Newspapers back the people on tax reform vote

Finance Minister Ueli Maurer acknowledging defeat at a press conference on Sunday Keystone

An uprising, a slap in the face, an earthquake, and a first-class burial – that is how Swiss media outlets are describing the way voters shot down the government bid for corporate tax reform. They attribute it to an anti-establishment mood among the people. 

This content was published on February 13, 2017

On Sunday, 59.1% of voters rejected a comprehensive overhaul of taxation for companies – siding with opponents who said that ordinary Swiss taxpayers would suffer if it were approved. It seems nobody was expecting such a slam-dunk verdict. Here’s a round-up of newspaper commentary from around the country.

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Basler Zeitung described the rejection as a “first-class burial” in its headline, noting that the political left had shown “a much better understanding of the people while Bern was presenting hard-to-understand documents”. It also slammed the Swiss Business Federation, known as economiesuisse, by criticising its campaign as “aseptic, hygienic and vegetarian”, and adding, “economiesuisse has no idea how to do politics successfully”.

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“Nobody was expecting such a clear result; the vehemence and breadth of the ‘no’ are surprising,” wrote the Berner Zeitung under the headline “Cabinet debacle”. The newspaper added that the people’s message back to the government was that “tax competition has its limits. Today, concrete tax losses are too high of a price to pay for a shaky bet on potential future tax revenue, and we won’t be intimidated by threats” – referring to proponents’ concerns that international companies won’t want to set up shop in Switzerland.

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“For the bourgeois parties, the ‘no’ to corporate tax reform is a political debacle; for [Finance Minister] Ueli Maurer it is a personal Waterloo. After the Gripen crash he loses his second major vote as a cabinet member,” stated the commentary that appeared in both Der Bund and Tages-Anzeiger. “The basic idea was clever, but the parliamentarians lost their sense of proportion in its details.” The newspapers also described the rejection as a warning in the run-up to the vote on pensions coming up this autumn.

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“It’s not just a declaration of the population’s will. It’s an earthquake, an act of mistrust, and an uprising against the elite,” declared Blick, continuing that the voters who rejected the reform were saying, “We don’t believe you, not your estimates, not your assurances, and certainly not your threats!”

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“Revenge for [former Finance Minister] Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, who has won the fight against her successor Ueli Maurer with a knockout punch,” wrote La Liberté, noting that the “mother of the project had planted seeds of doubt among voters”. The newspaper continued: “The decisive influence of Widmer-Schlumpf is also because she stands for consensus policy. In contrast, amateur Ueli Maurer has assumed the role of a speaker with complacent rights”.

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As Le Matin put it, citizens whose cost-of-living expenses are going up faster than their wages would have told big business, “You’ve stuffed enough money into your pockets – too much for us to give you a tax break”.

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“After the immense confusion about the free movement of people following the February 9, 2014 vote, Switzerland is entering a zone of total uncertainty in the economic strategy dossier,” wrote Le Temp.

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“The result shows a serious loss of confidence. Yet not so long ago, such templates like corporate tax reform usually passed without difficulty when considered so central [to] the economy,” noted Neue Zürcher Zeitung. It called the result a “slap in the face” for the economy, for the “entire bourgeois camp” and especially for the “unfortunate” Ueli Maurer. “Evidently, the belief that everybody profits from business-friendly location policies is crumbling.”

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The newspaper put the vote on a par with June’s Brexit vote in Britain and November’s US presidential election of Donald Trump – noting that Switzerland cannot entirely escape the populist and anti-globalist forces evidenced in these societal and political upheavals. The newspaper also criticised the complexity of the tax reform, encouraging readers with a not-entirely tongue-in-cheek exhortation that they should “please get in touch if [they] understood the text in the voting booklet”.

What do you think about the vote results? Let is know in the comments section below.

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