In a rare victory for democracy and common sense, 92 percent of Swiss voters have rejected green taxes in a referendum which took place on Sunday. The proposal, put forward by the Green Liberal Party of Switzerland, had the backing of the Green Party of Switzerland, the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace Switzerland. (h/t WUWT)
The party proposed to scrap VAT and replace it with a green tax on petroleum, gas, coal and uranium, hoping to fuel a shift to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar which would be tax exempt. VAT, which is set at 8 percent for the majority of goods, currently yields CHF22 billion (£14.6 billion), or more than one third of the annual federal budget. Food and the tourism sector enjoy reduced rates.
The proposal was heavily opposed by the federal government, parliament, the 26 cantons and the business community, all of whom warned against enacting massive reforms to the country’s economy when the financial outlook, locally and globally, is already uncertain, according to swissinfo.
Martin Bäumle, president of the Liberal Green Party, conceded defeat early on, saying: “It was obviously too big a leap. But I’m convinced that the initiative helped put the issue of an ecological tax reform on the political agenda.”
Tiana Angelina Moser, a Liberal Green parliamentarian, said that she was disappointed by the scale of the rejection, but insisted that efforts must continue to reduce carbon emissions and shift to greater use of renewable energy sources. She added that defeat proved that economic uncertainty, paired with a strong Swiss franc, had made voters unwilling to consider massive tax reforms at this time.
However, discussions are already taking place within the Swiss Parliament to shift towards a green agenda. Parliamentarians have already decided to phase our nuclear energy by 2034, and are introducing a system of subsidies for energy-saving technologies.
Some of the plans being introduced include elements of the proposal put forward by the Liberal Greens, albeit undertaken in more incremental steps. It is thought that an increase on the rate of tax on petrol and heating oil will be introduced, for example, offset against cuts to health premium payments.
Finance Minister Eveline-Widmer-Schlumpf said: “approval of the initiative would have posed a major challenge for the government and the country’s social security system. The majority of people are sensitive towards energy issues but prefer a realistic step-by-step approach.”
Political scientist Claude Longchamp of the GfS Bern research and polling institute has underlined that uncertainty over the economic outlook probably had something to do with the scale of the defeat, saying: “Voters probably felt it is the wrong time for political experiments. They may also have shown a certain disinterest in radical initiatives.”
Under the Swiss democratic system, any citizen can challenge any law proposed by parliament, or make a change to the Constitution, providing they receive enough support. Approximately four times a year votes are called on a whole range of referenda (which require 50,000 signatures to go forward) and citizens initiatives (which require 100,000 signatures).
Since the system was introduced in 1891, 198 initiatives have been rejected at the ballot box, whilst 22 were supported by the electorate. Twelve referenda were held in Switzerland in 2014, of which only four were passed, including a proposal to ban convicted paedophiles from working with children for life, which secured 63.5 percent of the vote.
A proposal to set quotas for immigration also squeaked through with 50.3 percent of the vote. The result was compared by some commentators to the 1992 referendum in which 50.3 percent of the voting public rejected membership of the European Economic Area.
But although previous ballots proposing green changes to the tax system have been rejected in the past, few proposals over the years have been so decisively dismissed.