What’s at stake in Switzerland’s five referendums this month?

What's at stake in Switzerland's five referendums this month?
Two backlit electoral posters from the right-wing SVP that translate from French as "Too much is too much!" (L) and "Protecting the jobs of local workers now". Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
From immigration to paternity leave, Switzerland will go to the polls in late September to decide five major questions. Here's what you need to know about what's at stake.

Switzerland will again go to the polls on September 27th to vote on five separate initiatives. 

Three of the initiatives – EU migration, tax deduction and animal protection – were originally scheduled for May but were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Two others – on the questions of paternity leave and new fighter jets – were added in recent months. 

Geneva will also hold a vote on increasing the minimum wage to 23 francs per hour. 

A limitation on EU migration 

The most controversial and important referendum is the right-wing Swiss People’s Party initiative (SVP) on implementing a cap on EU migration. 

The ‘moderate immigration limitation initiative’ will restrict EU freedom of movement in Switzerland. 

If the vote is successful, Switzerland and the EU will have one year in which to renegotiate freedom of movement provisions. 

This has long been one of the SVP’s core issues, with supporters believing too many foreigners are taking advantage of the current system. 

The party became particularly dissatisfied when some of the measures called for in a similar referendum in 2014 were watered down on implementation, or not implemented at all. 

As The Local wrote at the time “Swiss parliament has finally decided how to deal with the February 2014 ‘against mass immigration' referendum, even if its solution bears little resemblance to the text of the initiative voted for by the public back then”. 

An estimated one quarter of Swiss residents are foreigners, many of whom do not have citizenship and therefore the right to vote. 

READ MORE: ‘I pay taxes but have no say in Swiss life': Your views on whether Switzerland should allow all foreigners to vote 

The Swiss government and all major parties besides the SVP reject the initiative. 

The government is concerned it will make it harder to find workers and damage the economy, while there are also concerns that it will mean reciprocal rights for Swiss citizens in the EU will be restricted. 

Regardless of the outcome, experts have also predicted that Swiss-EU relations could be harmed. 

For more information on the referendum, click here.

EXPLAINED: Switzerland's referendum to restrict EU migration 

A poster supporting the migration limitation initiative says in German 'too much is too much'. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Paternity leave

While mothers have had paid maternity leave for 15 years under Swiss law, Swiss fathers are currently only entitled to one day off upon the birth of their child.

This is significantly less than most of Switzerland’s European neighbours.  

The plan is to extend this to two weeks for all biological fathers federally across the country. 

The scheme will cover 80 percent of lost earnings for the two-week period. 

The expected cost of the plan is CHF230 million ($245 million), although this is a high estimate based on increasing birth rates and higher-earning fathers. 

The money is paid out of Switzerland’s state insurance system, which is funded half by employers and the other half by employees. 

 
Fighter jets
 
It might sound odd to people from around the world – particularly Americans – but the Swiss even get a direct say in the purchase of military equipment. 
 
The Swiss government wants to spend CHF6 billion ($USS6 billion) on new fighter jets. 
 
 
A similar question was put to the Swiss public in 2014 but was rejected, with 55 percent of voters objecting to the purchase of 22 'Gripen' fighter jets. 
 
The Swiss government says the jets are necessary to protect the country's airspace – and this time around they haven't specified the type of jets which will be purchased, but have instead asked for the people's permission to expand the military budget by a set amount. 
 
Child tax deduction 

An initiative of the Social Democrats (SP), this vote is a move to counter the child tax deductions which have been recently introduced by the Swiss Government. 

READ MORE: The real cost of parenting in Switzerland and how to save money

The deductions were introduced late in 2019, increasing the maximum tax deduction for childcare from CHF10,000 to CHF25,000 along with raising the general tax deduction for childcare from CHF6,500 to CHF10,000. 

Photo: MORGAN LIEBERMAN / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

The SP argues that these deductions only benefit the very wealthy and should therefore be scrapped. The Government has countered, arguing that the deductions remove the barriers for women with children – especially those who are highly qualified – to pursue employment. 

The general tax deduction plan is estimated to cost the government CHF350 million per year, while the maximum tax deduction plan is set to cost CHF10 million. 

Animal protection 

The final question to be voted on in the referendum relates to hunting rights. In 2019, the Swiss Parliament removed some restrictions on hunting wolves and other species. 

Where these animal species can be shown to be a danger to habitats or biodiversity, authorities will be allowed a greater scope to control their populations. 

READ: Why does Switzerland have so many referendums and how do they work? 

The initiative has been launched by animal protection organisations who argue that the recent law changes place endangered species at a greater risk and should therefore be repealed. 

Click here for official government information (in English) on each of the five questions. 


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