In Switzerland military service is compulsory for all young men with Swiss citizenship. Women and foreign residents are not required serve. An initiative to create a universal community service obligation that would include women and to some extent foreigners living in Switzerland was launched on Tuesday.
Vote organisers have until 26 October 2023 to collect the 100,000 signatures required to launch a referendum.
The plan aims to introduce universal community service that would include military service, civil service or civil protection. It is expected that work related to preserving the environment would be included. Foreign residents would also be included under the proposal1. Elements such as the existing service exemption tax and replacement income while serving would remain unchanged. The text for the initiative can be seen here. The press conference launching the initiative can be viewed here.
The plan would usher in two big changes. It would not discriminate based on gender and would put civil and military service on an equal footing, say the organisers.
The Federal Council has been looking at similar ideas and there appears to be broad political party support for some form of universal citizen service. Members of the PLR/FDP, PS/SP, PEV/EVP, Centre, Greens, Liberal Greens and UDC/SVP have come out in support of the plan.
Currently, roughly one third of the population of Switzerland is eligible for service. The initiative aims to expand the pool of recruits to nearly all of the population by including women and Switzerland’s large population of foreign nationals, something that is needed as Switzerland’s population ages.
Whether enough voters will support it remains to be seen.
1The initiative’s text is quite open on foreign nationals. Essentially it would give the government wide scope for deciding if and how foreign nationals would be included. Roughly translated the text says that the law determines whether and to what extent persons without Swiss citizenship are to serve in the interests of the general public and the environment.