Switzerland to vote on neutrality: What you need to know

Switzerland to vote on neutrality: What you need to know

In a statement, former Swiss People’s Party (SVP) national councillor Walter Wobmann confirmed that he and his colleagues had secured enough signatures to make the “Neutrality Initiative” into a referendum. Here’s what you need to know about the upcoming vote, and how it would change Switzerland’s policy of neutrality.

Neutrality Initiative in Switzerland

Speaking to Blick, Wobmann confirmed that the “Maintaining Swiss Neutrality” or Neutrality Initiative now has enough signatures to be made into a referendum. 140.000 Swiss citizens signed the petition, with Wobmann expected to submit the initiative to the government in April 2024.

The referendum was first announced back in November 2022 with Wobmann acting as committee president. Members of the committee include various SVP parliamentary figures, attorneys, entrepreneurs and even former FIFA president Joseph Blatter. 

When was Switzerland first declared neutral?

Switzerland was first internationally recognised as a neutral state at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Since then, the country has maintained a strict policy of neutrality by not getting involved in foreign conflicts. 

Among others, this included staying out of both the First and Second World Wars - neutrality was also one of the reasons why the country only joined the United Nations in 2002. At the same time, neutrality has also allowed Switzerland to act as a mediator between warring or rival powers and as a host of peace conferences. 

Is Swiss neutrality an official policy?

While the principle of Swiss neutrality is not explicitly written into law, the Federal Constitution requires that the government and parliament enact measures to preserve the country’s neutral status. This can give the government some leeway, with the Federal Office for Foreign Affairs writing on its website that “the implementation of the neutral policy is determined according to the international context of the moment.”

In recent years, many figures within Switzerland, especially those in the SVP, have expressed alarm at the country’s more recent actions, such as enacting sanctions on Russia and providing support to Ukraine after the country’s invasion in 2022. Supporters of the Neutrality Initiative have argued that this has led the country to abandon neutrality and its constitutional mission.

Neutrality Initiative would likely end Russian sanctions

Therefore, if the proposal is approved, Swiss armed neutrality would be explicitly enshrined in the constitution. The plan would prohibit Switzerland from joining any military alliance unless attacked and requires it to use its neutrality to act as a mediator.

In addition, the law would not allow Switzerland to “take part in military conflicts between third countries” or “take any non-military coercive measures against belligerent states.” In practice, this would prohibit the country from supplying states at war, and forbid the country from placing nationwide sanctions on warring states, beyond those sanctioned by the United Nations.

Speaking to Blick, Wobmann said that “perpetual neutrality is a model of peace for Switzerland; people don’t want to jeopardise that… we were spared from wars for over 200 years.” Writing on the initiative website, supporters of the plan said that Switzerland must “live up to its principle of right over violence... and thereby pursue the best peace policy that is possible today.”

Switzerland would be on the wrong side of history, opponents argue

However, the proposal has more than its fair share of opponents, who argue that the policy would put Switzerland on the wrong side of many conflicts and lead to further isolation from the international community. 

Writing against the plan back in 2023, Service Civil International Switzerland argued that while they “defend the tradition of a neutral Switzerland that does not participate militarily in conflicts”, the country “must be able to use non-violent coercive measures to condemn actions that violate its values, especially those that clearly violate international law.”

Speaking to the Tages-Anzeiger as Switzerland announced a new peace summit on Ukraine back in January, Sacha Zala, historian and director of the Swiss Diplomatic Documents Research Center said that neutrality in Switzerland has always been used in a “highly flexible” manner. “Moreover, as a sovereign state, [Switzerland] can do whatever it wants. Also in the Ukraine conflict,” he argued 

Historian Marco Jorio went further, arguing that through the country’s current policy on Ukraine, “Switzerland is treating victims and perpetrators equally. This is the opposite of neutral, Switzerland helps the attacker.”

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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