SVP threatens to pull out of federal government

The right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), the most popular political party in Switzerland, is threatening to pull out of the seven-person Swiss government unless it gains two of the seats.

SVP threatens to pull out of federal government
SVP MP Felix Müri: creates waves by suggesting the party is ready to leave government. Photo: Swiss parliament

The SVP currently has one of the government seats, held by Ueli Maurer, defence minister, although it holds more than a quarter of the seats in the upper house of parliament.

Felix Müri, an SVP MP from the canton of Lucerne who is vice-president of the party’s parliamentary group, made waves on Monday by saying the party is prepared to go into opposition if it fails to gain an extra seat in the government.

The SVP, a nationalist party which favours restrictions on immigration, has long been the most popular party in Switzerland, although it has been opposed by the other parties in the Swiss multi-party political system.

In 2007, it lost one of its two seats in the government when a moderate member of the party, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, agreed to seek election against the SVP’s Christoph Blocher, who was then an incumbent government minister.

Widmer-Schlumpf was elected but soon became a member of a new party, the Conservative Democratic Party (BDP), after she was booted out of the SVP.

She was subsequently re-elected to government in 2011 as a member of the BDP, leaving the SVP again with only one seat.

Government members are voted in by a joint assembly of the upper and lower houses of parliament following the federal elections held every four years.

Traditionally, the main parties agree to a coalition government with balanced representation from the left, right and centre.

So elections for government typically involve a lot of horse trading among parties.

But Müri said many SVP members are “fed up” with the current situation, which leaves the SVP under-represented in the government.

“If we do not get the second seat at the expense of the BDP, we will have Ueli Maurer withdraw from the Federal Council (government) and go into total opposition,” he told the Blick newspaper.

By tradition, government members do not voice disagreements publicly and always present a united front once government decisions have been made.

Going into opposition would allow the SVP to voice its views freely and to launch referendums on key initiatives.

Already, the SVP successfully spearheaded an initiative, approved by voters in February 2014 but opposed by the government, to curb immigration from the European Union.

Blick said the SVP is already showing traits of an opposition party “but the tone would worsen dramatically if the largest party were no longer represented in the government”.

Pascal Sciarini, a political scientist at the University of Geneva, said the SVP has actually been able to gain popular support by not having two members in the government.

“With one foot in government and the other foot outside government it is very profitable for (the party) electorally,” he told Le Temps newspaper.

Sciarini said the system of electing the Swiss government, once referred to as the “magic formula” because of the way it balanced representation for the major parties, has changed.

Neither the “magic formula” nor a mathematical system of power sharing now exists but rather a system of “fluctuating consensus,” he said.

Swiss voters go to the polls on Sunday to elect MPs and members of the council of states (the senate, or upper house of parliament).

Polls show the SVP as the most popular party for the lower house but a proportional voting system means that seats will be allocated among several parties — 11 are currently represented.

By contrast, in the 46-seat senate, where members are voted by majority in each of the country's 26 cantons, the SVP only has six seats.

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How Europe’s population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

The populations of countries across Europe are changing, with some increasing whilst others are falling. Populations are also ageing meaning the EU is having to react to changing demographics.

How Europe's population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

After decades of growth, the population of the European Union decreased over the past two years mostly due to the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest data from the EU statistical office Eurostat show that the EU population was 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, 172,000 fewer than the previous year. On 1 January 2020, the EU had a population of 447.3 million.

This trend is because, in 2020 and 2021 the two years marked by the crippling pandemic, there have been more deaths than births and the negative natural change has been more significant than the positive net migration.

But there are major differences across countries. For example, in numerical terms, Italy is the country where the population has decreased the most, while France has recorded the largest increase.

What is happening and how is the EU reacting?

In which countries is the population growing?

In 2021, there were almost 4.1 million births and 5.3 million deaths in the EU, so the natural change was negative by 1.2 million (more broadly, there were 113,000 more deaths in 2021 than in 2020 and 531,000 more deaths in 2020 than in 2019, while the number of births remained almost the same).

Net migration, the number of people arriving in the EU minus those leaving, was 1.1 million, not enough to compensate.

A population growth, however, was recorded in 17 countries. Nine (Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, France, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands and Sweden) had both a natural increase and positive net migration.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: Five things to know about Germany’s foreign population

In eight EU countries (the Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Spain, Lithuania, Austria, Portugal and Finland), the population increased because of positive net migration, while the natural change was negative.

The largest increase in absolute terms was in France (+185,900). The highest natural increase was in Ireland (5.0 per 1,000 persons), while the biggest growth rate relative to the existing population was recorded in Luxembourg, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta (all above 8.0 per 1,000 persons).

In total, 22 EU Member States had positive net migration, with Luxembourg (13.2 per 1 000 persons), Lithuania (12.4) and Portugal (9.6) topping the list.

Births and deaths in the EU from 1961 to 2021 (Eurostat)

Where is the population declining?

On the other hand, 18 EU countries had negative rates of natural change, with deaths outnumbering births in 2021.

Ten of these recorded a population decline. In Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia population declined due to a negative natural change, while net migration was slightly positive.

In Croatia, Greece, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia, the decrease was both by negative natural change and negative net migration.

READ ALSO: Italian class sizes set to shrink as population falls further

The largest fall in population was reported in Italy, which lost over a quarter of a million (-253,100).

The most significant negative natural change was in Bulgaria (-13.1 per 1,000 persons), Latvia (-9.1), Lithuania (-8.7) and Romania (-8.2). On a proportional basis, Croatia and Bulgaria recorded the biggest population decline (-33.1 per 1,000 persons).

How is the EU responding to demographic change?

From 354.5 million in 1960, the EU population grew to 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, an increase of 92.3 million. If the growth was about 3 million persons per year in the 1960s, it slowed to about 0.7 million per year on average between 2005 and 2022, according to Eurostat.

The natural change was positive until 2011 and turned negative in 2012 when net migration became the key factor for population growth. However, in 2020 and 2021, this no longer compensated for natural change and led to a decline.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

Over time, says Eurostat, the negative natural change is expected to continue given the ageing of the population if the fertility rate (total number of children born to each woman) remains low.

This poses questions for the future of the labour market and social security services, such as pensions and healthcare.

The European Commission estimates that by 2070, 30.3 per cent of the EU population will be 65 or over compared to 20.3 per cent in 2019, and 13.2 per cent is projected to be 80 or older compared to 5.8 per cent in 2019.

The number of people needing long-term care is expected to increase from 19.5 million in 2016 to 23.6 million in 2030 and 30.5 million in 2050.

READ ALSO: How foreigners are changing Switzerland

However, demographic change impacts different countries and often regions within the same country differently.

When she took on the Presidency of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen appointed Dubravka Šuica, a Croatian politician, as Commissioner for Democracy and Demography to deal with these changes.

Among measures in the discussion, in January 2021, the Commission launched a debate on Europe’s ageing society, suggesting steps for higher labour market participation, including more equality between women and men and longer working lives.

In April, the Commission proposed measures to make Europe more attractive for foreign workers, including simplifying rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the EU. These will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council.

In the fourth quarter of this year, the Commission also plans to present a communication on dealing with ‘brain drain’ and mitigate the challenges associated with population decline in regions with low birth rates and high net emigration.

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.