Scepticism and conservatism key to vote

For many papers, Sunday's votes were a victory for consumers

The Swiss press says voters have shown pragmatism in imposing a five-year moratorium on GMOs and accepting limited Sunday trading.

This content was published on November 28, 2005 - 08:28

The newspapers agree that scepticism and conservatism prevailed in the face of uncertainty about the future.

A proposal for a moratorium on GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in Swiss agriculture was accepted by 55.7 per cent of voters, while a narrow majority – 50.6 per cent – approved easing restrictions on Sunday shopping at major railway stations and airports.

Bern's Der Bund newspaper summed up the two results, saying that taken together they highlighted the "conservative values of the Swiss who have sent a clear signal to the authorities".

This theme was also picked up by Zurich's Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), which added that many members of the public were obviously sceptical of new developments or ideas. The paper said the two votes were a warning to politicians who are expected to debate the introduction of more liberal policies in the future.

For the Lausanne tabloid, Le Matin, this warning to the government and the political right came from citizens who are first and foremost consumers. Consumers who want to be able to go shopping on Sunday, but who "don't want to eat giant carrots".


Lucerne's Neue Luzerner Zeitung said that to succeed today, those who want to introduce change or innovations had to convince consumers there were real advantages for them.

It added that the two votes had shown that unusual coalitions could play a central role and take over from Switzerland's political parties.

The Bund agreed, saying that the GMO vote had brought together ecologists, consumer associations and farmers sceptical about new technology, while the Sunday trading ballot had united conservative Catholics, unions, the left and country-dwellers in an anti-liberalisation alliance.

For Fribourg's La Liberté, voters have put the brakes on change, preferring to remain cautious about "so-called progress". Lausanne's 24 Heures said the ballots were an example of Switzerland voting pragmatically to define tomorrow's society.

But Geneva's Le Temps railed at voters, accusing them of being overcautious. "The brakes have been put on because of the caution that has become our ageing society's standard whenever our future is being decided," it wrote.


The five-year moratorium on GMOs in agriculture is sure to cause some controversy, according to Zurich's Tages Anzeiger, especially after many scientists said it would hinder gene research.

But the paper takes the opposite tack, calling the result an opportunity for more research - and not less – into the risks of GMO agriculture. "The moratorium gives us the time to learn more and take some of the tension out of the debate," it added.

For the NZZ, the vote is bad news. "It harms the dynamic nature of Swiss research and our economy," it wrote, warning that scientists and investors could leave the country.

Le Temps said the ban was a warning signal for researchers.

"Switzerland had always been favourable to scientists until now," it added. "It took a temporary coalition of sceptics to overturn this tradition so clearly."

Sunday shopping

A vote to allow limited Sunday trading in some stations and airports narrowly carried the day at the weekend. Many editorials pointed out that major urban centres – where shopping on Sundays is not unusual - gave the edge to the "yes" vote.

Zurich's Blick tabloid said that the decision confirmed that on Sundays "a station is the centre of public activity".

But Geneva's Tribune de Genève warned that those opposed to Sunday trading have probably reached their true target, which is to halt further liberalisation of the country's labour laws.

For many newspapers, the close result showed that the Swiss are not prepared to give up on Sunday as a day of rest, even if they admit change is inevitable.

"We may not be able to stop this evolution," wrote Neuchâtel's L'Express and L'Impartial, "but we can expect strong opposition to generalised Sunday trading".


Key facts

A proposal for a moratorium on GMOs in Swiss agriculture was accepted by 55.7% of voters and all 26 cantons.
It is only the 15th people's initiative in modern Swiss history to be passed at the ballot box.
The revised labour law, aimed at easing restrictions on Sunday shopping at railway stations and airports, won the approval of 50.6% of voters, mainly in urban regions.
Turnout was average at 42%.

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