Not its finest moment: Swiss army ridiculed for ‘clownish’ performance

For the first time ever, members of Switzerland's military were invited to march in a parade commemorating France's Bastille Day on July 14th. But some say this historic event was marred by Swiss soldiers' inability to walk in formation.

Not its finest moment: Swiss army ridiculed for 'clownish' performance
Fortunately, they didn't go to France to fight in a war. Photo by LUDOVIC MARIN / POOL / AFP

French president Emmanuel Macron invited Swiss authorities to take part in the National Day parade in Paris. This gesture was to thank Switzerland for the help it extended to France during the Covid-19 pandemic, when Swiss hospitals took in patients from France, where there was a shortage of beds.

Health Minister Alain Berset headed the Swiss delegation, which included four members of the army's Flag Guard.

But when these soldiers marched among their French counterparts along the Place de la Concorde, carrying a Swiss flag, their walk was not synchronised and decidedly unmilitary.

While the underwhelming performance is unlikely to cause a diplomatic incident between the two countries, it did spark comments of derision back home in Switzerland.

The headline in the 20 Minutes newspaper described the incident as “Epic fail”, while the Blick's said “Army embarrasses itself at the parade in France”.

“Left foot — right foot — left foot — right foot. Once you get the hang of it, it's not complicated”, the Blick went on to say.

Members of the public took to social media and other online forums to offer their tongue-in-cheek perspectives on the uncoordinated soldiers.

“How embarrassing!” wrote one person on the website of the 20 Minutes. “Swiss army is made up of clowns”. 

Another reader remarked that the army should increase its budget by several billion francs so it has resources to teach the troops to march in formation.

“They are just four tourists strolling in Paris,” another person quipped.

Yet another commentator suggested that “Switzerland owes France an official apology”.

Even army spokesman Daniel Reist conceded to the Blick that the march “didn't go as planned”. 

You can see the video of the march here.

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Do naturalised Swiss citizens have to do military service?

Once foreigners become citizens of Switzerland they get new benefits as well as responsibilities. Military service is one of the latter but does everyone have to do it?

Do naturalised Swiss citizens have to do military service?
Once you become Swiss, military service becomes obligatory. Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

Many foreigners wonder why Switzerland, which hasn’t fought a war in modern times, needs an army in the first place.

But military presence is ubiquitous in Switzerland, stretching far beyond the practical Swiss army knives.

All able-bodied Swiss men from the age of 18 until 30 are required to serve in the armed forces or in its alternative, the civilian service. Military service for women is voluntary and those who choose to do so will be pleased to know they can wear new, comfortable underwear designed just for them.

READ MORE: Women in Swiss military no longer forced to wear men’s underwear

Once you become a Swiss citizen and are between the ages of 18 and 30, you can expect to be conscripted. This was an experience of one of our readers, Dr. Robert Schinagl from the USA, who said that since he became naturalised “the military has been attempting to recruit me for national service”.

READ MORE: ‘A feeling of belonging’: What it’s like to become Swiss

What if you are a dual national?

In general, having another citizenship in addition to the Swiss one is not going to exempt you from military service in Switzerland.

However, there is one exception: the obligation to serve will be waved, provided you can show that you have fulfilled your military duties in your other home country.

If you are a Swiss (naturalised or not) who lives abroad, you are not required to serve in the military in Switzerland, though you can voluntarily enlist. 

But wait, there’s more

In case you have to serve but for some reason can’t, you’re not off the hook.

If the army won’t get you, taxes will.

If you are unfit for service, or if you fall under the category of dual citizens who served in foreign armed forces (as mentioned above), you will have to pay the so-called Military Service Exemption Tax.

You must pay it from the age 19 until you turn 37 — provided, of course, that you become Swiss during this time.

This annual tax amounts to 3 percent of your taxable income, or a minimum of 400 francs.

What if you perform the Civil Defence service instead of the military?

Introduced in 1996, this is an alternative to the army, originally intended for those who objected to military service on moral grounds. Service is longer there than in the army, from the age of 20 to 40

Civil service has, however, proven its mettle during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, when  around 4,000 civilian volunteers were supporting the emergency services and hospitals.

If you are part of civil defence service, you are entitled to a deduction from the annual military service exemption tax. For every day you worked for civil defence, you can deduct this tax by 4 percent.

This website (in German, French and Italian) explains how to apply for Civil Service.

Does serving as Vatican Papal Guard disqualify you from the military service?

Nice try, but no.

They are not soldiers but part of the Vatican City police force.