On Wednesday Simonetta Sommaraga, federal councillor and head of the federal department of justice and police, publicly denounced the referendum launched by the Swiss People’s Party (UDC/SVP) to put Swiss law ahead of international law.
The plan dubbed the initiative for self-determination passed the 100,000 signature threshold last year. It was officially submitted on 2 August 2016 with 116,428 signatures.
The vote text, if accepted, would force the Swiss government to reject international laws that contradict Switzerland’s constitution and Switzerland’s highest court, the federal tribunal, would no longer be required to enforce any international laws that have not been accepted by popular vote.
Sommaraga told a public press conference that the proposed vote would require Switzerland to suddenly stop honouring its international treaties and agreements. As soon as there is a problem Switzerland would be forced to renegotiate or terminate an agreement.
In addition, she said the text was unclear and questioned the meaning of terms such as “terminate” and “when necessary”. She said Switzerland has agreements with many countries around the world. And we need them. Signing agreements is voluntary. We decided to sign them. It’s the federal council, the people and parliament that decide. But once signed we stick to the agreement. And if one day we don’t want it we terminate it. However it is this detail that is not made clear in the proposed text, she said.
According to the minister there are many arguments against the initiative. When voters see how many international agreements there are in Switzerland’s favour, they will see that it is not in the country’s best interest. It is important for Switzerland to be a dependable partner given that we expect others to be reliable.
The UDC defended their initiative saying that it is clear. The federal constitution is the ultimate source of Swiss law. It guarantees security, healthy public finances and public satisfaction with the State. According to the party, Wednesday’s message from the federal council undermines this legal framework.
Both sides mentioned the 9 February 2014 vote to halt mass immigration. Simonetta Sommaraga said the text of both of these referenda was unclear and problematic. The UDC said the federal tribunal’s decision to honour the agreement on free movement of people over the decision of voters, who voted 50.3% to 49.7% to halt mass immigration, is similar to the government’s rejection of their latest plan to assert the primacy of Swiss law.
A majority of the federal council recommends that voters and cantons reject the initiative.
Typically the government proposes an alternative to initiatives is doesn’t support. On this occasion it declined.