Were “free” banknotes enough to sway Swiss voters?

Swiss citizens recently took part in a ballot, voting on five separate issues. With a 46% turnout, the public followed the advice of the Federal Council, hoping to ensure a solid long term impact on the economy.

Amongst the differing issues, the most notable case which generated a lot of attention, not only on a national scale but on a global one too, was the issue concerning a basic income for all.

This popular initiative was put forward by a young and independent group of citizens. It would pave way for the government to give every person in the country a minimum monthly amount of money – no set amount was mentioned but its supporters had spoken of an “ideal amount of 2,500 francs (2,300 EUR) per adult and 625 francs per child”.

The campaign got enormous media coverage worldwide, as Switzerland is the first country to hold a (nationwide) vote on this topic. The campaign was punchy and unusual, as it included the distribution of 1,000 banknotes, worth 10 francs each (8,5 EUR) at Zurich train station, and the creation of the world’s largest poster on La Plaine de Plainpalais in Geneva.

Only backed publicly by the Greens, this text was massively turned down by 76.9% of voters and only one municipality (in western Switzerland) actually voted yes. Initiators however, reacted with much enthusiasm and said this was only the start of necessary long-term societal shift.

Other issues which were on the ballot:

– A law enabling the genetic screening of embryos prior to implantation was accepted. This measure will concern “500 to 1000 couples per year” who opt for in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) according to the Health Minister.

– Swiss voters agreed on plans to speed up asylum procedures. Approximately 60% of cases shall now be treated within 100 or 140 days, with an expected saving of about 110 million francs (100 million EUR) a year. The text also guarantees that lawyers depicted as “free of charges” will be available to asylum applicants from the beginning, and only to ensure that the proceedings remain “fair and equitable”.

– 70% of the electorate decided against a text boosting investment in roads. Backed by the automobile industry, this popular initiative wanted to have all taxes on mineral oils exclusively devoted to the building and maintenance of roads (about 3 billion francs). Currently, half of this amount lands in the public coffers.

– Another popular initiative rejected was a reform of public services. The text wanted to ban staff salaries of companies providing public services, exceeding those of federal public servants. The opponents underlined that these companies would have lost competitiveness and warned that a shortfall of nearly one billion francs for public funds was feared as the federal government, regions and municipalities would have been deprived of dividends and profit taxes.

Once again, and particularly in the case of the rejection of the basic income for all plan, Swiss voters showed that they are not keen on taking decisions that could jeopardize the long-term financial stability of their country.

Words  Timothée Beckert (Burson-Marsteller Switzerland)
Photo  CC/Flickr Khairul Abdullah

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