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The Swiss federal election Swiss People’s Party top poll again as Green Liberals make advances 27 October 2011

The conservative, Eurosceptic Swiss People’s Party (SVP/UDC) remains the largest party in Switzerland following Sunday’s federal election, despite losing seven seats in the National Council, the lower house of parliament. It now has 62 seats in the 200-seat chamber. The SVP vote dropped by 2.4 percentage points compared to the last federal election in 2007, to 26.2%. The Green Liberal Party (GLP/PVL), founded in 2007, leapt from just three seats in the last parliament to twelve in the new legislature; the Conservative Democratic Party (BDP/PBD), which was created in 2008, won nine seats. These parties finished sixth and seventh respectively. The only other party to gain in terms of share of the vote was the Ticino League (LdT), an isolationist, national conservative political party that sits with the SVP/UDC and which has links to the separatist Northern League in Italy. It finished ninth, doubling its representation from one to two seats. The other five parties represented in parliament all saw their share of the vote shrink, and only the Social Democrats (SPS/PSS) gained seats (from 42 to 46 seats). FDP – The Liberals (FDP/PLR) came third (35 seats, down four), with the Christian Democratic People’s Party (CVP/PDC) fourth with 28 seats, down three. The Greens (GPS/PES) went from 20 seats to 15, finishing fifth. The Evangelical People’s Party (EVP/PEV) kept its two seats. whether the BDP would maintain Ms Widmer-Schlumpf’s seat in the Council.

Background A changing political scene The 2011 election campaign was much less intense than the two previous campaigns (in 2003 and 2007). In 2003 the election led to a starker polarisation in Swiss politics that also changed the composition of the Swiss Government - the Federal Council, with the Christian Democratic People’s Party (CVP/PDC) losing one seat on the seven-member Council to the Swiss People’s Party (SVP/UDC). With this the CVP lost its hitherto strong position in the Federal Council. The shift in the Swiss Government towards the centre/right manifested itself in the election of Christoph Blocher, the right-wing populist figurehead of the SVP/UDC, to the Federal Council. This act made significant waves in the hitherto tranquil and consensual political system in Switzerland. In 2007 the dominant issue was whether or not Mr Blocher would remain in the Federal Council. The SVP set the agenda for the campaign and declared the elections the acid test for or against Mr Blocher’s continued role in office. To focus on a single person was a novelty in Swiss politics and in 2007 it led to what was probably the toughest electoral campaign Switzerland had seen in decades. Although the SVP’s share of the vote rose in 2007, Mr Blocher was voted out of the Federal Council by the Federal Assembly. Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf was elected to the Federal Council instead – something that saw her expelled from the SVP, of which Mr Blocher was unofficial leader. She became a member of the newly-founded Conservative Democratic Party (BDP/PBD) and as a result the Federal Council no longer reflected the strength of the parties in the national parliament.

The 2011 campaign was, however, far less emotional than those of 2003 or 2007. This was contrary to expectations and was particularly astounding given the prominence in public discourse of the themes of nuclear energy and the environment. The ‘Fukushima effect’ lasted, to the advantage of the Green Liberal Party (GLP/PVL). The party seemed to offer possible solutions regarding the future of energy supply for Switzerland – and was rewarded handsomely, with its representation quadrupling. Nevertheless, the targeted phase-out from nuclear energy will remain a dominant political theme in Switzerland in the next two years. It is clear that the producing industries - such as the chemical, steel, cement and paper industries - are dependent on a reliable and cost-effective electricity supply. The campaign of the SVP, the largest and financially strongest party in Switzerland, focused on its tried and tested issues: migration, criticism of the European Union and public security. The party cleverly addressed the problems for Switzerland of the free movement of persons with the EU. This is a subject that will concern Swiss politics and in particular Switzerland’s international economy in the next few years. Multinational Swiss companies such as Novartis, Roche, Nestle, UBS, CS, ABB, Holcim, Swiss Re, Zurich, Adecco and Glencore are dependent on skilled personnel from the EU. In the electoral campaign the SVP did not shy away from using provocative slogans in its advertisements (see photo, left) in order to raise attention to its policies.

Campaign analysis Fukushima, Europe and exchange rates dominate the campaign

The SVP was ubiqitous in the paid media. Nevertheless the difference compared with previous campaigns was evident as Mr Blocher, the mastermind and rhetorical talisman of the party, was absent in the campaign. Mr Blocher ran for a seat in the Council of States and so could not be too present in the general election campaign. Many other key figures in the SVP stood for the Council of States as well, which took some bite out of the party’s campaign.

