Decisions on constitutional amendments by the Swiss sovereign

by Thomas Fleiner

On May 18 the Swiss voters and the cantons had to decide on three popular initiatives. They adopted two constitutional proposals and rejected one initiative. On the same day the voters had also to decide on the acquisition of 22 Gripen, which are new military jets that Switzerland wanted to buy from Sweden for more than three billion francs. The Swiss legislature enacted a law to provide an endowment fund. Against this legislation, some people required a referendum. In the end, the peoples decided with 53% of the voters to reject this law. This decision was not against the principle of the constitutionally defended neutrality but rather against this type of military airplane. It may interest that the French speaking cantons voted unanimously against this military jet. Traditionally, the French speaking cantons always voted in favor of Switzeland’s international cooperation and were often reluctant to accept important expenditures for the army (the seat of the ICRC is in Geneva).

The other decisions were on constitutional issues. The voters and the unanimous cantons adopted with an overwhelming majority of 88% a new constitutional provision to guarantee and provide primary health care. According to this adopted constitutional amendment, the confederation and the cantons are obliged to provide within their competences basic health care of high quality, which is accessible for everybody. The confederation enacts legislation to guarantee medical education and to provide an appropriate compensation for family doctors. The family doctors launched this initiative. According to the procedure provided in the Constitution, the federal council proposed a counterproposal to the two chambers of the Parliament. The Parlia-ment voted in favor of the counterproposal of the federal council. Based on this positive decision of the legislature, the family doctors renounced their initiative. Thus, in the end voters had only to decide on the approval of this counterproposal constitutional amendment.

The second constitutional popular initiative, which 63.5% of the voters and the unanimity of can-tons adopted, is the initiative for better protection of children from people, convicted by the courts of paedophilia. According to this new Article 123c of the constitution persons convicted of crimes because they have violated the sexual integrity of children, lose irreversibly and for life any right to have any professional or unsalaried activity with underage persons. Noone opposed this principle. However, this new article in the Constitution prohibits the criminal judge to reevaluate the guilt of each person. Article 5 par 3 of the Constitution provides that State activities must be conducted in the public interest and be proportionate to the ends sought. In cases concerning these crimes, the judge cannot decide any more according to the principle of proportionality. One has to admit that this decision of the Swiss sovereign follows a general tendency based on people’s beliefs, that penalties are the best guarantee for the security in society.

A large majority of 76.3% of the voters and all cantons unanimously rejected the last initiative launched by the labor unions, which required a constitutional guarantee for a minimal salary of 4000 francs per month and 22 francs per hour. Twentyone out of twenty eight members of the European Union have already introduced the principle of a minimum wage.  However, compared to other countries the proposal of the labor union was considered much too high, e.g. compared to standards of other European countries. Many economists convinced the voters that such a general guarantee of a high salary would endanger the Swiss economy and might endanger employments. One important argument convincing voters dealt with the Swiss principle of social partnership. Accordingly, it is not the state but the different branches that should provide this minimum wage in their general labor contracts.

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