Battery hens and pension reform top Swiss ballot sheet 

Up to four times a year Swiss citizens get the final say on broad range of issues at national, regional as well as local levels. Olrat/Alamy Stock Photo

For the third time this year Swiss voters will decide on a series of legal changes. On the menu on September 25: animal welfare, women’s retirement age and tax breaks.  

This content was published on August 4, 2022 - 09:00

It’s part of Switzerland’s system of direct democracy to give citizens the final say on proposed changes to the constitution, legal amendments and major international treaties. 

Besides the four issues at a nationwide level, votes and elections are also scheduled in more than half of the country’s 26 cantons and numerous municipalities. 

To add to the panoply of issues are plans for waste reduction, boosting renewable energy, health insurance premiums, funds for building projects and reforms of the democratic systems, including a proposal to lower the voting age to 16. 

Animal welfare 

The biggest potential for an emotional campaign lies arguably in a proposal to ban factory farming in Switzerland. However, similar to an initiative on a ban on animal testing that came to a vote earlier this year, chances are slim of winning the necessary majorities at the ballot box.

For further details see below. 

Yet another reform attempt

Heated debates are also expected over the latest attempt to shore up funding of the state old age pension scheme, including an increase in value added tax (as a separate issue) and raising the retirement age for women from 64 to 65 to bring it in line with men.

It is considered one of the most important domestic votes in recent years. Parliament approved the reform last year hoping to put the central pillar of Switzerland’s social security system on a more solid financial footing.

But the political left is trying to convince voters to veto the parliamentary decision which comes 25 years after the last successful reform.

What’s at stake in the old age pension reform?

Left targets tax breaks

The left has also mounted a challenge against tax breaks for owners of domestic bonds. Parliament wants to scrap a 35% refund on interest granted under current law.

A rather technical issue but it forms part of the political strategy promoted by the government and parties from the right to the centre.

It’s already the second tax vote this year, after the government suffered a defeat in February. Fiscal reforms are rarely easy to win and voters also gave a cold shoulder to a recent plan by left-wing groups to introduce a new tax.

Read more about the referendum on the withholding tax:

Swiss Guards and climate strategy

Swiss citizens regularly decide on proposals at a nationwide level but also on plans of regional or local importance.

To take the example of Lucerne, the host of the 2022 Global Forum on Modern DemocracyExternal link.

Voters in the central Swiss region decide on a plan by their parliament to help fund the renovation of the barracks of the Papal Swiss Guards at the Vatican.

The CHF400,000 ($410,000) contribution to a CHF45 million project has been challenged mainly by left-wing parties.

On September 25, residents with a Swiss passport living in the city of Lucerne – and registered expat Swiss citizens, by the way – are also asked to choose between two versions of a climate and energy strategyExternal link.

They both aim to halve the per capita energy consumption by 2025, achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 and boost photovoltaic energy production.

But centrist and centre-right groups say some elements of the strategy, notably a reduction of public parking lots, go too far. They have put forward a watered-down strategy and hope for approval by voters.

Waste reduction and youth suffrage

Zurich could become a pioneer in Switzerland to enshrine the principle of circular economy in its cantonal constitution if voters approve a proposal by the parliament.

It wants the state to give incentives to reusing products rather than scrapping them. The reform focuses on the recycling of concrete in the construction industry as well as encouraging private households to curb their use of plastic wrapping.

Further to the west, in canton Bern, promoters of youth suffrage are hoping for a breakthrough.

They want to lower the voting age from 18 to 16 and seek approval for their proposal from a majority of voters. Bern would only be the second of 26 cantons to do so. Yet, the general political trend seems to go against the move.

None of the efforts in the Swiss parliament or at cantonal ballot boxes has been successful since 2007 ever since the open-air assembly of citizens in Glarus came out in favour of youth suffrage.

An overview of cantonal votes can be found hereExternal link.

Votes September 25, 2022

It is the third and final set of nationwide votes in Switzerland this year.

There are about 5.5 million citizens, including registered Swiss expats around the world, are eligible to take part.

In the two previous rounds, voters decided on a total of seven issues.

They included a reform of the system of organ donations, proposed bans on animal testing and tobacco advertising, as well as referendums on Swiss participation in the European Frontex border agency, the funding of the film industry, the media sector and the abolition of stamp duty.

Turnout in the previous two nationwide votes was 40.3% and 44.2% respectively, slightly below the ten-year average.

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