New Swiss parliamentary session spring 2022: What expats need to know
Switzerland’s spring parliamentary session kicks off in Bern this week until March 18. All levels of government from the executive Federal Council to the National Council will be in session, with key issues up for debate expected to be COVID-19, climate change and Switzerland's candidature for the UN security council: Here’s what expats need to know.
Switzerland's National Council debates law changes
Switzerland’s National Council is the country's 200-seat lower assembly house, filled with National Councillors who are elected on a four-year basis. Each Swiss canton is entitled to at least one seat in the National Council, with seats allocated by a form of proportional representation.
Climate referendum splits Switzerland's National Council
In the first week of the spring session, the National Council will tackle the glacier initiative, which is entitled, "For a healthy climate." The aim of the initiative is to improve Switzerland’s environmental standards by pledging climate neutrality and a ban on fossil fuels from 2050.
The plan is not without opposition, though. In fact, the majority of the preliminary advisory commission recommends voting against the initiative. The council will therefore decide on a counter-proposal from the Federal Council, which would see the net-zero target remain, but with a pledge to reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuels, rather than an outright ban. The commission feels more favourably about this option.
There are new proposals for Switzerland’s roads too
Among some of the new proposals are changes that could affect many cyclists and drivers in Switzerland. The National Council will deal with bicycle helmets for children in the second week of the session, as the Federal Council is requesting that bicycle helmets be made mandatory for 12 to 16-year-olds as part of the amended Road Traffic Act. Most of the preliminary advisory commissions oppose this, citing concerns about enforcement of the rule.
Another change coming to Switzerland’s roads is the potential option for courts to have greater discretion to assess speeding fines, as well as an attempt to lift the ban on circuit racing that has been in effect since 1955. Both of these changes could be passed thanks to widespread approval from the preliminary advisory commission.
Heated debate in the Council of States
Unlike the National Council, Switzerland’s upper house is quite small. With just 46 seats, the Council of States holds two seats for each canton’s councillors, with the exception of smaller Swiss “half-cantons” (Obwalden, Nidwalden, Basel-Stadt, Basel-Landschaft, Appenzell Ausserrhoden and Appenzell Innerrhoden), which have historically been represented by just one.
Livestock and factory farming in Switzerland debated
The Council of States will see its first few weeks of the new parliamentary session taken up by discussions about livestock. The council is set to decide on the initiative for a ban on factory farming. The National Council has already recommended against this, and the Swiss Farmers’ Association also believed that the measures are unnecessary.
Controversial salary cap faces stiff opposition
Financial issues will also be up for discussion in the upper house. The controversial cap on salaries of top executives at large Swiss companies such as SBB will be returning to the Council of States for debate, after the National Council twice voted in favour of the wage cap, while the commission expressed opposition to the plans.
Upper and lower houses will discuss Switzerland’s future in the UN
For a long time, Switzerland has considered putting itself forward as a candidate for the United Nations (UN) security council - a group of member states (five of which are permanent members, while the rest are members on rotation), charged with maintaining international security and peace. According to the Swiss government’s website, the country is seeking non-permanent member status, for a standard two-year term.
The election for the next upcoming term starting in 2023 will be held in New York in June 2022. The Swiss People’s Party (SVP) is calling for the renunciation of the Swiss candidacy, and has historically opposed membership of international organisations. The National Council will tackle this issue in the second week of the new session, and it will head to the Council of States in the third.
COVID-19 is low on the agenda
In stark contrast to the last two years, the COVID-19 pandemic is seemingly low on the agenda in relation to other issues, but will nevertheless still be a point of several discussions. The most controversial pandemic-related debates will most likely be the ones relating to finances.
Since the start of the pandemic, the Swiss government has been issuing monetary support to those struggling with financial difficulties. This has cost the state approximately 3,4 billion Swiss francs for the loss of earnings alone, without considering the costs of maintaining the Swiss healthcare system or the vaccination programme. The councils must therefore decide on how to proceed on the issue of coronavirus supplements and other social security payments that are related to the pandemic.