Switzerland says yes to Climate, OECD and COVID-19 acts

Switzerland says yes to Climate, OECD and COVID-19 acts

With a turnout of 41,9 percent, Swiss citizens across the country gave all three national initiatives a resounding “Ja, Oui or Si” in the latest round of referendums in Switzerland on June 18. Here’s what you need to know about the votes on the OECD minimum tax, COVID-19 and Climate and Innovation Acts, and how the results will affect life in the alpine nation.

Swiss voters say yes to Climate and Innovation Act

In what was slated to be the closest result of the day, 59,1 percent of voters backed the Swiss government and its new Climate and Innovation Act. All political parties apart from the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) were in favour of the referendum, with all but seven cantons (Thurgau, Appenzell Innerrhoden, Schwyz, Glarus, Uri, Obwalden, Nidwalden) approving the plan. The idea garnered the strongest support in the Romande and Canton Zurich.

With the act approved, federal authorities will now be able to enact legislation to help the country meet its target of replacing imported fossil fuels with domestically produced renewable energy and being CO2 neutral by 2050. In previous months, Switzerland has been criticised for its climate policy because, despite setting the same goals as other countries, citizens refused to grant any legislative power to enact reforms - that is, until now.

Switzerland can start to move towards net-zero goal

Along with having the ability to implement climate goal-related policy, the Federal Council has now promised 3,2 billion francs in subsidies to homeowners who replace gas, electric and oil heating systems with environmentally-friendly heat pumps. International companies and domestic businesses will also be incentivised to invest in green tech.

The acceptance of the vote was met with jubilation and relief among supporters, with National Councillor Roger Nordmann telling Swissinfo that the result was “beyond all expectations.” “It’s the first time that citizens have approved a net-zero law,” he explained.

State Councillor Céline Vara told the website that she was delighted by the result, adding that the people had listened to experts and not the pamphlets filled with “lies” that were sent to voters through the post by opponents. “The Swiss understood that the climate law is essential to take a first step... When you have a clear objective, you can then put in place the necessary measures,” she added.

In contrast, SVP National Councillor Michael Graber said that the result was “regrettable”, arguing that the act will make energy even more expensive in Switzerland. He made the point that in regions that voted no - mostly rural areas - many are worried that they will soon not be able to afford transportation and that their local area will be “damaged” by green energy projects.

COVID-19 Act accepted for third time

In the second closest vote, 61,9 percent of voters and all but three cantons (Appenzell Innerrhoden, Schwyz and Obwalden) approved the COVID-19 Act. The result means that the set of legislation used to impose COVID-related restrictions will expire in June 2024 rather than at the end of this year.

This is the third time Swiss voters have had their say on the act, as while the pandemic seems to be in the rearview mirror for most, opposition figures have argued that giving the state power to reimpose the rules at will is undemocratic and divisive.

COVID-19 Act to remain on the books until June, 2024

Supporters, on the other hand, made the point that the state needs to be able to react quickly should another wave of infections occur. With the acceptance of the act, the government will continue to be able to implement pandemic restrictions and create rules to protect the vulnerable and the healthcare system.

“With the COVID-19 Act, we are continuing to ensure that the authorities can act quickly in the event of an emergency to protect public health and particularly vulnerable people,” noted Centre Party National Councillor Lorenz Hess. In contrast, SVP National Councillor Jean-Luc Addor argued that “40 percent of people remain against” the policies and that “discriminatory tools” remain at the state’s disposal as a result of the poll.

OECD minimum tax accepted in landslide

Finally, 78,5 percent of voters approved the OECD’s plan for a minimum business tax in Switzerland. The proposal was accepted by all 26 cantons, as only the Social Democratic Party (SP) called for voters to say no.

As a result, from January 1, 2024, Switzerland will join all other members of the OECD in charging a 15 percent minimum tax on multi-national businesses. The aim of the plan is to combat tax avoidance among large companies - the new rules will not affect domestic Swiss businesses.

Currently, the average company tax in Switzerland sits at 13,5 percent, although some cantons have made it their business to charge significantly lower rates to help attract firms to their regions - Zug and Nidwalden being the best examples. Under the now-approved plans, federal authorities will impose a “top-up tax” on all multi-national companies that earn more than 732 million francs a year, to make sure the new OECD rate is achieved.

Swiss voters chose security and stability, says minister

Once the plan is implemented, the increased revenue, estimated at 2,5 billion francs a year, will be distributed mainly to the regions that are forced to raise rates the most. This means that areas like Zug will receive 51 times more than St. Gallen, where rates are already closer to the 15 percent mark.

After the vote, Finance Minister Karin Keller-Sutter said that voters had chosen “security and stability”, while supporters argued that saying no to the tax would simply siphon off Swiss tax revenue to other nations. In contrast, SP National Councillor Fabian Molina said the result is a “clear defeat”, explaining that their plan - where the extra revenue would be distributed by population - was not explained clearly enough.

For the full results, check out the official website.

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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