Expat guide to the Swiss national referendums in June 2023
For the first time since September 2022, Swiss citizens will return to the polls to vote on national referendums on June 18, 2023. With three highly impactful issues on the ballot, here’s what expats need to know about the vote and how the results will affect Switzerland as a whole.
Referendums in Switzerland, June 18, 2023
After the referendum-heavy years of 2021 and 2022, people in Switzerland may have enjoyed the fact that no national initiatives have been voted on for nine months. Now, the Swiss government has confirmed that three different national referendums will be put to a vote on Sunday, June 18, 2023, along with a number of cantonal and local initiatives.
This round of votes includes two motions put forward by the government which require public approval and one vote which came about via public opposition to a federal decision. With this in mind, here is what people in Switzerland will be voting on this June.
Switzerland to vote on Climate Law
The first, and by polling data most contentious, issue on the ballot relates to the new "Climate Law." In recent months, Switzerland has been regularly criticised for its stance on climate change, with the Climate Change Performance Index arguing that the country is no longer at the forefront of combatting the problem.
Much of this relates to policy, as although the government has committed to net zero by 2050, attempts to actually make the promise a reality have fallen foul of both parliament and referendums - most famously the CO2 Act in 2021, which was rejected by 51,6 percent of voters.
Along with giving the government licence to achieve the 2050 deadline, the bill also includes measures to reduce energy consumption, invest in green technology, and financially support people and businesses that replace oil and gas with sustainable energy. However, unlike the Glacier Initiative - to which the Climate Law is a direct counter-proposal - the plan does not contain a ban on fossil fuels by any fixed date.
Arguments for and against the Swiss Climate Law
The Federal Council and Parliament argued that the Climate Law will help the country wean itself off oil and gas supplies - all of which have to be imported from overseas. “It strengthens climate protection, without bans and without new taxes,” they added.
In contrast, the referendum committee against the Climate Law, “Electricity Eaters Law, No”, said that the idea will simply increase electricity prices further. “The conversion of the energy supply away from heating oil, gas, diesel and petrol to electricity is unrealistic. The procedure is haphazard, exacerbates the power shortage, spoils the environment and endangers the security of supply”, they concluded.
OECD minimum business tax to face Swiss voters
The second referendum relates to business taxes in Switzerland. Along with the 140 other countries, the alpine nation has agreed to a plan set out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which would see most of the world implement a minimum tax rate on international companies.
However, unlike in other countries, the law needs public approval to be implemented in Switzerland.
Under the plans, international firms would have to pay at least 15 percent of their profits in taxes. If one nation fails to tax a firm enough, authorities in other countries where the company operates can add on taxes until the 15 percent threshold is reached. The plan will not affect domestic businesses in Switzerland.
Views for and against business tax reform in Switzerland
In supporting the minimum tax, the Federal Council said that if Switzerland does not approve the plan, the country will simply lose out on the extra tax revenue. Federal estimates suggest that the government will receive 1 to 2,5 billion francs more a year in tax revenue - 75 percent of which will go to Swiss cantons.
The Parliament added in a statement that the idea “guarantees stable framework conditions and secures tax revenues and jobs in Switzerland.” “Everyone benefits from this”, they concluded.
In opposition to the vote, the parliamentary minority argued that the proposal would mainly benefit cantons like Zug and Nidwalden, who have deliberately cut their business taxes to attract more international companies. They made the point that as the law comes into force, these cantons will benefit the most from the huge surplus generated.
Opposition figures also expressed disappointment that the government did not use the OECD proposal as an opportunity to normalise taxes across cantonal borders, arguing that those with already higher tax rates will not see any benefit from the proposal.
Swiss COVID-19 Act to face a third vote
Finally, for the third time, the COVID-19 Act will face a vote on June 18. The act contains the laws that allow the government to impose policies designed to contain the spread of coronavirus.
Recently, the Swiss Parliament extended the legal measures of the COVID-19 Act until mid-2024, arguing that “it cannot be ruled out that dangerous virus variants will emerge again.” However, opponents of the law have since managed to secure 100.000 signatures against the move, triggering the referendum.
The COVID-19 Act allows the government to quickly impose measures against the disease, such as COVID certificates, 2G and 3G rules, home working, closures and restrictions, along with allowing the import and use of COVID medicine that is yet to be approved by Swiss regulators. If the law is rejected by voters in June, the act will expire in mid-December 2023.
Points for and against the COVID-19 Act
In supporting the law, the government argued that the COVID-19 Act allowed authorities to act quickly and decisively to “cushion the consequences” of the disease. “In an emergency, the Federal Council and Parliament want to be able to fall back on tried-and-tested instruments to protect vulnerable people and the healthcare system,” they wrote in a statement.
In contrast, the referendum committee against the measures wrote that the extension is “useless and harmful”, making the point that the law allows the state to reimpose "discriminatory" rules at any time without public oversight. “With a no, the division in society can be overcome and normality can be returned”, they concluded.
Federal elections to be held in Switzerland
After the votes in June, the next set of national referendums are due to take place on October 22, 2023. Bear in mind that this will also be the date for the next federal election, when the composition of the National Council and Council of States will be decided. For more information, check out the official website.