Neutrality referendum launched in Switzerland: What you need to know
A political group in Switzerland has launched a new referendum designed to reinforce neutrality in the Swiss constitution. While Switzerland has a long history of neutrality, Pro-Schweiz has argued that the government has recently gotten too involved in foreign affairs.
Neutrality referendum in Switzerland announced
At a press conference on November 9, Pro-Schweiz launched the "Safeguarding Swiss neutrality" initiative. The vote is designed to amend the constitution to help strengthen the rules backing Swiss neutrality, which they say are under threat.
While the constitution requires the Swiss government to safeguard neutrality in the alpine nation, Pro-Schweiz argued that the Federal Council has become too involved in European and global affairs. The sanctions imposed on Russia by Switzerland in the aftermath of the invasion of Ukraine were cited as the main catalyst for the new referendum.
At the event, the leader of Pro-Schweiz and infamous Swiss politician Christoph Blocher argued that in the initial stage of the invasion, "After just a week of pressure and criticism from outside, Switzerland already caved in and imposed sanctions." “You can't participate in sanctions, but somehow still want to mediate internationally in the next breath," he noted.
How would the neutrality referendum change Swiss policy?
If passed, the initiative would add a clause to the constitution that would prohibit the government from joining any military or defensive alliance with other countries - unless Switzerland is attacked directly. In addition, the alpine nation would not be able to fund or support “military conflicts” through third parties - by sending weapons, for example.
Finally, the text of the initiative prevents the Federal Council from imposing independent sanctions on other states, as it did on Russia. Switzerland would only be allowed to implement sanctions if they are required by the United Nations.
Swiss opinion on neutrality continues to evolve
While it received unanimous backing from Pro-Schweiz members, it is unclear how popular a referendum on neutrality will be. The Tages-Anzeiger reported in March that a majority of Swiss citizens would support joining an EU defence force and 75 percent of the population is in favour of sanctions against Russia. However, 66 percent still rejected the idea of Switzerland joining NATO.
The referendum has now been approved, and Pro-Schweiz will be able to start their campaign. The body has until May 8, 2024 to secure the 100.000 signatures needed to make the proposal a referendum in Switzerland.