Friday, June 14, 2013

Bern

Standard bearer of 1542
showing the heraldic bear for Bern.
On June 4, I visited Bern, the Swiss capital. The Badische Zeitung and the Baden-Württemberg State Center for Political Education had once again joined their efforts this time arranging a visit to the Bundeshaus (seat of the federal chambers) and for discussions with two Nationalräte (deputies); Martin Naef from the Sozialdemokratische Partei der Schweiz (SP), the Swiss Socialist Party, and Christoph Blocher from the Schweizerische Volkspartei (SVP), a Swiss Tea-Party.

Switzerland is known for its direct democracy where Volkesstimme (the voice of the people) can overturn decisions of parliament and government through a referendum and an initiative. Just 50000 signatures out of a population of 8 million are needed to launch a referendum against a newly passed law proposing at the same time a new text. Once the referendum is adopted by the majority of the people and that of the 23 cantons the result will topple any decision by parliament.

The power of the Swiss parliament is somewhat restrained. We had a visit to the Nationalrat and I took the photo. The speaker Maya Graf (back in the middle) in green had apparently noted me talking to an usherette. Thirty seconds later another usherette approached me from behind and confiscated my camera. However, I was happy to have taken the photo of the painting I had so far seen only on television. It shows Lake Lucerne.
On the government bench on the right hand side the Minister of Environment, Transportation, and Energy, the attractive Doris Leuthard dressed in white, is reading. The debate was about an initiative concerning the further restriction of transport of goods by road. Many of the deputies were working on their laptops.
An even stronger weapon is the Volksinitiative (an initiative taken by the people) to change the Federal Constitution. It needs more than 100000 signatures and the initiative is decided by a popular vote. So paragraphs about animal protection found their way into the Constitution. Many of these sometimes hefty initiatives - like limiting the number of foreigners seeking work and lodging in prosperous Switzerland - fail because the government hastens to make a more balanced or watered down counter proposal that in most cases is then adopted in a popular vote by the majority of the people and the Cantons.

Our group got a lesson in direct democracy and the question always arises why we do not have more of a direct democracy in Germany? The argument frequently brought up is: National referenda work for a population of 8 million but are impractical for a population ten times as big. I rather think the reason why a more direct democratic system works in Switzerland is the art of consensus. All major parties are presented in the Swiss government composed of seven Bundesräte (ministers) where much care is taken considering and incorporating the views of minorities in their decisions. Nearly all the time parliament and government find a compromise satisfying the majority of the people without hurting the minority too much. Happy Switzerland!

In the 1990s the rightwinger and multimillionaire Christoph Blocher with his slogan Switzerland for the Swiss made the Schweizerische Volkspartei  the strongest party in parliament with 29% of the votes. That not only gave the SVP two seats in the seven-member government but in 2003 he himself was elected Bundesrat. For four years he showed his Janus face forcing himself into a consensus with his colleagues from the other parties represented in the government but making right-wing opposition in parliament. He, the deep-rooted Swiss, clearly overstepped the line of consensus such that in 2007 parliament did not re-elect him. Now he is back in the Nationalrat as a deputy for the Canton of Zurich.

Inactive Blocher leaving parliament after his defeat in 2007.
Christoph Blocher is an intelligent person, a master in debates. My question as to how he regards the future of the Swiss Franc with the National Bank printing money ad libitum - known in the US as easing - to keep the exchange rate versus the euro at a low 1.25 CHF he did not answer. Instead he described in length the other countries and the European Bank increasing the amount of circulating money too, crticizing in particular the Bank of Japan. All this I already knew.

Active Blocher with charm and rhetorical power debating with us, the people
from the big canton in the north. Dr. Michel Wehner from the
Baden-Württemberg State Center for Political Education,
 our efficient guide, conducted the debate professionally.
The relations between Switzerland and Germany are good. Although the Swiss tend to limit their foreign population they import specialists, e. g., medical doctors and engineers from Germany. The brainpower that leaves my country for the better pay in Switzerland corresponds to a transfer of one billion euros per year counting the money Germany invested into the education of those leaving.

The major issue of disagreement is Swiss banking secrecy. The black money German tax cheaters have bunkered in Swiss banks is estimated to amount to a couple of billion euros. A painstakingly negotiated compromise between the two governments about more transparency in the Swiss bank sector was eventually accepted by the German Bundestag (congress) but turned down in the German Bundesrat (senate). So we are back to square one whereas the US presently seems more successful at imposing a Lex USA on to Switzerland with respect to the money of American citizens in Switzerland.

The Bundesplatz (Federal Square) in front of the Bundeshaus in Bern should rather be
called Bank Square. All big Swiss Banks have their seats and lobbyists on this square.
In the back the UBS is flying the Bern flag.
Bertoldo V Duci Zaeringae conditori urbis Bernae. Bertold V founded Bern in 1191
whereas Freiburg had become a city with Konrad, his great-uncle, already in 1120.
E bellua casae sit futura nomen
Legend has it that the first animal sighted should give the new place its name.
It was a bear.
A lazy bear on display in Bern's bear pit.
Old town hall built from 1406 to 1417, beautifully restored .

1 comment:

  1. I remember having to go through security like an airport and I think I may of checked my camera ahead of time, this was 2 years ago. I could see if it was like Washington D.C. where you might take a picture of inactivity! Here is Madison you can take all the pictures you want (maybe that's when the're not in session. Anyway sometimes it's fun to get a special shot!

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