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In the media

Understanding Switzerland

Background information about a small country

Johannes Ritter

Switzerland is a democratic role model for him, like a small and old Europe, said Joachim Gauck when he visited the Swiss Confederation as Federal President in 2014. “I very much wanted Switzerland to be a voice in Europe.” Today it is clear that this wish will not be fulfilled in the foreseeable future. The Swiss government recently scuppered the framework agreement that would have brought the country closer to the EU. Anyone who wants to understand this should read the book “Switzerland has a future” by Gerhard Schwarz. The economist was head of the business desk at the Neue Zürcher Zeitung for many years and then led the liberal think tank Avenir Suisse.

Austrian-born Schwarz explains the Swiss Confederation, which is characterized by a number of institutional peculiarities compared to its neighbouring countries. He praises its system not only as successful, but also as highly sustainable. The cooperative understanding of the state, which is based on self-determination, self-help and self-responsibility, prevents people from being forced into an order imposed from above. The citizens themselves developed their state constitution directly by referendum. The political procedures are not without problems, and institutional blockades systematically occur.

Schwarz makes detailed suggestions as to how this could be changed. In principle, however, he notes that thanks to the swarm intelligence of direct democracy – which is only a semi-direct democracy due to the balancing influence of parliament – Switzerland has not committed any major stupidities since the Second World War.

He cites “non-centralism” as another reason for the country’s stability. Only federalism down to the municipal level can hold a nation together that is characterized by so many fundamental differences in religion, culture, language, geography and topography. Schwarz believes that the “positive power of individuality”, as the subtitle of the book puts it, is threatened by closer ties to the EU. He whispers about attempts to put pressure on Switzerland to join the EU. However, he fails to provide any evidence of such an objective on the part of Brussels. Nor does he mention the economic consequences of rejecting the framework agreement. Schwarz considers a new free trade agreement with the EU to be an option. However, such an agreement would be of far less benefit to the export-oriented Swiss economy than the current bilateral agreements.

Translated with DeepL