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EXPLAINED: What is Switzerland’s referendum on affordable housing all about?

One of two questions to be put to Swiss voters on February 9th asks whether the law should be changed to provide for more affordable housing across Switzerland. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: What is Switzerland’s referendum on affordable housing all about?

Cost of living concerns are front and centre for many of our readers. Central to these concerns is housing affordability. 

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about the cost of living in Switzerland

Renting is common in Switzerland, with approximately three in five (60 percent) of households renting across the country. But whether renting or buying, simply having somewhere to live is getting more and more expensive in Switzerland – particularly in urban areas. 

Out of these concerns has risen a campaign to provide for more affordable housing, which has culminated in a referendum question on the issue on February 9th. 

The other question to be asked on February 9th is whether homophobia should be criminalised in Switzerland. 

EXPLAINED: The Swiss referendum that could criminalise homophobia 

But what is the referendum on affordable housing actually proposing? Will it make a difference to the cost of renting and buying? And will it do so all across the country? 

Here’s everything you need to know about the questions being asked. 

The affordable housing initiative

After being launched in 2015, the initiative got more than 100,000 signatures in order to push it to a vote. 

There are several pillars of the initiative, but the core component is that a minimum of 10 percent of all new housing built across the country should be owned by housing collectives or social housing bodies. 

What is social housing? Social housing, otherwise known as housing collectives, run housing projects on a non-profit basis. 

By doing so, housing has been shown to be between 15 and 25 percent cheaper than housing provided by property companies on a for-profit basis. 

The initiatives are to be put in place in all municipalities and cantons across the country. 

As part of the initiative, when the government or government entities sell off land, preference must be given to cantons for the land to be used for affordable housing. 

READ: EU migration to affordable housing: All you need to know about Switzerland's crucial spring referendums 

Furthermore, government grants made for building new infrastructure can only be awarded where they do not result in existing affordable housing being lost. 

Apartments in Geneva. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

What are the parties saying – and what is the likely outcome?

The public’s opinion of the referendum appears to have shifted over time.

While members of the public were initially in favour of the new initiative by a relatively wide margin – with 60 percent indicating they would support the change in mid-January – polls have since indicated a slim majority for the opposing side. 

In a poll released on January 29th, 51 percent of Swiss voters said they opposed the affordable housing initiative – with 48 percent in favour. 

Advocates of the plan – including the Social Democrats and the Greens – have argued that it will bring down the cost of new and existing housing by reducing the pressures in the market while also removing the role played by property speculators. 

Current social housing makes up approximately five percent of the market. 

They also argue that forcing the government and government entities (such as railways or energy companies) to consider social housing when selling off land will further encourage a growth in social housing. 

Opponents argue that the 10 percent limit is too high and is therefore unachievable. They argue that investors will be spooked and too much additional bureaucracy will be created. 

The Swiss government also opposes the initiative, launching a counter proposal which would make an extra CHF250 million ($US258M) available for loans to housing cooperatives over the next decade. 

Pursuant to Swiss law, if the voters vote no on the initiative, this counter proposal will come into effect. 


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Swiss decision to purchase US fighter jets could force second referendum

Switzerland's decision to purchase US-made fighter jets could be put to a referendum,

Swiss decision to purchase US fighter jets could force second referendum
Swiss fighter jets. Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

Switzerland’s government on Wednesday backed the purchase of 36 F-35A fighter jets from Lockheed Martin to replace its fleet and five Patriot air defence units from fellow US manufacturer Raytheon.

Switzerland’s current air defence equipment will reach the end of its service life in 2030 and has been undergoing a long and hotly-contested search for replacements.

“The Federal Council is confident that these two systems are the most suitable for protecting the Swiss population from air threats in the future,” the government said in a statement.

‘No Trump fighter jets’: Swiss don’t want to buy American planes

The decision will now be put to the Swiss parliament — and also risks being challenged at the ballot box, with left-wingers and an anti-militarist group looking to garner enough signatures to trigger a public vote.

The F-35A was chosen ahead of the Airbus Eurofighter; the F/A-18 Super Hornet by Boeing; and French firm Dassault’s Rafale.

For the ground-based air defence (GBAD) system, Patriot was selected ahead of SAMP/T by France’s Eurosam.

“An evaluation has revealed that these two systems offer the highest overall benefit at the lowest overall cost,” the government statement said. Switzerland is famously neutral. However, its long-standing position is one of armed neutrality and the landlocked European country has mandatory conscription for men.

“A fleet of 36 aircraft would be large enough to cover Switzerland’s airspace protection needs over the longer term in a prolonged situation of heightened tensions,” the government said.

“The air force must be able to ensure that Swiss airspace cannot be used by foreign parties in a military conflict.” 

Long path to decision 

Switzerland began to seek replacements for its ageing fleet of fighter jets more than a decade ago, but the issue has become caught up in a political battle in the wealthy Alpine nation.

The Swiss government has long argued for the need to quickly replace its 30 or so F/A-18 Hornets, which will reach the end of their lifespan in 2030, and the F-5 Tigers, which have been in service for four decades and are not equipped for night flights.

In 2014, the country looked set to purchase 22 Gripen E fighter jets from Swedish group Saab, only to see the public vote against releasing the funds needed to go forward with the multi-billion-dollar deal.

Bern launched a new selection process four years later, and a referendum last year to release six billion Swiss francs ($6.5 billion) for the purchase of the fighters of the government’s choice squeezed through with 50.1 percent of voters in favour.

During the referendum campaign, the government warned that without a swift replacement for its fleet, “Switzerland will no longer be in a position to protect and even less defend its airspace by 2030”.

Currently, the fleet does not have the capacity to support ground troops for reconnaissance missions or to intervene against ground targets.

Meanwhile Switzerland’s current GBAD system is also old and lacks the capacity to meet the widening spectrum of modern threats.

The military currently relies on a range of Rapier and Stinger short-range missiles that have been in service since 1963.