First parliamentary session after the elections: Probably not a grab bag

by Dr iur. Marianne Wüthrich

On Monday, 2 December, the winter session of the National Council and the Council of States began. In several cantons, second ballots were necessary for the election of the members of the Council of States because one or two candidates had not achieved an absolute majority of votes in the first ballot; in the second ballot, a relative majority is sufficient. The decision on the composition of the last seats was reached on 24 November. This completes the newly elected parliament. The election results deserve critical consideration.
What are the state policy issues in this session? As soon as the elections are over, the Institutional Framework Agreement between Switzerland and the EU, about which it was strangely silent before the parliamentary elections, is back on the table. The National Council has to decide whether it wants to support the motion of the Council of States, whose demand for additional negotiations with Brussels goes further than the motion of the National Council. The Council of States will deal first with a bridging pension for older workers. Although the connection to the Framework Agreement is not mentioned, it nevertheless exists. In addition, the small chamber will make its voting recommendation on the SVP’s (Swiss People’s Party) “Limitation Initiative”, and finally, both councils will have to resume the hot potato of Swiss money for the EU Cohesion Fund, they have postponed until after the elections without any objective justification.

“It is evident everywhere: the sovereign, lean and flexible state, whose affairs are carefully and creatively taken care of by its citizens and by the majority of upright politicians and authorities, cannot be brought on the wrong track by the elitist team of a cumbersome and centralistic bureaucracy colossus.”

 

Catching the wave?

Climate policies is currently at the centre of media attention. Apparently, many voters hope that the election of politicians who call themselves “green” will give an even greater weight to environmental policies in Switzerland. It has to be mentioned that the current state of Swiss environmental and energy policies and the goals it aims at are quite presentable by international standards.
However, the Greens and the Green Liberals have made strong gains in the National Council and the Council of States elections. In fact, even the SP lost four seats in the National Council and three in the Council of States, although its environmental and energy policy is practically identical with the Green Party. Despite everything, this autumn did not bring such massive upheavals as some augurs had predicted.
In the National Council, the centre-right parties (CVP, FDP, SVP) still hold the majority (107 out of 200) despite the green wave, while in the Council of States they still have a more than comfortable majority (32 out of 46). However, since these three often disagree on foreign policy issues in particular, it is important to find alliances across all parties, as has been possible from time to time in the past.
In the Council of States, the Greens won three seats at the expense of the SP, plus the only seat of the BDP within the left; otherwise, the shifts were small. Because the elections to the Council of States are personal elections, the citizens in each canton elect two personalities (one in the six half-cantons), without paying attention exclusively to their party affiliation. If I were a person from Basel-Landschaft, I would have preferred, for example, to vote for the Green Maya Graf, an organic farmer and a seasoned politician, rather than her liberal opponent. For Maya Graf resists steadfastly against free trade agreements that would expose our agriculture to competition from cheap products from countries with significantly lower social and ecological standards. For the same reason, she can honestly not be in favour of Switzerland’s closer integration into the EU. So, it is to be hoped for anyway.

“We are neither changing treaty nor contact person”

As reported in Current Concerns, both Councils have called for renegotiations with Brussels on the Framework Agreement in order to maintain good wage protection and to prevent the adoption of the Directive on the right of citizens of the Union and the ban on state aid. In addition, the Council of States demands the last word for the voters regarding the adoption of the EU law as well as a demarcation from the decision-making sovereignty of the European Court of Justice.1 In the winter session, the National Council now has the unthankful task of deciding whether it also wants to demand these two points – a classic example of an insoluble dilemma, because the quasi-automatic adoption of EU law and European Court of Justice decisions is precisely the core of the Framework Agreement. The new EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen categorically rejects such ideas, as her spokesperson confirms: “Nothing has changed. We are neither changing the agreement nor the contact person.”2
Instead of distracting from the facts by unrealistic demands for renegotiations, it would be more honest if our politicians admitted: The EU system is simply not compatible with Switzerland, therefore let’s scrap the whole Framework Agreement. Then Ignazio Cassis, Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), could also stop winding his way around reality in an undignified way.

