Swiss parliament starts new spring session: What you need to know
Switzerland’s spring parliamentary session began on February 27 and is expected to run until March 17. During this time, the National Council and Council of States will debate, vote and amend a number of different federal policies designed to counter the issues the country faces. From pension reform to childcare, here are the most hotly debated issues the government faces in this session.
Pensions and retirement in Switzerland
One of the key issues up for debate in this session involves pensions in Switzerland, specifically a proposal designed to reduce second-pillar pension payments in the future. Many in parliament have argued that the system, which is funded by contributions from employers and workers' salaries, will not be able to sustain itself as more people retire and fewer people join the workforce. Therefore, many have demanded that payments be reduced in future.
In order to soften the blow, political parties are hoping to come up with an agreement on how to compensate those who will lose out. One of the proposals includes halving the “coordination deduction” - the minimum pension requirement - so that more lower-income earners pass the threshold to claim the benefit.
In contrast, trade unions oppose the reforms as they argue it will leave future pensioners worse off. For this reason, unions want a referendum before any final decision is made.
Securing energy for 2023
Since the conflict in Ukraine doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon, it is likely that the Swiss government will remain focused on securing Switzerland’s energy supply for the coming years. The key points in parliament will be focused on the use of renewable energy and investing in energy infrastructure in the medium-to-long term.
The National Council is keen to push onwards with solar and wind projects, but controversy remains around using nature hotspots such as national parks as hosts for renewable energy infrastructure. Some environmentalists argue that the harm done to bird populations and other wildlife by wind turbines and geothermal drilling could mean the policy does more harm than good.
Changes to Swiss childcare
Sometimes having a federation of Swiss cantons is a blessing, other times it’s a curse, especially when the federal and cantonal governments disagree on their responsibilities. For several years, the federal government has been temporarily funding creches with “start-up” capital. However, after offering the money for many years, the cantons now see this fund as the de-facto funding stream and want the federal government to commit to the measure permanently.
According to SRF, the Federal Council rejects this motion, arguing that childcare is the responsibility of the cantons and not the federal government. In addition to making the temporary funding permanent, parliament is also debating an increase in federal childcare funding in order to create more capacity. Needless to say, this issue is likely to be a sticking point throughout the spring parliamentary session.
Controversial law on face coverings
While Switzerland’s plans to ban face coverings in public places are akin to similar rules already in place in France, they face many more hurdles as groups continue to protest the policy. So far, the Federal Council has been trying to implement the measure, which was approved by a public referendum in 2021, even going so far as to propose 1.000 Swiss franc fines for those who break the rules.
Now, according to SRF, the majority of politicians from the State Political Commission have taken a stand against the measure, asking the Federal Council to disregard the referendum results and not act on any bill proposing an alternative system. Many also hope the federal government will give Swiss cantons the responsibility to impose the measure instead.
Changed to rape laws in Switzerland
Finally, some politicians in Switzerland think more should be done to protect people from being raped by making the boundary between consensual sex and rape much clearer: “Only Yes Means Yes”, they say. During the winter session, the National Council agreed with this sentiment, supporting legislation to give clarity about sexual consent in Switzerland.
On the other hand, the Council of States has dismissed the “consent solution” entirely, leaving the plan to go back around to the National Council for voting once again - this time, with a legal compromise: the exploitation of a “state of shock” should now also count as rape.
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