May 2023: 7 things expats in Switzerland need to know

May 2023: 7 things expats in Switzerland need to know

It seems like it was just yesterday that we were hailing the arrival of April and Easter, but 30 lightning-quick days later, people in Switzerland have now turned their attention to what May has to offer. From army exercises and referendum campaigns to holidays upon holidays upon holidays, here are seven things expats need to know about this May.

1. Swiss parliament returns for special session 

After the fallout from the UBS-Credit Suisse takeover dominated the end of parliament’s spring meeting, the National Council has announced a new special session to give them time to cover all the issues that were originally on the table. They are expected to meet from May 2 to 4 in the Federal Palace in Bern.

Front and centre among the issues discussed will be what to do with the Mitholz ammunition depot - one of the 38.000 sites in Switzerland deemed to contain toxic waste. The site in Canton Bern contains 3.500 tonnes worth of bombs and ammunition, with local authorities estimating that clearing the site will take 25 years and cost 2,5 billion Swiss francs.

Other issues include discussing the circular economy in Switzerland, and continued debates around upcoming referendums.

2. National referendum campaigns launched

Speaking of referendums, the last time Swiss citizens went to the polls to vote on national initiatives was in September 2022. Now, with new national polls set to take place on June 18, 2023, political parties are expected to launch their campaigns in late May.

First on the agenda, Switzerland will decide whether it will follow the OECD’s recommendation of a 15 percent minimum business tax by 2024. As a country with some of the lowest tax rates in the world, voting for the measure would have a significant impact on the economies of a number of low-tax cantons like Zug and Nidwalden, but would bring the country in line with all other member nations.

Second, the country will be voting on whether it wants to accept an amended version of the Glacier Initiative. After the failure of the CO2 Act in 2019, the new proposal is the latest attempt to enshrine the country’s goal of climate neutrality by 2050 into law, which will allow the government to pass motions to help achieve the target.

Finally, after enough signatures were secured earlier in 2023, for the third time the country will be voting on the set of laws collectively known as the COVID-19 Act. While measures - beyond masks at hospitals - are no longer enforced in Switzerland, rejection of the act will prevent the government from reimposing the rules without a vote.

2. Visit the Landesgemeinde in Glarus

One of the stereotypical sights of Switzerland, on May 7 people in Glarus will be able to attend the so-called “Landesgemeinde.” This is an event where local residents gather in a field or town square to vote on the key issues facing the canton in an open-air assembly. Votes are counted the traditional way - i.e. with a show of hands.

While expats can’t vote, the event in Glarus on May 7 is well worth a watch if you are in the area!

3. Swiss Army to conduct military exercises

Between May 1 and 9, the Swiss Army is set to conduct “large-scale” exercises across the French-speaking region of Switzerland. The exercises will mainly be taking place in Neuchâtel, Vaud and other areas around Lake Geneva.

While you don’t have to take cover or head to the bunker, authorities confirmed that people in these areas will start to notice tanks and armoured vehicles on local roads and motorways and helicopters in the sky. "The disturbances will nevertheless be reduced to the strict minimum necessary for the conduct of the exercise", the defence ministry assured.

4. Labour Day in Switzerland

For residents in a number of Swiss cantons, May 1 will be the first (of many) public holidays during the month. Labour Day (also known as International Workers Day and May Day), lands on a Monday, meaning a long weekend is possible without taking any paid leave.

Want to find out more about Labour Day in Switzerland? Check out our guide!

5. Ascension Day

Then, for all Swiss cantons, May 18 is yet another day off for workers thanks to the Ascension holiday. Many areas have organised big events for the Ascension weekend, with Geneva planning the largest drone show in Europe as part of its free music and comedy festival.

Be warned that Ascension falls on a Thursday, so be sure to take the extra day off on May 19, or be prepared for a sluggish day back at work on Friday if you plan to go out on the town.

6. Whit Monday

Finally, for dessert, a majority of Swiss cantons will have Whit Monday off on May 29. To take full advantage of the long weekend - why not plan a trip to one of the top destinations favoured by locals during springtime?

7. Remaining Swiss ski resorts to close

Finally, while April may have been the beginning of the end for Swiss ski resorts and their 2022 / 23 season, May will see the last of the seasonal resorts close. Andermatt (May 1), Engelberg-Titlis (May 7), Glacier 3000 (May 7), Adelboden (May 7) and Crans-Montana (May 14) will be some of the last to close up shop and start preparing for the summer.

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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