Bridging-pensions for older unemployed people – a meagre replacement programme for the accompanying measures

The Council of States will deal with the “Law on bridging-pensions for older unemployed persons”3 on 10 December, and its preparatory Social Security and Health Committee (SSHC) recommends its adoption by a majority (9 to 3 with one abstention). Let us hope that the council follows its commission.
Background to the law: Another matter altogether in connection with the Framework Agreement is the EU Posting of Workers Directive, through which the EU Commission wants to replace the accompanying measures currently in force in Switzerland as a “further development of the free movement of persons”. Since the latter are much more effective and indispensable for the protection of domestic jobs and wages, the trade unions and the Social Democrats rightly insist on their retention.

As a lever against this resistance, the Federal Council is now introducing support measures and bridging-pensions for older unemployed people – an important and necessary law in itself. For even if the Federal Office for Migration and the Federal Statistical Office repeat in prayer mills that immigration from EU countries is declining: fact is that older workers in particular often lose their jobs because young people from EU countries force their way in.

Now employees who lose their job at the age of 58 and, despite all their efforts, can no longer find a job are to receive a pension, after the maximum two-year unemployment insurance benefits, up to retirement age, which amounts to more than social assistance. There are high access thresholds, such as salary contributions to OASI (Old Age and Survivors’ Insurance) for at least 20 years or assets of up to CHF 100,000. The planned law also contains support measures “to improve the employability of older persons and to promote the domestic labour force potential”. The Federal Council expects around 4,400 people to be entitled to a bridging-pension each year.
A clever move by the Federal Council: without announcing its intention, it is trying to pave the way for the subsequent adoption of the EU Posting of Workers Directive with this decree, to which no socially-minded person will hold anything against. Let us hope that trade unions and Social Democrats do not allow themselves to be persuaded from their point of view, because this law, which is in itself welcome, in no way replaces the strong accompanying measures.

Limitation Initiative: Independent control of immigration according to the will of the people

On 9 December, the Council of States will give its opinion on the SVP popular initiative “For moderate immigration (Limitation Initiative)”. Its Political Institutions Committee (PIC) votes 11 to 2 in favour of a negative voting recommendation.4
Current Concerns reported on 19 September on the content of the initiative and the most important arguments in favour and against it.5 In brief, it follows on the Mass Immigration Initiative from 2014, adopted by the sovereign but not implemented by parliament and calls for independent regulation of immigration; to this end, the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons with the EU is to be suspended by negotiation or terminated if necessary.6
On 25 September the National Council recommended the initiative for rejection by 123 votes to 63 from the SVP, with three abstentions – which was unfortunately to be expected. For years the propaganda against the SVP, or against anyone who criticises Switzerland’s closer integration into the EU clearly, has been fed and promoted in an intolerable manner. The main agitators are the mainstream media, some politicians from other parties and the business association economiesuisse, the think tank Avenir Suisse and the newly spiced up political movement “Operation Libero”, the latter of which wants to integrate Switzerland into the borderless EU area for the benefit of large corporations and which answers every critical objection with mockery and scorn.7

