Swiss expats back nuclear phase-out

Depending on the canton, between 70-80% of Swiss voters living abroad backed the progressive phasing out of nuclear energy in Switzerland. Keystone

Swiss voters living abroad gave their full support to the government's new energy law in Sunday's nationwide vote. Political scientist Thomas Milic explains why.

This content was published on May 22, 2017 minutes

On Sunday, Swiss voters living outside the country said a resounding 'yes' to Energy Strategy 2050, which aims to promote renewable energy, ban new nuclear power plants and lower energy consumption.

This is what analysis has shown from the results of 12 cantons, which compile the voting trends of the Swiss abroad.

Final results showed just over 58% of voters on Sunday coming out in favour of the Energy Strategy programme. The results for the Swiss abroad, meanwhile, ranged from 70-80%, depending on the canton. In two-thirds of the 12 cantons studied, the percentage of 'yes' votes by Swiss expats was 20 percentage points above the cantonal average.

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Are the Swiss living abroad more eco-minded than citizens living in the wealthy alpine state?

"This is a trend we have seen in other Swiss votes. In general, Swiss expats are slightly more leftwing when they vote than citizens living in Switzerland, and not just on environmental issues," declared Thomas Milic, a political scientist who works at both the Sotomo research centre and at the Aarau Centre for Democracy Studies.

Today, many Swiss leave Switzerland for professional or educational reasons.

"These people generally have a rather liberal view of society, at least from an economic perspective. The more conservative Swiss tend to stay at home," said Milic.

Nuclear lovers

Closer analysis of votes in canton Aargau, which is home to three of the nation’s five nuclear power plants, makes particularly interesting reading. While the majority of the canton's voters narrowly rejected the new law, 78% of Aargau citizens who have moved abroad supported the new law, which bans new nuclear power plants. 

"In general, Aargau residents are fans of nuclear energy, as three of the nation's five plants are based on their territory and they benefit substantially in economic terms. The Swiss abroad who are registered in Aargau do not benefit directly, which largely explains this huge difference in behaviour," said Milic.

The smaller direct involvement of the Swiss abroad has raised hackles. In June 2015, following a close ballot, Swiss expats were accused of tipping the vote for the introduction of a general radio and TV licence fee, while they do not actually pay anything towards the licence fee. More recently, Claudio Kuster, Senator Thomas Minder's political advisor, sparked controversy by declaring in a tweet that the Swiss abroad should not have the right to vote. He argued that they were not sufficiently informed during voting campaigns.

Milic totally rejects this viewpoint: "The Swiss abroad are not isolated from the Swiss media landscape as they might have been 25 years ago. They have identical sources of information on the internet and many even have access to Swiss TV programmes. They can therefore fully appreciate the intense political debates and voting campaigns going on back home."

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