One of the major obstacles that our direct democracy needs to overcome is the complex nature of political work. It is becoming more and more difficult to clearly explain increasingly complex political matters to the citizens. I am proud of our people; despite the difficulties, they understand the politicians’ messages and they form their opinions with a lot of judgment. That is impressive.
I believe that it is essential for Switzerland to retain its independence, but without isolating itself. As an exporting country, Switzerland lives off its good relationships with other countries. However, we must continue to seek the best solutions for both parties, something that Switzerland is managing to do very well at present. Look at the bilateral agreements with the EU or the various different Free Trade Agreements. Switzerland can be proud of this and need not hide itself. We’re not profiteers as is sometimes claimed.
International relations are not a bed of roses. They involve dealing with interests which sometimes differ greatly. Switzerland has a good case showing that we are not the profiteers that some people say we are. Take, for example, the NRLA or the Swiss National Bank, which has bought euros, the cohesion fund for the countries of Eastern Europe which was also approved by referendum. This is sufficient evidence of a desire to meet its obligations with regard to the EU.
In terms of domestic policy, the ageing population and the balancing of our social security system which comes with this take on major importance. Here too, I am pleased by the result of the referendums, for example on revising unemployment insurance or stabilizing the disability insurance. Contrary to many fears, the citizens did not vote selfishly but instead voted in favor of the collective interest.
Political affairs are an ongoing electoral battle. The unnatural alliance of the UDC, the Swiss People’s Party, with the left in order to block the 11th revision of the OASI was quite simply irresponsible and thus wasted years of work. These are electioneering decisions which do not serve the common interest. Referendums such as those on the minarets or the expulsion of criminals do not have any major concrete effect on how the country operates. But these emotional votes are damaging our country’s direct democracy as well as its image. In future, I hope that the interests of the country will prevail over battles for electoral market shares on a more regular basis.
I certainly think that this idea is worth considering. There is a very noticeable difference between a “normal” year and an election year. Don’t misunderstand me: Election years are important for campaigning and convincing people, but they should not influence parliamentary debate geared towards finding solutions for the country. I simply hope that the population will retain its maturity amid increasing polarization.
The President of the National Council’s room for maneuvering remains limited. However, I hope to have the confidence of all parliamentary groups and be able to occasionally play the role of mediator or intermediary between different political forces. My wish is for politics to be geared towards finding solutions for the country. But the groups always have the final word, which is normal.
I think that it is a positive factor that people are more interested in and play a more active role in national politics than in the past. Continual debate is very beneficial for our direct democracy. There is, however, a risk since problems are more and more complex and difficult to communicate. We need to be careful and make sure that simplistic populism of all kinds does not make us lose sight of what is most important and thus weaken our political system.
Yes it does. The culture of political confrontation in the form of majority and opposition that is desired by a number of players in Swiss politics is unfamiliar to us. It is the way in which major European countries such as Germany, France or the United Kingdom operate.
Consensus politics geared towards finding solutions and where the main forces are actively involved in decision-making processes up to government level is what has enabled Switzerland to prosper. It is the concordance system of politics that I support. It is what allows a certain degree of social peace and a good level of stability, both of which are conducive to economic development. Indeed, being able to communicate this to the sovereign Swiss nation in our direct democracy is what is needed.
The Federal Council is dependent on its members. In our system, collegiality is essential in order for the government to operate smoothly. We need to bridge the gap between the departments and move towards a more unified attitude and manner of thinking. Since we do not have a coalition government, this is not easy.
The members of our government need to be relieved of many operational activities without losing the essential link to the parliament. Secretaries of state would be able to relieve them of some of these duties and free them up so that they can devote more time to thinking strategically about Switzerland’s various problems. This would also allow them to think more about how the Federal Council can operate better from a collegial standpoint.
Federal Councilor Burkhalter was a firm advocate of government reform when he sat on the Council of States. The time has come and the interest is there. And the extended Presidency, which will increase from one to two years initially, is insufficient. As indicated earlier, in order to deal with problems of domestic and foreign policy, the way in which a concordance system of government works in terms of both operations and collegiality, when it is made up of ministers from parties with different ideologies and who need to speak with a common voice on behalf of Switzerland, needs to be reconsidered. Despite everything, our government has worked well in managing the country throughout these years of financial and economic crisis. This is heartening and I am rather proud of Switzerland and how it has conducted itself compared with other countries.
First of all, I am clearly in favor of a liberal policy. Regulation is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it is unacceptable that public finances should serve as collateral for banks that are too big to go bankrupt. On the other hand, the over-regulation of banks should be avoided so as to take account of the fact that financial markets are globalized and that Switzerland needs to provide attractive framework conditions as a financial center. Our banks need to stay competitive at a global level. I think that the current legislative process is moving in this direction.
The federalist system is working astonishingly well as the different linguistic municipalities and regions are putting on a united front. Reducing federalism would represent a risk to national cohesion. I find it fascinating to see that various small interest groups can thus contribute to ensuring that an entity as a whole operates smoothly.
I believe that language barriers and the media pose a major problem. We do not have national media with coverage in all of the language regions. It is therefore possible, for example, that a major issue will be discussed in the German-speaking part of Switzerland and not in French-speaking Switzerland. What is important, precisely, is mutual understanding. The less we know about one another, the more prejudices gain the upper hand.
The national media could play an important role. But politics too could make a contribution. Therefore, as President of the National Council, I will visit each of the 26 cantons at least once. If we are to live harmoniously side by side, we need to get to know one another better, that’s what I want to encourage.
That’s true. One thinks here, for example, of regional mentalities. In certain areas, Eastern Switzerland sometimes feels “outside of Switzerland” as we say in Valais. Investments which make it easier to move about are good for national cohesion. They encourage exchanges and prevent a sense of exclusion. In this way, in my own canton, the Lötschberg tunnel has changed a lot of things. Travelling from Zurich to Zermatt or Crans-Montana now takes less than three hours. The notion of “Üsserschwitz” (outside of Switzerland), will soon be no more than a memory.
In Switzerland, this problem is not that distinct. The vast majority of Swiss people live in towns and villages where transportation policy has a central role to play. A well thought-out infrastructure does not isolate rural areas from major urban centers. We should continue to bear in mind that town and countryside are beneficial to one another and that decentralized settlement is an aim of our constitution. Political decisions need to take this into account.
Despite the financial and economic crisis, the stabilizing factors in our country are working well. We have very good social security systems such as OASI, DI or unemployment insurance. Our prosperity is based on solidarity between different levels of society. We have to protect what we have achieved in this regard. However, as we have seen, these issues are part of the marketing policy of the two camps and tend to be exaggerated. We must ensure that we do not abuse or overly polarize discussion regarding these issues.
Interview: Andreas Hammer, Marketing & Communications