Why is a Swiss town trying to switch cantons?

Why is a Swiss town trying to switch cantons?

The cantonal governments of Bern and Jura have now agreed that Moutier - a town that voted to switch allegiance from the de-facto capital to the country’s newest canton - will be transferred over on January 1, 2026. This begs the question as to why a small town in the north of Switzerland wants to switch cantons at all. Here’s the story so far.

Moutier to join Canton Jura by 2026

At a meeting between the Swiss government and the cantonal authorities of Bern and Jura, a new agreement was concluded that would allow the town of Moutier to change cantons. The agreement, which mainly dealt with the financial and taxation aspects of switching from Canton Bern to Jura, will allow Moutier to make the switch on January 1, 2026.

The agreement, which has now been submitted to each canton's parliament for confirmation, was hailed as a victory by Federal Justice Minister - and the first Juran to ever serve on the Federal Council - Élisabeth Baume-Schneider. Her department told 20 Minuten that the agreement was vital to make sure the process can be completed on time, although the deal will be made a referendum in both Bern and Jura in 2025.

It follows what 20 Minuten described as “several votes, riots, discord and chaos” in the town of 7.000 people. This culminated in a referendum in October 2021, which saw the town narrowly vote to switch allegiances from Bern to Jura.

Why does Moutier want to join another Swiss canton?

Now, you may be wondering, considering Switzerland has been at peace and stable since 1848, why a town would want to switch cantons? This is can be explained by why Jura was granted its independence in the first place.

Canton Bern takes over Jura in 1815

After being controlled by the Bishopric of Basel for most of its post-Roman history, the area we now know as Jura was transferred from Basel to Canton Bern by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Bern, which was the largest and most powerful canton at the time, had just lost control of the newly formed Canton Vaud and wanted to see its borders expanded as a reward for opposing both Napoleon and the French-installed regime in Switzerland.

However, the incorporation of the area into Bern caused much friction, as the mostly Roman Catholic, French-speaking inhabitants of Jura were now under the close control of the Protestant, German-speaking rulers of Bern. Bernese aristocrats were also accused of buying up land in the region and exploiting the cheaper Juran labour force to enrich themselves.

Tensions flared up further during the Second World War, which culminated in the formation of the Comité de Moutier in 1947, which would rename itself to the Rassemblement Jurassien in 1952.

Arson attacks and referendums to achieve Juran independence

While the organisation would continue to push for Juran independence politically, a more militant group of young Juran separatists called the Béliers or Rams would form in 1963. This group would go on to commit arson attacks on the Swiss police, emergency services and official figures. In 1967, the situation had deteriorated so much that the government of Bern formed a commission charged with resolving the conflict.

After intense negotiation, a referendum on June 23, 1974 confirmed that seven districts of the Bernese Jura would break away to form a new canton. However, this was complicated by the fact that another referendum in March 1975 saw a number of districts (including Moutier) vote to stick with the Bernese.

Jura becomes Switzerland's youngest canton in 1979

In the end, a final vote - which the Bernese would try to influence by handing out 430.000 francs to “loyalist groups” between 1974 and 1982 - would see seven districts break away to form a new canton, while six (including Moutier) would remain with Bern. A national referendum would follow in 1977, and Jura would join the confederation as Switzerland’s 26th canton in 1979.

Moutier to switch from Bern to Jura

With the split, many German-speaking and protestant areas would remain with Bern and form the Bernese Jura. However, separatist sentiments remained in Moutier, with elections and referendums in 1998, 2006, 2013, 2017 and finally 2021 confirming that the town would eventually join the youngest canton in the country.

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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