This paper aims to unveil the politics of the neutral, independent nation of Switzerland. An outline of Switzerland’s political structure is presented. The Switzerland government is described as a federal parliamentary republic. The Swiss government is also the closest thing to direct democracy the world has ever seen. This structure represents the multidimensional aspects of Swiss
society and how it affects policy. Secondly, this paper will address major political events of the past ten years, followed by a comparative analysis of both Switzerland and The United States. This critique attempts to prove how The United States might benefit from adopting some of Switzerland’s government and social policies. If the United States held a more neutral, less abrasive stance in international relations and conflict, the government might then focus on domestic issues, greatly benefiting its citizens. Also if the US were to adopt a proportional representation system as opposed to its current winner takes all system, citizens would feel spoken for. This might increase political participation by citizens.
Switzerland is a small country located in the center of Western Europe. Landlocked between France, Germany, Italy, and Austria, the country is multicultural and multilingual. There are four national languages of Switzerland, French, German, Italian, and recently Romanish. With the wide-ranging languages and culture of
Switzerland, the political system is of the same nature. Political scientist, Arend Lijphart, describes Switzerland as a consocionational state. A consocionational state, as Lijphart defines it, is a state with major ethnic, religious and linguistic differences that remains stable and peaceful despite these divisions Since World War II ended in 1945, Switzerland has been in a period of prosperity with no international conflicts. The country has been a neutral, peaceful, and independent nation.
The preamble to the Swiss Constitution states, “We, the Swiss People and Cantons…resolve to renew our alliance to strengthen liberty and democracy, independence and peace in solidarity and openness towards the world” . This statement is representative of Switzerland’s neutrality in international conflicts and its consocianationalism. The Swiss Constitution defines the country as a federal republic containing 26 cantons, member states of the federation. Switzerland has a federal structure with three different political levels: the Confederation, the cantons and the communes. Confederation means the state, which includes three parts: “the executive (the Federal Council), the legislature (the Federal Assembly) and the judiciary (the Federal Supreme Court)” (FASC).
The Federal Swiss Constitution is actually a revised version of the Swiss constitution of 1874. The Federal Parliament approved a revision of the constitution in December of 1998. However, the revision does not change any rights of Swiss citizens, but updates paragraphs and amendments in modern formation. This new constitution was officially adopted January 1 2000.
The country is the closest thing to a direct democracy that the world has encountered. Citizens are encouraged by the government to frequently participate in voting, referendums and popular initiatives and they actively do so. There are only 10,000 votes required for a Constitutional revision. “According to the Federal Constitution, the Swiss people are sovereign and ultimately the supreme political authority” (FASC).
The Swiss political system is a Federal Parliamentary Republic, made up of multiple parties with proportional representation of Swiss society. Some of the major political parties are the Social Democrats, The Christian Democrats, the Swiss People’s Party, and Free Democrats. The Social Democrats are a pro-European center-left party. The Christian Democrats are a centrist conservative party representing mostly a communal and Catholic ideology The Free Democratic party is a free-market friendly liberal party. The Swiss People’s party is a populist conservative party.
The listed parties are part of a “magic formula”, dividing the seven executive seats, Switzerland began using 1959. The formula goes as follows: 2 Christian Democrats, 2 Free Democrats, 2 Social Democrats, and 1 Swiss Peoples Party . However, Switzerland’s political climate changed in 2003 when the Swiss People’s Party gained control in Parliament . Because of this new development, the “magic formula” was altered at the expense of the Christian Democrats. Parliament granted the Swiss People’s Part two seats and gave the Christian Democrats only one.
Swiss banks are famous for their security and secrecy. Due to the country’s neutrality throughout Europe and the World Wars, the baking system flourished with business from around the globe. This business included accounts from Jewish people being persecuted during the Holocaust. For years the Swiss Banking Association was pressured by Jewish activists to release information about Swiss accounts held by victims of the Holocaust. Many deposits of Holocaust victims had remained unclaimed, and the Swiss banking law had long prevented access to information. In 1995, the Swiss Banking Association uncovered accounts containing millions of dollars. In August of 1998 Swiss banks agreed to compensate Holocaust survivors and families.
Switzerland in the past was a laggard on women’s suffrage and abortion rights. Women’s suffrage wasn’t granted until 1971. In 1999, only 28 years later, a Social Democrat, Ruth Dreifuss, served as the first female President of the Confederation. In June 2002, Swiss people voted to decriminalize abortion. It would now be allowed in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Also in 2005, Swiss voters passed a law allowing same-sex marriages. These events recognize not only female equality but civil rights for all people.
