Swiss History Part VI

The first success was evident after several attempts in the revision of the Federal Constitution in 1874, which included a. introduced the optional referendum, but compensated for the renunciation of more centralized provisions with anti-cultural provisions. In addition, there was a gradual transition to the proportional representation system in the parliamentary elections of some cantons (1891/92 first in Neuchâtel and Ticino) and the first steps towards consensus democracy at the cantonal level, since seats in the executive branch of the previous opposition were left in a “voluntary proportional representation”. In the socio-political area, a factory law was passed in 1877, which brought the first protective measures for the workers (health security, prohibition of child labor, limitation of working hours, appointment of factory inspectors). In 1900 a general health and accident insurance law failed due to the referendum, which in 1912 was only accepted in a reduced form as compulsory accident insurance for workers. The liberals consistently promoted further standardization and centralization in administration and the legal system. The health system, forestry and water management, and vocational schools were declared a federal matter and the armed forces were transformed from the old contingent system (the cantons made part of their troops available to the federal government) into a unified federal army (1874/1907). Further attempts at centralization (e.g. in education in 1882) failed. The social question determined the second half of the 19th century,

Industrialization proceeded rapidly, not only in the urban centers such as Zurich, Basel, St. Gallen and Geneva, but also in the previously agricultural regions of the Central Plateau (with the exception of some areas in the cantons of Vaud, Bern, Friborg and Solothurn). In the first half of the 19th century, the machine industry joined the traditional main branches of the textile and watch industry, followed by the food and chemical industries. From the 1850s onwards, the engine of the economic boom was the construction of the railway (initially in private hands) with German and Italian support (Gotthard tunnel 1882; Simplon tunnel 1906; from 1902 Swiss Federal Railways). The economic developments, combined with a strong population growth (1860-1914 from 2.5 to about 4 million residents), on the one hand triggered rural exodus and strong immigration from the German and Italian areas near the border to the industrial areas, on the other hand the emigration quota rose; both led to a relative depopulation of the Alpine and Jura regions in favor of the Central Plateau.

As a reaction to the depression, which also spread to Switzerland, a more protectionist economic policy followed since the last quarter of the century (protective tariffs from 1884; and Industry Association, founded in 1870; Swiss Trade Association, founded 1879; Swiss Farmers Association, founded 1897). Politically, the early labor movement, z. B. in the social reform appearing Grütliverein – an originally small business educational association – close to the free spirit.

Direct democracy in Switzerland

Switzerland – a functioning direct democracy?

According to businesscarriers, nowhere is direct democracy as developed as in Switzerland. At the federal level alone, their voters can use three powerful plebiscitary instruments.

The oldest instrument – in force since 1874 – is the optional legal referendum. With it, 50,000 voters or eight cantons can demand that laws that have already been passed by the federal parliament are submitted to the people for voting. The legal referendum is also subject to international contracts that are open-ended and non-terminable or provide for membership in international organizations. The legal referendum is a sharp weapon for Swiss citizens and at the same time a safety valve. With him you can veto unpleasant laws.

The popular initiative was added in 1891, initially only for amendments to parts of the federal constitution, and since 2003 also for the total revision of the constitution. With the popular initiative, the Swiss can give their politicians impetus and help determine the political agenda.

In addition, the mandatory referendum has been in force since 1949. All constitutional changes are subject to it, as well as all multi-year emergency-like federal laws and membership of organizations for collective security (such as NATO) or supranational communities (such as the EU). This referendum also acts like a veto weapon and a safety valve.

Other plebiscitary instruments are also used in the cantons and communes, in particular referendums on financial policy matters.

Direct democracy makes Swiss voters sovereign and at the same time serves to integrate the very different ethnic groups of the Confederation – linguistically, religiously and according to the economic situation. However, Swiss direct democracy also includes complicated and delayed decision-making processes in politics. She also puts tight reins on the political formation by the state. Furthermore, the threat of a legislative referendum often prompts the legislature to look for referendum-proof solutions in advance. This usually happens through the early involvement of powerful opponents in the decision-making process. However, this turned plebiscitary democracy into negotiation democracy, in which referendum-proof compromises are forged, which parliament can hardly change. In this respect, Switzerland’s direct democracy weakens parliament and the political parties. But at the same time it enhances the electorate’s chances of participation more than in any other democracy. This also contributes to the dual character of Swiss direct democracy: It is an integrative and at the same time a conservative and stabilizing instrument.

Swiss History 6