The end of Swiss neutrality? Heavyweight politician calls for vote
Major political heavyweight Christoph Blocher has called for Switzerland’s neutrality to be put to a referendum, after the country imposed sanctions on Russia during the Ukraine invasion. His comments come amid calls to clarify what Swiss neutrality actually means.
Former head of the SVP calls for neutrality vote in Switzerland
Blocher is seen as one of the guiding figures for the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which Reuters describes as “the dominant force in Swiss politics.” Now retired from the Federal Council, the controversial figure has taken aim at Switzerland’s recent efforts to sanction Russia and called for a constitutional amendment that enshrines Swiss neutrality more explicitly in law.
Echoing a point also made by Putin, he said that economic sanctions were a weapon of war and that in imposing sanctions, Switzerland had missed its opportunity to be a peaceful mediator between both sides. While he did not say who would launch the referendum to preserve neutrality, he said that the country needed to “take care of [neutrality] now.”
Blocher's thoughts were echoed by his former colleagues in the SVP, who said that the decision to impose sanctions had damaged Swiss neutrality. Advocates for the referendum will have to collect 100.000 signatures to get on the ballot.
Neutrality does not mean siding with a tyrant, experts say
When announcing the sanctions, and in response to the accusations of violating neutrality, Ignazio Cassis, the Swiss president, said that “playing into the hands of an aggressor is not neutral.” Switzerland’s decision to get involved has been widely praised by the international community, and has been coupled with individual efforts to help the humanitarian effort.
Speaking to The Local, expert Oliver Diggelmann from the University of Zurich argued that a commitment to neutrality does not mean a pledge to do nothing. He said that the government “recognised that not fully sanctioning such a blatant violation economically would make [Switzerland] an indirect accomplice of the aggressor.”
Consequences of a neutrality vote unclear
Another issue with the referendum would be the consequences if the vote were to fail. If a vote to uphold neutrality fails to pass, there is disagreement as to whether it would mean a return to the neutrality of the government’s design or a rejection of the concept outright, which would have wide implications on Swiss culture, diplomacy and the country’s position internationally and politically.