Switzerland’s second most populous city, Geneva, is the host for many international organizations and diplomatic meetings. Some major influential international organizations include the World Trade Organization, World Health Organization, the International Telecommunications Union, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, as well as many others. Frequently world leaders will meet with in Geneva to discuss treaties and other affairs. The neutral state provides a great court for these relations. This guarantees Switzerland as a great resource for the rest of Europe and the world.
When the United States was attacked by terrorist on September 11, 2001, Swiss people were shocked and appalled by the catastrophe. Only 16 days later, Switzerland experienced its own tragedy. On September 27th, a Swiss citizen attacked the Parliament of Zug. The fanatic shot and killed 14 politicians. This resulted in heated debate in Parliament over gun- control and national security. That same year Swissair, the leading airline of Switzerland went bankrupt, resulting a national unemployment and financial crisis. Federal authorities funded the rehabilitated and renamed airline “Swiss” to preserve employment. The Swiss people were for the first time concerned with their safety from terrorism. This event made Switzerland feel insecure about their neutrality and become more interested in assembling with international institutions.
Switzerland initially rejected joining the United Nations in 1986. But in 2002, the country joined after all. It was the last nation to join and the only one to have joined based on the popular vote of its citizens. Switzerland began negotiations with the European Union in 1992. The nation submitted an application to join, but after a national vote, the Swiss people voted against joining. Switzerland then suspended its negotiations with the EU. Traditionally, Switzerland has avoided alliances that might entail military, political, or direct economic action. These actions are believed to compromise their neutrality. Also they are against institutionalized integration. The Swiss People wish to remain sovereign. Over the years, The Swiss have debated joining the EU as the institution grows more and more powerful.
The most telling action was taken in 2005 when the country agreed to sign the Schengen Treaty and the Dublin Convention. The first of which allows lenience of border controls between some European nations. The Dublin Convention is a product of the EU outlining the means by which a refugee can seek political asylum. Both of these actions suggest the Swiss’s intentions on becoming a greater part of the institution and soon an active member of the EU.
Switzerland acts to benefit its citizens and progress as a nation, while consideration of merging with advantageous institutions. The United States has, under the current administration, acted in opposition to unifying and just precedents in an attempt to promote its own authority. The United States government needs to concern itself more with domestic issues, such as education, employment, housing, and healthcare, instead of governing other nations, such as Vietnam, Cuba, Bosnia, and currently Iraq. If this were to happen, I believe American citizens would lead healthier, more affluent lives with the possibility and benefit of better education, enhanced job security and reliable healthcare.
The Swiss government is acting in coalition with its citizens as a greater force to secure its longevity and prosperity. I believe that if the United States educated and listened to its citizens as Switzerland does, the country would be more representative of its people. Switzerland recognized its constitution was outdated and needing improvement. In the United States, any idea of reevaluating notions written in a 200 year old document is “radical”. A jaded perception of conservatism has flooded American society and government. “Religious” or “moral” authority has taken power. The United States has in recent years feared progressive movements such as stem cell research, gay marriage, and allowing for increasing power among women and minorities. The United States would benefit politically and globally from being socially and domestically progressive.
The fact is the United States, like Switzerland is made up of many cultures and races. Many Americans are from other countries and speak many other languages. It might benefit the country to practice Lijphart’s concept of consociationalism, wherein all the cultures can be represented in government and it remain stabilized. Many Americans cannot define themselves as either a Democrat or a Republican. Unfortunately, the current U.S. political system does not represent those people. There are currently little to no representatives from third parties in the United States Congress. The United States cannot stand “united” when a candidate when with only a slight majority of the vote and then gets to represent all of his/her constituencies.
I believe that United States government and its citizens have allowed this to happen. The majority of citizens refuse to participate in or support government. There has been such a literal interpretation of “laissez-faire” government in America. Citizens reject and look down upon government involvement. Government makes society work, but society has to make government work. I believe this concept has been lost on the majority of Americans, and they choose instead, to allow other people to do all the dirty work. If the government represented all the diverging cultures and ideologies in America, then citizens would feel a deeper connection to the institution. This might encourage them to actively participate. Maybe if the United States had a proportional representation system, more people would vote. In turn, if more people voted, the more representative the government might then be. These matters require educating and citizens of their power and encouraging them to utilize it.
The political structure of Switzerland allows and encourages the citizens to actively participate in government and legislation. It represents its dynamic multicultural society and concerns itself mostly with its own affairs. Since 1945, Switzerland has experienced little to no critical political movements or conflicts, other than those continuing its peaceful and cooperative nature. In that time, the United States has involved itself in many political conflicts across the globe, with no clear benefit to its own citizens. The United States could reshape its policies to benefit the multidimensional nature of its people, rather than reconstituting other nation’s governments.