The 2011 election campaign was also strongly influenced by the upcoming election of the Federal Council. The central question was

Both the centrist parties, the Christian Democratic People’s Party (CVP/PDC) and FDP - The Liberals (FDP/PLR), confined themselves to

Contact Robert Mack Chair, EMEA Public Affairs Practice

Mirko Genrina Burson-Marsteller Zurich

Burson-Marsteller EMEA Public Affairs Practice 37 Square de Meeûs, 1000 Brussels • Tel +32 2 743 66 11 • Fax +32 2 733 66 11 •

David O’Leary Director, Burson-Marsteller Brussels

The results in detail Party




Share (%)





Social Democrats





FDP – The Liberals





Christian Democratic People’s Party










Green Liberal Party





Conservative Democratic Party





Evangelical People’s Party









Swiss People’s Party

Ticino League Turnout: 49.1%

running conventional election campaigns centered on their traditional issues. The CVP focused on family-related themes while the FDP concentrated on themes regarding the Swiss economy, such as the strong Swiss franc. However, the FDP’s policies were heavily criticised in particular by large parts of the Swiss economy. Even though there is general agreement that the exchange rate of the Swiss franc to the euro is a problem, the subsidies proposed by Federal Councillor Johann N. Schneider-Ammann (FDP) were not seen as a solution. In particular, export-oriented industries - such as the mechanical and electrical engineering industries - need a more favorable exchange rate. The responsibility for exchange rates, however, lies with the central bank. Whether it can maintain a lower exchange rate for the franc against the euro for any length of time will become apparent in the coming months. The success of these measures evidently also depends on Europe’s ability to manage the crisis – an ability about which Switzerland and others are sceptical. Results analysis No great change in the polls… Generally the strength of the Left and Right in Switzerland stays about the same as a result of the election. Meanwhile it is becoming increasingly difficult for the centrist parties to communicate their nuanced and complex positions to the public. There are many reasons for this development, including the failure or inability of voters to engage with complex subjects. The centrist parties will have to work together in order gain strength, or risk being crushed from both sides of the debate. A further reason is the emergence of new parties such as the Conservative Democratic Party (BDP/PBD) and the Green Liberal Party

The Swiss political system – a case apart Switzerland has a two-chamber parliament. The National Council (200 members, representing the Swiss people) and the Council of States (46 members, representing the cantons) together make up the Federal Assembly. This body is the legislative power in the federal state. The cantons each send two representatives, with the exception of Obwalden, Nidwalden, Basel-Stadt, Basel-Landschaft, Appenzell Ausserrhoden and Appenzell Innerrhoden, which each send one. The Federal Council is the seven-member executive body, elected by the Federal Assembly for a four-year term. The next time election to the Council is on 14 December 2011. The so-called ‘magic formula’ divides the seven seats between the four ruling parties. The formula was first applied in 1959. The formula is not an official law, but an agreement between members of this rather large coalition of four parties.

(GLP/PVL). Whereas the BDP does not present any new concepts and is mostly orientated towards the Christian Democratic People's Party (CVP/PDC), the GLP combines liberal positions with ecological issues. This mix is very well received, particularly by voters in urban areas. Next steps …but changes in the Federal Council? The elections demonstrate that the make-up of the Federal Council does not correspond to a ‘magic formula’. On 14 December, when the new Federal Council will be elected, the parliament will have to make the difficult choice of either removing an incumbent Federal Councillor or breaking with the much-praised Swiss ‘concordance system’ – which would entitle the Swiss People’s Party (SVP/UDC) to two seats. The Federal Assembly is already being put under pressure by the media because Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf of the Conservative Democratic Party (BDP/PBD) is very popular with parts of the population. If a further member of the SVP were to join the Federal Council the centreleft parties would face a much more conservative government. In order to save Ms Widmer-Schlumpf’s seat, the BDP may merge with the Christian Democratic People's Party (CVP/PDC), giving her a sufficient power-base in parliament. Another option would be a change from a mathematical to a ‘content’ concordance. This, however, would constitute a radical change towards a competitive system. The election of the Federal Council will develop dynamics of its own. The members are elected according to seniority, which allows for changing alliances and balances of power after each round of voting. The next two months promise to be interesting and test the robustness of the current system. EU impact A result met with indifference The victory of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP/UDC) has stirred little reaction in EU political circles, especially at a time when Europe’s leaders have been preoccupied with the euro crisis. However, the possible election of a second SVP member of the Federal Council is unlikely to be seen as a positive development in the eyes of many in Brussels given the party’s hostility to the EU – notably in its views on immigration and the euro. One of the party’s election posters in the French-speaking party of Switzerland showed a condom on a European flag, promising ‘protection from the European virus’. Depending on the make-up of the Federal Council, there could be further moves to simplify Switzerland’s relations with the EU. Currently, the country takes part in the single market – and in other initiatives such as the Schengen free movement area – but only on a case-by-case basis via a series of international treaties. One mooted proposal is for Switzerland to take the same approach as Norway, where EU decisions in agreed areas are automatically implemented into national law. However, Switzerland’s tradition of direct democracy is unlikely to allow for such an ‘automatic’ approach. Switzerland is likely to continue some form of simplified case-by-case approach – something that, since the Lisbon Treaty, will require reinforced engagement with the European Parliament, which now has to approve such deals. EU membership is not really on the agenda. Instead, the bilateral relationship is likely to focus on the campaign issues – immigration, notably of skilled workers from the EU, and the currency and exchange rate difficulties. Original text by Theo Zijdenbos, Curdin Mark and Mirko Gentina, BursonMarsteller Switzerland, Zurich. For further information please contact, or


The Swiss federal election  

Swiss People’s Party top poll again as Green Liberals make advances The conservative, Eurosceptic Swiss People’s Party (SVP/UDC) remains the...

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