Switzerland moves right following parliamentary elections

Switzerland moves right following parliamentary elections

The people of Switzerland cast their vote on a new parliament with massive support for the anti-immigration SVP. Conservative parties now cover about half of the lower house’s seats. The banking sector and other businesses should beware.

Switzerland is currently in an electoral frenzy, as it is deciding on who is going to govern the country for the next four years.

In a first step, the politically neutral country elected a new parliament on October 18, 2015. Legislators of the lower and the upper house were voted for on the same day, although the results of the latter are still due. Besides this, the election of the government’s executive branch, the seven-member Federal Council, is scheduled for December 2015.

Landslide victory for anti-immigration party

The right-wing populist Swiss People’s Party (SVP) emerged as the winner of the election. Out of the 200 seats of the lower house, the anti-immigration SVP increased their representation by 11 seats, obtaining 65 seats in total.

On a lower scale, the conservative pro-business Liberal Party (FDP) won 3 seats, securing 33 seats in total. Both conservative parties, SVP and FDP, are occupying about 50 percent of the lower house. However, they are at odds with each other on immigration.

All other major parties, the Social Democrats, the Christian People’s Party, the Conservative Democratic Party, and the Greens lost seats in the lower house of parliament.

What caused the right-wing slide?

The reasons for the surge in support of the anti-immigration SVP can be explained by three factors. First, in the run-up to the elections, the party focused on asylum policy, a big concern amongst young people and those of lower income classes. Simultaneously, the party profited from the recent media reports on masses of Syrian refugees making their way to Europe.

Second, the populist SVP did not only possess a considerable campaign budget, but was consequently mentioned the most in online media outlets and in newspaper ads. Third, they were able to score the votes of citizens who did not participate in the last parliamentary elections.

Migration has long been hotly debated in Switzerland, whose population count is 8.2 million, out of which 25 percent are foreigners. Thus, migration is causing a strain on its populace and leading to a bundle of concerns.

The most common arguments are that migration is raising rental and property costs, traffic and public transport congestion, increasing crime, and more generally, wearing down national identity. At last, so the argument goes, it is “common sense” that the number of foreigners is too high and they cannot possibly be integrated altogether.

The populist SVP caters to those concerns. Their political agenda embodies the following: anti-EU, anti-immigration, anti-international tribunals, anti-asylum seekers, as well as pro low taxation, small government, farming and national food production, road improvement, and moderation in organic farming as well as alternative energies.

That being said, the Swiss ballot does not reflect an abnormal political phenomenon. Populist anti-immigration parties are setting the agenda all over Europe, such as in the UK, France, Hungary, Denmark, and more recently in Poland. Besides this, since Chancellor Angela Merkel advocated for an open-door policy on refugees, her own party, the Christian Democratic Union, is turning its back against her.

Businesses, beware!

Why are the elections important? Apart from direct democratic measures, it’s the conservative SVP which might be setting the political agenda for the next four years – this, in a country which tops the World Economic Forum’s list of most competitive countries.

Switzerland is not only a major financial hub, but it also houses multinationals, such as health-care giants Novartis and Hoffmann-La Roche and the food producer Nestlé. As a consequence, the neutral nation attracts highly skilled workers to Zurich, Geneva and Basel. Although Swiss citizens benefit from economic stability, wealth, and global interconnectedness, the neutral nation is tired of immigration and flinches at the acronym EU.

Considering the overall anti-globalization stance of the conservative SVP and the many popular initiatives they have launched, their future political plans may end up hampering economic interests. Of particular concern is the free movement of human capital and the access to skilled people on the international labor market.

As for now, the Swiss people accepted an SVP-induced referendum on immigration quotas in 2014. However, such limitations contradict the principle of free movement of peoples, which is based on bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the EU.

Regarding the quotas, the Swiss government is to decide on how it will implement them until 2017. However, Switzerland is highly afraid of impairing its agreements with the EU. The bilateral agreements with the supranational organization include a so called “Guillotine Clause”. The precautionary clause allows the EU to terminate all other agreements in case one is violated, such as the free movement of peoples.

As a first consequence of the immigration cap, the EU stalled its cooperation with Switzerland on the EU research project Horizon 2020 and college exchange program Erasmus+.

Next on the agenda

Despite the anti-immigration party emerging as a winner of the parliamentary elections, their political clout will be dampened by three factors.

First, Swiss politics is inherently consensus based, so no party will ever take the lead. Secondly, Swiss citizens can always revert to a popular initiative in case they do not agree with the political decisions made in the capital. This can go both ways: left and right. Third, the conservative SVP usually holds a minority stake in the upper house. Whether this will change remains to be seen, as the final results for the upper house are due by mid-November 2015.

Finally, the populist SVP is eyeing a second seat in the seven-member Federal Council. On December 9, 2015, the parliament will cast its vote in a secret ballot on who will make it into the executive branch.

In case the SVP claims its much demanded second seat, it will have to take over more responsibility in the consensus-based council. This might backfire at their current winning strategy as an opportunist party.

Categories: Europe, Politics

About Author

Michael Fuglister

Michael Füglister is a trade policy researcher at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, where he assists the project Global Trade Alert. He holds a B.A. and M.A. in International Affairs from the University of St. Gallen.