More cohesion billions to Brussels? A Swiss EU turbo dashes forward

The EU wants to see cash from Switzerland, and subito! In order to fill its empty pots, the EU Commission is constantly pushing for the payment of billions of solid Swiss francs from the federal tax office. After the Brexit, we should probably fill the financial gap of the net payer Great Britain …
As a reminder: At the moment we are talking about payments of 1.3 billion Swiss francs into the Cohesion Funds, which Doris Leuthard (former Federal Councillor) had promised Mr Juncker in October 2018 on her own in front of the camera. However, it is not the Federal Council that is responsible for the decision, but parliament. In the summer of 2019, the National Council and the Council of States made it clear that no money would be given to anyone who imposes sanctions against our country that are contrary to the law and the treaties: “Switzerland should only pay the EU another billion in the Cohesion Funds if it renounces discriminatory measures. Otherwise, the Federal Council should not enter into any obligations on the basis of the framework credit.”8 Right so! If we bear in mind how Switzerland is repeatedly attacked by the Brussels authorities – most recently by the withdrawal of recognition from the Swiss stock exchange – there is no reason today, any more than there was then, to transfer such a generous amount to Brussels.
In the winter session, both councils now want to settle last differences concerning less relevant issues.9 In any case, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council (FAC-N) urges its council to join the Council of States on all contentious points, because it wants “to resolve the differences with the Council of States as quickly as possible”.10
However, the reservation of both councils not to pay “if and as long as the EU adopts discriminatory measures against Switzerland” is also on the table of the two Councils for the winter session. It is to be hoped that the new composition of parliament will keep this promise to the electorate!
Some Swiss parliamentarians, however, make no secret of the fact that their aim is to subordinate Switzerland to Brussels headquarters as quickly as possible. FDP National Councillor Hans-Peter Portmann, head of the Swiss group in the EU parliament, is indeed putting himself in the limelight and is proposing a “barter deal” at a media conference in Strasbourg on 27 November, without being legitimised to do so: A yes vote by the Swiss parliament to the EU cohesion billion against the EU’s commitment to “rethink” the decision not to extend the Swiss stock exchange equivalence.11 Obviously, the EU autocracy has rubbed off on Portmann, as he actually presumes to tell the members of the National Council and Council of States how they have to vote. Selling our own parliament for a few pieces out and we are supposed to pay for them out of our own pockets?
The whole show, by the way, only boosts Portmann’s ego. He obviously wants to play a vital role in Brussels. For Switzerland, on the other hand, the withdrawing the access to the stock market is already the second sanction after the expulsion from Erasmus+, which turned out to be more of a benefit than harm. Not only do we manage the exchange programme more efficiently and cheaply on our own, but the Swiss stock exchange has also boomed since Swiss shares have been banned from the EU stock exchanges and are therefore – by decision of the Federal Council – only traded in Switzerland.12
It is evident everywhere: the sovereign, lean and flexible state, whose affairs are carefully and creatively taken care of by its citizens and by the majority of upright politicians and authorities, cannot be brought on the wrong track by the elitist team of a cumbersome and centralistic bureaucracy colossus.     •

1    “Squaring the Circle. Parliamentary commissions call for additional negotiations on Framework Agreement with EU.” In: Current Concerns from 12 June 2019; “Framework Agreement Switzerland – EU. Solution of the squaring of the circle not in sight – and elections just around the corner.” In: Current Concerns from 11 July 2019
2    “Schweiz bleibt Chefinnensache.” (“Switzerland remains in the hands of female bosses”) In: St. Galler Tagblatt from 22 November 2019
3    Media release by the Federal Council from 30 October 2019
4    Media release by the Political Institutions Committee PIC of the Council of States from 25 October 2019
5    “Mandatory adoption of EU-Law desparately overplayed. In the run-up to the elections – autumn session 2019”. In: Current Concerns from 19 September 2019
6    Initiative text see www.begrenzungsinitiative.ch/initiativtext/
7    “Mandatory adoption of EU-Law desparately overplayed. In the run-up to the elections – autumn session 2019.” In: Current Concerns from 19 September 2019
8    Debate in the Council of States on 12 June 2019 on the “second Swiss contribution to selected EU member states to reduce economic and social disparities in the enlarged EU and to support measures in the field of migration” (SDA report). See also “Framework Agreement Switzerland – EU. Solution of the squaring the circle is not in sight – and elections just around the corner.” In: Current Concerns from 11 July 2019
9    For example, how the money will be allocated to the two areas of projects in Eastern European countries and migration, or whether the association with the new Erasmus+(student exchange) and Horizon (research) programmes will be required as a precondition.
10    Media release by the fForeign Affairs Committee of the National Council from 12 November 2019
11    “Ein Nationalrat auf Friedensmission in Strassburg.” (A National Councillor on a peace mission in Strasbourg.“) In: St. Galler Tagblatt from 28 November 2019
12    “Scrutinise your contract partners at first! Or: What does Erasmus have to do with the mass immigration initiative?” In: Current Concerns from 14 January 2015 Zeyer, René. “Non-extension of stock exchange equivalence – backfire on the EU.” In: Current Concerns from 25 July 2019
“Framework Agreement Switzerland–EU. Solution to the squaring of the circle not in sight – and elections just round the corner” In: Current Concerns from 11 July 2019

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