Opinions - 25.10.2023 - 08:43 

HSG political scientist: "Swiss politics will still not solve the critical challenges"

What do the 2023 national elections mean for the country's political culture? Patrick Emmenegger, HSG professor of political science, talks in an interview about the increasing polarisation and related problems.
Patrick Emmenegger, what are your key findings from the national elections?

The urban-rural divide was further cemented - the cities are red, the countryside green. This is no surprise, but this now widening gap shows that political polarisation has fully arrived in Switzerland. Election Sunday has strengthened the forces on the right and left ends of the political spectrum, while the moderate parties Die Mitte, FDP, GLP and EVP lost overall. The consequences are a mutual mistrust of the different political and demographic groups and related communication problems. The left-wing National Councillor from the countryside and the right-wing National Councillor from the city are becoming a dying breed. Politicians who seek compromise instead of making demands, who can build bridges between the worlds, are becoming rarer. There are hardly any moderate representatives left in the political parties SP and SVP. This certainly does not increase the problem-solving competence of Swiss politics. The election campaign was symptomatic, in which the discussions hardly went beyond slogans. 

Can you elaborate on that?

Two examples: The SVP wants a tougher migration policy, the SP wants to put the brakes on rising costs for the population. These were the main statements of both parties. However, none of them presented any real solutions as to how this should be implemented in concrete terms. Other central challenges facing Switzerland were not seriously discussed. I include, for example, climate change and the associated development of a supply of sustainable energy, the costs of social security that are getting out of hand, or the question of whether Switzerland's neutrality is still appropriate in the current threat situation with Russia. And of course Switzerland's relationship with the EU, a dossier in which no progress has been made for years. 

Switzerland likes to invoke the compromise that is at the core of its political culture. Is that now in the past?

First of all, it has to be said that concordance was actually only introduced out of practical constraints. In its early days, the Swiss federal state was a one-party system totally dominated by the liberal-radical movement, the predecessor of today's FDP. Now the fact is that in Switzerland, with its direct democracy, two chambers of parliament and strong federalism, it is possible to block many political processes. Therefore, from the point of view of those in power, it was and is more sensible to integrate minorities into the system. In fact, however, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find compromises in a polarised political landscape. In the past, the moderate parties sought a compromise and made offers to the fringe parties on the basis of this compromise in order to integrate them. But just now, the moderate parties have lost once more seats combined, which makes finding workable compromises more difficult. Moreover, the centre party scored with an election campaign that was more focused on profiling and polarisation. The FDP, on the other hand, was tame and made losses. The FDP will learn from the centre party and is likely to focus more on demarcation in the future as well. 

What does the new balance of power mean for realpolitik?

Even if the SVP is the winner of the elections, it cannot simply rule the roost in parliament. On the one hand, the FDP is not a reliable partner for them, since the two parties hold different opinions on many issues. The Red-Green camp also remains strong. Moreover, both sides still need the moderate centre for majorities, even though it has once again lost seat shares. So not much will change in the current mode of Swiss politics; the system remains susceptible to blockades. Fundamentally, Swiss politics works primarily reactively and deals with problems selectively. Forward-looking policy-making remains scarce. In addition, the Federal Council lacks any leadership on many issues and sometimes appears dysfunctional. But of course, politics must always adapt to external developments. That is why new dynamics and thus political alliances could emerge that are not yet foreseeable.

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