Popular initiative in Switzerland

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Demonstration, in front of the Federal Palace of Switzerland, in support of the federal popular initiative "for a ban on the export of military equipment", in 2007. The votation was organised on 29 November 2009.

In Switzerland, a popular initiative (German: Volksinitiative, French: Initiative populaire, Italian: Iniziativa popolare, Romansh: Iniziativa dal pievel) allows the people to suggest law on a national, cantonal, and municipal level. On a federal level it may only change the federal constitution, not propose an ordinary law. Along with the popular referendum and in some cantons recall elections, it is a form of direct democracy.

History[edit]

Popular initiatives were introduced as a tool at the federal level in the 1891 partial revision of the Swiss Federal Constitution. Between 1893 and 2014, out of a total of 192 federal initiatives put to the vote, 22 were successful. Another 73 were withdrawn, mostly in favour of a counter-proposal.

The first successful initiative was the first ever launched, asking for "prohibition of slaughter without prior anesthesia" (ostensibly phrased as a matter of animal rights, but in practice directed against shechita in particular, a practice that remains outlawed in Switzerland to the present day).

The successful initiatives date to the following years: 1893, 1908 (absinthe), 1918, 1920 (gambling), 1921, 1928 (gambling), 1949, 1982, 1987 (protection of wetlands), 1990 (nuclear power moratorium), 1993 (National Day), 1994 (protection of alpine ecosystems), 2002 (UN membership), 2004, 2005, 2008, 2009 (minaret ban), 2010, 2012, 2013 (executive pay), 2014 (immigration), 2014 (paedophile work ban).

Successful initiatives were thus quite rare, with a gap of 20 years during 1929–1949, and even of more than 30 years during 1949–1982 during which not a single initiative found favour with the electorate. In the 21st century, the picture changes significantly, with five successful initiatives during the 2000s, and another five just during 2010–2014.

Among the 170 rejected initiatives (as of October 2014), there are several that still played a major role in Swiss politics. Notable among them, also for the high voter turnout they inspired, were the anti-immigration initiatives of James Schwarzenbach in 1970 and 1974 (74.7% and 70.3% turnout, respectively), and the 1989 initiative with the aim of abolishing the Swiss Army (69.2% turnout).

Federal popular initiative[edit]

The federal popular initiative (German: Eidgenössische Volksinitiative, French: Initiative populaire fédérale, Italian: Iniziativa popolare federale) is an instrument of direct democracy in Switzerland. It allows citizens to propose changes to the Swiss Federal Constitution. A votation will be organised for every proposition of modification that collected 100,000 valid signatures in 18 months.[1]

The most frequent themes tackled by initiatives are healthcare, taxes, welfare, drug policy, public transport, immigration, asylum, and education. There are only two kinds of restrictions on the content:

  • Formal criteria (the initiative should deal with one topic at a time, etc.)
  • The initiative should not infringe on the core of the human rights, known as jus cogens.[2]

It is different from the mandatory referendum in that the proposition to change the constitution comes from the population and not from the parliament. The authorities, even if they don't like it, cannot prevent an initiative which has collected enough signatures from being held, but they can make a counter proposal, known as counter-project.[1]

A double majority of people and cantons is required to change the constitution.

Popular initiatives exist at the federal, cantonal, and municipal levels.[3]

Suggested revisions[edit]

At the time of its introduction to the Swiss Constitution in 1891, the federal initiative system was initially meant to let groups that were not represented in the parliamentary process voice their concerns.[4]

Since the 2000s, it has been increasingly used by political parties to bypass the parliamentary process.[citation needed] Some critics argue that it undermines the whole Swiss political system, based on compromise and adaptation to one another, as it suppresses any possibility to negotiate on an issue (an initiative can only be accepted or rejected as a whole). Others argue that it is democracy in its purest form.[5]

Critics also argue that the multiplication of initiatives undermines the stability of the legal framework, as initiatives proposing drastic reforms are more and more frequent.[6]

Cantonal popular initiative[edit]

