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Contributed by Caroline Thonger


The Second Homes Initiative Unravelling the implications of the “Lex Franz Weber”.


PRO: The “Yes” vote The initiative was originally launched to counter the problem of so-called “cold beds”, where communities are affected by large proportions of local properties sitting empty for most of the year. Franz Weber has also been at the spearhead of a movement to “keep the Alps green”. According to his website, his main objectives in launching his initiative are: • to preserve the Swiss environment • to protect villages and their inhabitants • to safeguard unique landscapes and their fauna.

n Sunday 11 March the Swiss confederation went to the polls to vote in five ballots. The headlines in the city papers were dominated by the proposal to increase paid vacations from four to six weeks, which was rejected. But the most hotly discussed topic in Swiss tourist destinations, especially in the Alpine ski resorts, was the initiative launched by Franz Weber. In Switzerland all citizens have the right to petition the government for a referendum to amend the Constitution. They have 18 months to collect the requisite 100,000 signatures. To be most effective, the petition is usually presented as a precisely formulated text, whose wording can no longer be altered by parliament or the government.


Starting his career in journalism, Basel-born Franz Weber is a seasoned animal rights activist and environmental campaigner. Now well into his 80s, and assisted by his daughter, he launched his popular initiative against the “invasive construction of second homes” some five years ago. This was presented this year to the Swiss people, in the referendum on 11 March. Popular initiatives in Switzerland can only originate from the people, and never from either parliament or the government. They are therefore regarded as the driving force behind direct democracy. With their eye on lucrative tourism revenue into Switzerland, however, in this case the Swiss government was firmly against Franz Weber’s initiative. The people, on the other hand, came to a different conclusion. The result of the referendum, by a very narrow margin of 50.6%, was “yes”. So what are the arguments for and against? The wording Even if a referendum has been accepted, actually enacting the new law is a complex process. To work in practice, statutes and ordnances have to

Idyllic Isenfluh


be enacted or changed. Franz Weber’s principal amendment to the current law states that: “Second homes comprise a maximum of 20% of the total dwelling houses and habitable area of each commune.” What has now been dubbed the “Lex Franz Weber” will therefore have little impact on the major Swiss cities. Many communes in the popular tourist destinations, however, in particular in the cantons of Graubünden, Ticino and Valais, have already exceeded this limit. This article aims to give an objective presentation of a complex issue, and is written without prejudice. The following sources were used: Fondation Franz Weber / Helvetia Nostra Le Nouvelliste online Laura Latham, New York Times, 16 March 2012

The Local (Swiss news online) quoting the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) The Swiss Confederation: A Brief Guide (2011)

One typical comment in favour of the initiative came from a Swiss contact in Basel: “I voted yes! And I am convinced we must do something against these houses standing empty for eleven months of the year. We need to decide about the form of tourism we want. I think we should invest more into hotels, from one to five stars.” CONTRA: The “No” vote As mentioned above, three of the cantons most reliant on tourism – Graubünden, Ticino and Valais – all voted “no”, but interestingly only by very narrow margins. Many of the communes in tourist areas – especially in the ski resorts – fear the negative impact the “Lex Franz Weber” will have on the local economy. A typical example is the Val d’Anniviers, a mountain community located halfway between Martigny and Zermatt, whose municipal council launched a spirited attack against the initiative. Listed among the objections are: • most of the local inhabitants live directly or indirectly from tourism • in mountain areas, the concept of “economic diversification” is an illusion • the initiative threatens local jobs, especially in construction and the skilift system • the communes have already imposed their own moratorium on the construction of second homes.

Hello Switzerland for Expatriates, Summer Edition 2012  

Hello Switzerland is written by expats for expats living in Switzerland. Designed mainly for English speakers, the magazine contains feature...

Hello Switzerland for Expatriates, Summer Edition 2012  

Hello Switzerland is written by expats for expats living in Switzerland. Designed mainly for English speakers, the magazine contains feature...