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Will the surge of the Greens actually have an impact on Swiss politics?

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Will the surge of the Greens actually have an impact on Swiss politics?
Members of the Green Party react to the election results. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
10:35 CEST+02:00
For the first time, the Green Party could get a seat in the seven-seat Federal Council, the coalition that governs Switzerland. But how will this change Swiss politics?

With this historic win of 17 new seats, the Green Party, traditionally an underdog of Swiss politics, now has 28 seats in the Federal Assembly, slightly edging out the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP) and the leftist Social Democrats. 

A smaller environmental party, Liberal Greens, scored nine additional seats, for a total of 16.

However, the SVP, which has 53 seats, still retains its top position in the Federal Assembly.

The surge in the popularity of the Green Party indicates the shift in voters' priorities from issues such as immigration and asylum, which were major concerns in the 2015 elections, to climate change and other environmental issues.

It also reflects a trend of Green victories sweeping parliaments of other European nations this year. 

Now the question is, will the rise of the Greens have any significant impact on Swiss politics?

According to political scientist Andreas Ladner, there is no outright winner in Swiss elections because no single political party is allowed to wield too much unilateral power.

"If you want to understand the Swiss system you have to know this culture. We are a small country. We don't like strong leaders. It is more important to integrate everybody into government, into political responsibilities," he told BBC.

Under Switzerland's unique political system, the election decides the 200 lower house lawmakers and 46 senators elected to four-year terms, but the make-up of the executive Federal Council will not be decided until December. 

The country's so-called "magic formula" sees the council's seven cabinet positions divided among the four leading parties. The presidency rotates each year.

The system is based on compromise and collegiality among all parties, meaning that politicians must work together for common good rather than create dissension and conflict.

Also, the always-present threat of a referendum – which allows Swiss voters to approve or reject a proposed or existing legislation – creates a high degree of consensus among lawmakers of different political persuasions.

So, while the Greens will have more of a voice in the parliament for the next four years, the final say in all matters will still belong to the Swiss voters.

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