Comparison of popular initiative law in Swiss Cantons
Canton Type Signatures required Signature Collection period Counter Proposal Notes
Total constitutional revision 3,000 signatures 12 months Counter proposal allowed
Constitutional amendment initiative
Legislative initiative
Regulated in: Constitution of the Canton of Aargau, Section 64 - 65
Total constitutional revision 1 eligible voter N/A Counter proposal allowed
Constitutional amendment initiative
Legislative initiative
Regulated in: Constitution of the Canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden, Art. 7
Total constitutional revision 300 signatures Counter proposal allowed
Constitution amendment initiative
Legislative initiative
Regulated in: Constitution of the Canton of Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Art.51 a. - Art.55 e.
Total constitutional revision 30,000 signatures 6 months Counter proposal allowed
Constitutional amendment initiative 15,000 signatures
Legislative initiative
Intercantonal / International contract negotiation
Elaboration of government resolution
Regulated by: Constitution of the Canton of Bern, Art. 58 - Art. 60
Total constitutional revision 1,500 signatures No limit
Constitutional amendment initiative
Legislative initiative
Regulated by: Constitution of the Canton of Basel-Landschaft, Art. 28 - Art. 29
Total constitutional revision 3,000 signatures 18 months
Constitutional amendment initiative
Legislative initiative
Regulated by: Constitution of the Canton of Basel-Stadt,
Total constitutional revision 6,000 signatures 90 days Counter-proposal allowed
Constitutional amendment
Legislative initiative
Regulated by: Constitution of the Canton of Fribourg,
Total constitutional revision 3% of eligible voters 4 months Counter-proposal allowed
Constitutional amendment
Legislative initiative 2% of eligible voters
Regulated by: Constitution of the Republic and Canton of Geneva, Art. 56 - Art. 64
Total constitutional revision 1 eligible voter N/A Municipalities may propose these initiatives
Constitutional amendment
Legislative initiative
Regulated by: Constitution of the Canton of Glarus, Art. 58 and Art. 59
Total constitutional revision 4,000 signatures 12 months Counter proposal allowed 1/6 of municipalities may propose this initiative
Constitutional amendment
Legislative initiative 3,000 signatures 1/7 of municipalities may propose this initiative
Regulated by: Constitution of the Canton of Graubünden, Art. 12 - Art. 15
Total constitutional revision 5,000 signatures No limit Counter proposal allowed 5 municipalities may propose this initiative
Constitutional amendment
Ordinary law
Regulated by: Constitution of the Canton of Jura, Art. 75 - Art. 76
Total constitutional revision 5,000 signatures 12 months Counter proposal allowed
Constitutional amendment
Ordinary law 4,000 signatures
Regulated by: Constitution of the Canton of Lucerne, Art. 20 - Art. 22
Total constitutional revision 10,000 signatures 6 months No counter proposal
Constitutional amendment initiative 6,000 signatures
Legislative initiative 4,500 signatures
Regulated by: Constitution of the Canton of Neuchatel, Art. 40
Total constitutional revision 1,000 signatures 2 months Counter proposal allowed District administrator may propose this initiative
Constitutional amendment initiative 500 signatures
Legislative initiative 250 signatures District administrator and municipalities may propose this initiative
Regulated by: Constitution of the Canton of Nidwalden, Art. 54 - Art. 54 a.
Total constitutional revision 500 signatures No limit Counter proposal allowed
Constitutional amendment initiative
Legislative initiative
Regulated by: Constitution of Canton of Obwalden,
Total constitutional revision 8,000 signatures 5 months Counter proposal allowed
Constitutional amendment initiative
Legislative initiative 6,000 signatures This initiative is a fully formulated draft law.
Unity initiative 4,000 signatures This initiative is a general proposal for a law
Regulated by: Constitution of the Canton of St. Gallen, Art. 41-43

Municipal popular initiative[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Pierre Cormon, Swiss Politics for Complete Beginners Archived 4 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine, Editions Slatkine, 2014, ISBN 978-2-8321-0607-5, p. 23
  2. ^ Pierre Cormon, Swiss Politics for Complete Beginners Archived 4 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine, Editions Slatkine, 2014, ISBN 978-2-8321-0607-5, p. 23–25
  3. ^ Pierre Cormon, Swiss Politics for Complete Beginners Archived 4 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine, Editions Slatkine, 2014, ISBN 978-2-8321-0607-5, p. 23–24
  4. ^ Pierre Cormon, Swiss Politics for Complete Beginners Archived 4 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine, Editions Slatkine, 2014, ISBN 978-2-8321-0607-5, p. 56
  5. ^ Pierre Cormon, Swiss Politics for Complete Beginners Archived 4 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine, Editions Slatkine, 2014, ISBN 978-2-8321-0607-5, p. 57–58
  6. ^ Jean-Philippe Buchs, Chantal Mathez de Senger, "Trop d'initiatives, les patrons s'alarment", Bilan, 3 April 2014.

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]