislation for Article 104a does not come into force within three years of its adoption by the People and the Cantons, the Federal Council shall issue temporary implementing provisions in the form of an ordinance.
(Translation Current Concerns)
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