The importance of the neutrality initiative for Switzerland and a more peaceful world

by René Roca*

On Thursday, 11 April 2024, the non-partisan initiative committee “Zur Wahrung der schweizerischen Neutralität” (For the preservation of Swiss neutrality) submitted its initiative. Over 130’000 signatures testify to a considerable initial success. It will now be possible to vote on the initiative, which aims to enshrine neutrality more precisely in the Federal Constitution, in the near future. The collection of signatures and now the realisation of the initiative have already triggered a broad debate which, regardless of the result, is already capable of changing a great deal politically. A vote is not just about a simple yes or no. Anyone who emphasises this and falls into lamentation completely misjudges the value of direct democracy. The point is simply that such a project has the key preliminary effect of breaking the power of established political circles such as parties and associations. The mainstream of media power is also called into question over time. This process opens up scope for creative thinking and concrete change processes.

Switzerland is gambling
away the rest of its credibility

On the other side, among the abolishers of Swiss neutrality i.e., the Federal Council and the majority of parliament, this leads to nervousness and embarrassing advances. In January, Federal Councillor Cassis and Federal Councillor Amherd pompously announced at the Economic Forum in Davos, surrounded by business elites and political celebrities, that they were now organising a “peace conference” in Switzerland. A short time later, it was announced that the conference would be held on the Bürgenstock. This largest luxury resort in Switzerland has long been owned by the sovereign wealth fund of the feudal state of Qatar, which is not exactly known for its respect for human rights. On the narrow rocky ridge high above Lake Lucerne, castles in the air based on power and violence rather than peace and justice are now being built as part of the conference. Switzerland wants to base the conference, if it takes place at all, on Ukraine’s unilateral 10-point program drawn up by the USA. Russia has not even been invited and would not have come anyway, other countries such as China and other non-Western states will probably not travel to the mountain either. A huge flop, Switzerland continues to make itself untrustworthy and Swiss diplomacy has reached a low point. Anyone who wants to end a NATO proxy war in such an amateurish manner must accept the accusation that they are abandoning Switzerland’s humanitarian credentials in the wake of the USA. The neutrality initiative comes at the right moment to prevent such activities in the future. Direct democracy is thus demonstrating its incredible resilience, which is what makes Switzerland’s political culture so special.

Latin Switzerland and the left
decisively support the initiative

The last few months of collecting signatures in particular demonstrated the veritable resilience of the Swiss population. With an eminent final spurt, the necessary quorum of signatures was reached and even far exceeded, despite the barrage from the media and all parties. There were two main reasons for this:
  Firstly, the patriotism and pacifism of Latin Switzerland must be acknowledged. The cantons of Ticino, Vaud and Geneva in particular contributed many times more signatures in proportion to their populations and in comparison with other cantons. In the canton of Ticino, it was the bourgeois Lega dei Ticinesi and socialist groups to the left of today’s Social Democrats (SPS) and Greens who collected signatures in a concentrated and continuous manner. This certainly also has to do with the history of the canton of Ticino, which for a long time was a so-called “common dominion” of the Old Swiss Confederacy, but then after the Helvetic era wanted to join Switzerland at all costs with waving flags – “liberi e svizzeri!”. This has to do with the relatively lenient rule of the confederate bailiffs, the model of the confederate Landsgemeinden and the cooperative roots of the southern canton. For its part, the canton of Vaud knows all too well what it means to be a subject territory of Berne. Today, they would rather use the initiative to tell their former “masters” in Berne, i.e. the government, that they should take Switzerland’s integral neutrality seriously again. Finally, the canton of Geneva, as the seat of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), is directly feeling the diminished respect for Swiss humanitarian aid. The Swiss government is willingly throwing its humanitarian tradition overboard in the wake of the “value-based West”. It wants to be one of the “good guys” and completely fails to recognise the importance of being able to work effectively for peace as a neutral country. The extent to which Switzerland, which is no longer neutral, is withdrawing support from its own humanitarian aid organisations, above all the ICRC, is already becoming glaringly obvious. In Ukraine and the Gaza Strip, aid organisations are receiving less and less respect and international humanitarian law is being trampled underfoot. Switzerland’s seat on the UN Security Council is of no use if it dutifully nods along to US proposals or cowardly abstains from voting. Humanitarian Geneva is aware of all this and, as a border canton, knows what is at stake, as do the cantons of Ticino and Vaud.
  Secondly, it should also be mentioned that an “appeal from the left and the Greens to support the neutrality initiative” was launched throughout Switzerland. This appeal gave the initiative an unexpected boost. The appeal held up a mirror to the established parties of the Social democrats and the Greens in particular, especially the ladies and gentlemen who hold a political mandate. They were all exposed in their inexplicable “war frenzy”. Their pacifism has vanished.
  The political base, which has broadened thanks to the “appeal”, must now be continuously expanded. There is still a lot to do, but this will make it possible to anchor the initiative in the minds of many people in the long term. Around 90% of the Swiss population still support neutrality. The majority will now realise that it is urgently necessary to make neutrality more concrete by means of the initiative text. After all, we are talking about a central pillar of the Swiss state and, with the vote, one of the most important decisions in the more than 175-year history of the federal state.
  The Federal Council, Parliament and above all the Swiss people as the sovereign must now make a clear commitment: either to credible neutrality, which the initiative wants to write into the Federal Constitution, or to joining NATO. There must not and cannot be any manoeuvring in between.  •

René Roca holds a doctorate in history; he is a secondary school teacher and director of the Research Institute for Direct Democracy ( He is a non-party member of the committee “For the preservation of Swiss neutrality” (neutrality initiative).

“This initiative is worth its weight in gold”

When asked how he feels about the neutrality initiative, Ralph Bosshard, a former high-ranking OSCE employee and an expert on Ukraine, explains: “At this point, this initiative is worth its weight in gold, as it shows foreign countries that Switzerland will not allow everything to be done to it. Federal Councillors change departments and retire again, but there are constants in Swiss foreign and security policy. Hopefully this will also mean that the ambassadors will bow and scrape a little less in the Swiss Parliament Building. Economic sanctions are the means of the economically stronger against the weaker and thus ultimately also an expression of the law of the jungle in international relations. That is exactly what we no longer want”. (Ralph Bosshard in an interview with Weltwoche, No. 15/24, p. 24)

NATO policy in the DDPS* fuelled the collection of signatures

“The rapprochement with NATO, led vigorously by the head of the DDPS, Federal Councillor Viola Amherd, ended up alerting public opinion. Instead of finally tackling the gaps and lack of equipment in national military defence, caused by gross negligence, the head of the DDPS has embarked on a rapprochement with NATO which does not respect our neutrality. Citizens realized that Switzerland was going to be drawn into NATO’s game of military massacre. The collection of signatures in favour of the neutrality initiative has really taken off. It is obvious to the Committee that the Swiss do not want creeping membership in NATO.
  During the submission of signatures, the President of the Initiative Committees, former National Councillor Walter Wobmann, noted that the success of the initiative on neutrality requires a debate on the direction of Switzerland’s foreign policy and on the fallacious rapprochement made with NATO. The Sovereign now has the opportunity to put an end to the abandonment of perpetual armed neutrality. […]
  National Councillor Pierre-André Page highlighted the significant number of signatures collected in the French-speaking cantons. According to him, Geneva in particular shows that the population wants to preserve traditional values such as peace diplomacy and humanitarian aid. Geneva, headquarters of the ICRC and many UN organisations, constitutes a platform on neutral ground for Switzerland’s humanitarian tradition”.

* Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport

Source: Media release Pro Schweiz (For Switzerland) of 11 April 2024

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