Switzerland went 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.
Voter participation Sunday ticked in at nearly 59 percent, which is exceptionally high in a country where it is rare to see more than 50 percent of voters turn out for the frequent popular polls.
Individual cantons also held their own votes. Geneva, for instance, went to the polls to decide on implementing a cantonal minimum wage.
Here’s a summary of the five major votes and those in the cantons.
A limitation on EU migration
The most controversial question is the right-wing Swiss People’s Party initiative (SVP) on implementing a cap on EU migration.
The ‘moderate immigration limitation initiative’, which sought to restrict EU freedom of movement in Switzerland, was defeated.
Final results showed that 61.7 percent of Swiss voters had balked at an initiative to tear up an agreement permitting the free movement of people between Switzerland and the surrounding EU.
The initiative, backed by the populist right-wing SVP — Switzerland's largest party — had been opposed by the government, parliament, unions, employer organisations and all other political parties out of fear it would jeopardise overall relations with the bloc.
Several other issues were on the ballot Sunday as part of Switzerland's famous direct democracy system.
The voting hinted at a shift in Switzerland's rather traditional approach to family models and gender roles, with more than 60 percent of ballots cast in favour of offering paternity leave for the first time.
Switzerland, which did not grant women the right to vote until 1971, still lags behind much of Europe when it comes to parental leave.
The country first introduced 14 weeks paid maternity leave in 2005 and has until now offered no paternity leave, with new fathers legally entitled to take only one day — the same amount of time granted when moving house.
The Swiss parliament gave the green light for the two-weeks paternity leave last September, but SVP and other opponents had gathered enough signatures to put the issue to a referendum, arguing that taxpayers should not be asked to cover “holidays” for new fathers.
With Sunday's vote, paternity leave will, like maternity leave, offer Swiss parents 80 percent of their salary, up to a ceiling of 196 Swiss francs per day.
Fathers can thus receive a maximum of 2,744 Swiss francs ($3,000, 2,550 euros) during their two weeks of leave.
Adrian Wuthrich, head of the trade union federation Travailsuisse and a supporter of the paternity leave push, hailed Sunday's result. New fathers “finally get more time off than they would for a move,” he told the RTS public broadcaster, stressing though that two weeks should be seen as a minimum.
Photo: MORGAN LIEBERMAN / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP
Another referendum Sunday, on a revision of Switzerland's hunting law to make it easier to address country's rapidly growing wolf population, was meanwhile rejected by 51.9 percent of voters.
A comparative assessment of the results showed a large split between country and city voters on the issue.
Also on the ballot Sunday was a referendum on dishing out six billion Swiss francs ($6.6 billion, 5.6 billion euros) for new fighter jets, which squeezed through with a mere 50.1 percent of votes in favour.
The vote was far closer than expected, with under 9,000 votes nationwide deciding the question.
This should put an end to a more than decade-long debate about replacing Switzerland's ageing fleet of jets, although another vote could be held once the government determines which planes it is looking to buy.
In 2014, the country looked set to purchase 22 Gripen E fighter jets from Swedish group Saab, only to see the people vote against releasing the funds needed to go forward with the multi-billion-dollar deal.
The next question was on tax deductions for families.
Gaining 63.2 percent of the vote, the initiative was soundly rejected – in what Swiss media described as a “surprise win” for the coalition of centre-left parties who opposed it.
Beat Jans, Vice President of the centre-left Social Democrats (SP), said that the result shows the population “no longer swallows tax cuts for the rich”.
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.
The centre-left SP argued that these deductions only benefitted the very wealthy and should therefore be scrapped. The Government argued that the deductions remove the barriers for women with children – especially those who are highly qualified – to pursue employment.
Minimum wage in Geneva
Switzerland as a whole has no minimum wage, and voters in 2014 turned down a chance to adopt one at a national level.
Geneva voters themselves have twice previously rejected calls to introduce a minimum wage in the city.
But on Sunday the winds appeared to have changed as the coronavirus pandemic has deepened the wealth gap, with 58 percent of voters in the canton coming out in favour of the unions-backed initiative.
The result made Geneva the third of Switzerland's 26 cantons to set a minimum hourly earnings rate after Jura and Neuchatel.
This is well above the current highest minimum wage in the world, which is Australia’s $19.84 per hour (CHF13.15).