Switzerland – Stuck in the Middle?

The elections for the national Swiss council took place on October 23 2011. What has changed and what can be expected from the “stubborn” country in the middle of Europe?

This year, a modest but constant leftist- wave has started to overrun central Europe. Starting in the city elections of Hamburg and Berlin and then in national elections of Denmark, “Social Democrats have lost votes even though they succeeded in defending (Berlin/ Hamburg) or capturing (Denmark) political power”, concludes Christian Levrat, president of the Swiss Social Democrats, “and I am very satisfied that we could achieve the same in Switzerland.”

Now, three weeks after the national election, it has become obvious that this leftist wave has entered Switzerland but in a subtle way. Even though the SP (Social Democratic Party) has lost 0.85% of votes, they may slightly increase their numbers of seats in parliament. The right- wing SVP (Swiss People’s Party) is still the biggest party in the country, but their number of voters decreased by 2.3%. Winners apart from the SP are the two recently established center parties of the Green Liberals and the Bourgeois Democratic Party BDP, whose members are former SVP politicians.

Even if it is not visible at first glance, there have been some surprises from the elections results: With a broad acceptance of the provocative campaigns coming with recent national popular initiatives of the SVP it seemed obvious to the Swiss media that the SVP would remain popular in the polls, but for the first time in twelve years, they lost a great number of votes. A national popular initiative is often motivated by non-partisan interest groups and is valid when one hundred thousand Swiss citizens have signed it.  After the authentication by the Federal Administration, a national vote takes place. In case of the Minaret initiative it was accepted with 57.5 percent and a voting participation of 50.5 percent.

However, the results of the Social Democrats are modest. In Switzerland’s political system-a multi-party federal parliamentary democratic republic- it is not possible to be as clearly victorious as it is in other (European) countries.


Can we consequently speak of strengthened social democratic parties in Europe? “Electoral success in Europe took place where the Social Democracy- if possible with new and fresh political forces- could demonstrate a genuine alternative”, opines Levrat. Hence there is no necessary coherence between the different parts of Europe.

No upcoming surprises expected

The contemporary Swiss political stage is always looking for the narrow ridge between political correctness and its overrun. The previous legislature was marked by continuous provocations, mostly from the right side. The SVP, Switzerland’s right- wing party, lobbied for the prevention of EU- Accession and promoted anti- immigrant slogans like the ban for immigrants in certain areas in the region of Zug. In addition, a ban on minarets in the whole country and an immediate expulsion of immigrants who committed a crime were made possible by national popular initiatives initiated by the SVP in 2009 and 2010.

The leftist side of the political spectrum, on the other hand, tried to put the focus on the increasing unlikeness between the wealthy and the poor and also between the income of managers and ther employees. For the latter, for example, a national popular initiative of the Young Social Democrats came into effect which ensures a wage bandwidth not greater than the ratio of one to twelve.

Although these sharp disputes between the right and left do occur, there are no upcoming epoch- making decisions expected in the next legislature. With its many center parties which account for more than 30 percent of representatives, the reproach arises the newly elected parliament mellows when compared to its former state. But still, the Swiss political system is based on compromises as the small and large chamber of the parliament- as well as the Swiss people have to approve every decision.

Thus, the possibility of EU- Accession for example is highly unlikely, because only the Social Democrats argue for it. Nonetheless or perhaps because of that the future relationship to the EU will be much discussed in the next legislature. Switzerland is the third largest economic partner of the EU, behind the US and China. One of the current contentious points is the release of banking details of EU citizens, especially from Greece, Germany, and France. Another EU requirement is that Switzerland should adapt EU law automatically. All these negotiations are based on a long-term perspective.

Switzerland seems literally stuck in the middle, in the midst of Europe without having much influence in it, and also in the middle of its own political spectrum where every political decision has to be accepted by its middle.


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