Swiss Neutrality Initiative Has a Good Chance to Succeed
In February of this year, the Swiss government adopted the EU sanctions against Russia, thus breaking a 500 year-long tradition of neutrality in foreign policy. One consequence of that choice is that Switzerland is no longer in a position to mediate the conflict or offer a venue for negotiations. The overwhelming majority of the Swiss population, on the contrary, is in favor of maintaining neutrality, and an initiative for a popular referendum on the issue has been launched, with a high probability of success.
Every year, the government commissions an opinion poll on security issues. Last February, just before the Ukrainian war, support for neutrality in foreign and security policy was at 97%, one point higher than the previous year. A supplementary poll commissioned in June showed that the support had decreased, as a logical result of the media bombardment over the war. However, 89% of the population was still in favor of maintaining neutrality.
Just after the first poll, historic leader of the Swiss Popular Party Christoph Blocher announced in March a ballot initiative, called “Pro Souveräne Schweiz” (PSS), aimed at introducing a clause in the Swiss constitution making sanctions formally a violation of neutrality. In light of the polls, the initiative will have very strong support, but it could take a long time. According to Swiss law, to carry out a popular initiative, 100,000 signatures must be collected within 18 months maximum. The SPP planned to start collecting signatures as of Nov. 8. Once they are submitted to the authorities, the government and Parliament must deliberate. If they oppose it, they can present a counter-proposal, which would delay the initiative up to three and a half years.
This, however, would pit the country’s elected officials against an overwhelming majority of their voters. Once the signature collection has begun, the speed at which the target is reached will confirm the general sentiment of the population. This will already be visible in the first weeks of organizing, and will send a political signal to Bern as well as to all European capitals.