Appetite for engagement

While the U.K. is a de facto Police State , Switzerland which is this party’s Constitutional model is resisting the arbitrary state

Swiss referenda still thriving amid Covid measures

Domhnall O’Sullivan

In this week’s democracy briefing: as the Swiss government announces new Covid measures, campaigners have been collecting more signatures than ever to challenge them. Also, citizen assemblies take off in Germany and France, and the dust settles(?) after the Capitol riots and ahead of the inauguration of the new US administration.

When Covid-19 hit last year, many worried the emergency measures could mean a threat to democratic freedoms. Not only might autocrats use the confusion to boost their power, but traditional democracies could all too easily neglect the liberties they have taken for granted for decades, went the argument.

In Switzerland, with its system of modern direct democracy, these fears had a particular flavour.

Beyond the danger of arbitrary government action (a fear still sparking protests), the worry was that new rules would make life impossible for citizen campaigners, who rely on human contact and rallies to launch initiatives and referendums.

This week, it became clear that those fears were – if not unfounded – at least exaggerated: no less than three groups handed in signatures to challenge recently passed laws. And not only did they hand in enough signatures: in most cases they managed to secure well over the 50,000 names required, thanks to public interest which “astonished” campaigners themselves.

Were they helped by the new, supportive rules which authorities introduced in October to ease the burden on signature collecting? Campaigners have continued to say that their work is “complicated” by Covid. But clearly the appetite among citizens, activists, and parties to keep an eye on power hasn’t been dampened.

Two of the referendums target high-profile laws passed by parliament last September: a CO2 bill to combat climate change, and the so-called “Covid law” which underpins government action in the pandemic (SWI swissinfo.ch)

The third challenge is to a controversial anti-terrorism bill which gives police wider powers to clamp down on suspects. UN experts, including special rapporteur Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, also have concerns about the legislation (Republik.ch) How is Covid-19 impacting how campaigners go about things in Switzerland? And how important is the referendum function for keeping a check on executive and parliamentary power? (SWI swissinfo.ch)