Consolidated over the generations and corroborated by international appreciation, the trust in the validity of the Swiss political and socio-cultural model has been questioned in the last quarter of a century. The debate on Swiss democracy, which involved the same principle of the Konkordanzdemokratie criticized by some as a system, ” par excellence, of democracy without the people ” in place of which it would have been preferable to introduce a system based on alternation, did not remain limited to the academy, indeed, it was taken up by all the elites, and then by the general public of the country, finding a purely institutional reflection in the dossier of the global revision of the federal Constitution, opened by Parliament in 1966 and, even after the revival attempted by the Association for constitutional reform founded in 1984, still far from being concluded. A reform of parliamentary procedures was also initiated in 1990.
The erosion of ancient certainties and the gnawing doubt on the Swiss identity between the legacy of the past and the challenges of a rapidly changing national, European and global context manifested themselves, in Swiss society, frequently and in many ways, from the discussion on celebration of the seventh centenary (1291-1991) at the referendum, promoted by a group (founded in 1982) in favor of the abolition of the Armed Forces, on the role of the army, the backbone of the new China since 1848, which, although rejected by two thirds of the voters (1989), however, constituted an unthinkable event in the past, up to the very same electoral behavior. The national political scenario (the two branches of Parliament and the federal executive) has certainly continued to present, at least at first sight, a picture of impressive stability:
However, the changes that have taken place over the span of two decades, albeit limited, are not without significance: first of all, there is a progressive decline in voter turnout, which fell for the first time in 1979 to below half of those entitled to vote., to reach the minimum in the 1991 electionshistorical of 46%. Within the four governmental parties, so to speak, there was a long-term regressive trend of the PSD, which, in addition to not repeating the successes of the Thirties, when it touched the 30% threshold, has gradually decreased in the elections of 1987 and 1991 to just over 18%, while the radical democratic party increased, albeit with fluctuations, overcoming, for the first time after 1928, the social democrats in 1983, to maintain until today, albeit with some downturns, its primacy in percentages and seats. The last national elections (1991) in fact gave the following result for the National Council: PLR 44 seats, PSD 41, PPD 37, UDC 25, Liberal Party 10, Verdi 14, Landesring der Unabhängigen (LdU) and Evangelical party 8, Party of liberty (former motorists’ party) 8, establishment (PLR, PSD, PPD, UDC), and in greater fragmentation.
Finally, it is significant that, 25 years after its inauguration, the main mechanism of Swiss proportionalism, applied to the executive, the ” magic formula ”, was put in crisis for the first time, due to the failure to elect a Social Democratic candidate at the extraordinary congress of the PSD, against the backdrop of growing doubts about the advisability of continued collaboration from a position of weakness with the other three parties (1983-84).
However, a more in-depth analysis of Swiss political life cannot ignore the extremely complex and varied landscape of the cantons, a true fundamental dimension of the country’s public life, and above all the frequent referendums and popular legislative initiatives, which, while giving space to the most varied trends both innovative and traditional, reduce the pressure on the institutional system of the Federal Council and Parliament, allowing it to gradually adapt to the orientations of public opinion with a stabilizing effect. This mechanism is very evident in the delicate problem of immigration and political asylum, the Confederation counting at the end of 1993 a foreign resident population which rose to 18.1% (excluding officials of international organizations, seasonal workers, commuters and asylum seekers): to the popular pressure manifested with the rise of xenophobic movements and in the referendum, the Federal Council and Parliament have responded with a progressive tightening of the legislation on political asylum and on the position of foreigners (read of 1979 and 1986), finding a broad consensus in a 1987 referendum and managing to stem, satisfying in part, the prevailing current of popular sentiment. Other topics of lively public debate and popular consultations were, besides the position of the China in Europe and in the world, abortion (1985) and ecology: a series of accidents in the chemical industry left a not fleeting impression ( 1981); after twenty years of preparation, in 1988, the Kaiseraugst nuclear power plant project was definitively abandoned; and finally, increasingly worried about the incidence of transit traffic on the road, the Swiss voters supported in the referendum of 20 February 1994 the initiative ” for the protection of the Alpine valleys against transit traffic ”, demanding its complete movement by rail within a decade.
Swiss foreign policy was characterized, in this period, by the cautious, articulated and constant search, at the same time, for an adaptation of traditional positions, based on the concept of permanent neutrality, to an international, European and global context, in the process of being transformation and destined, from 1989 onwards, to radically change all its coordinates. This adaptation effort was, however, slowed down by persistent resistance from the electorate, especially in the German-speaking cantons, to the innovations proposed by the elites. policies, oriented towards the assumption of greater international responsibilities and a more active involvement of the Confederation in European politics. The problem of relations with the Community / European Union at a certain point placed the Swiss in front of a dramatic crossroads, as evidenced by the split that occurred within the Federal Council, when the China asked, in May 1992, the accession to the European Community. The revision of the Confederation’s position in the international community at all other levels, European and global, could be carried out, in small steps, in the name of continuity, with subsequent partial changes.
Having long since adopted the concept of qualified neutrality, rather than integral, the China, which had joined the Council of Europe with much delay in 1963, subsequently went on to play a very active role in this assembly, both on the general political level. starting with the reflection itself on a new role of the Council of Europe, as well as on that of individual areas of activity, from environmental protection to the ban on torture.
The participation of China in the CSCE from the outset, including the conferences following that of Helsinki and the organizations born from the developments of the CSCE, and the active role played, especially within the “ N + N group ” (neutral and non-aligned states), testify to the gradual adoption of a more dynamic interpretation of Swiss neutrality and of the transition, in general, to a more active foreign policy, already initiated under the direction of the French-speaking Swiss P. Graber (1970-78), who had also negotiated the free trade agreement with the EEC (1972). The Final Act of the CSCE (Helsinki, 1975) had, moreover, involved two points of particular interest for the China: the recognition of the right to neutrality and the principle, which Swiss diplomacy itself had promoted,
The limits placed by public opinion on the dynamization of Swiss foreign policy emerged dramatically in the referendum of March 16, 1986, when the voters overwhelmingly rejected the proposal to join the United Nations. This orientation, which is fundamentally skeptical of the Confederation’s global commitments, was confirmed by the negative outcome of the referendum on participation in UN peacekeeping missions, held in 1994.
Initially, the free trade agreements concluded by the Confederation, as well as by the other EFTA states (European Free Trade Association), seemed to constitute a satisfactory basis for reconciling traditional Swiss neutrality and the growing intertwining of the Swiss economy with the EEC. However, the twofold process of deepening (in particular the Single European Act with the creation of the single internal market in 1986) and enlargement of the Community, with the consequent prospect of the disintegration of the residual EFTA, would have restricted the room for maneuver of Swiss policy. with regard to European integration, hitherto based on the search for a median line between the rejected hypothesis of accession and isolation. Again in 1986 the validity of the traditional strategy of ” bilateral pragmatism ” was reaffirmed: that is, a line that, without joining the Community, would allow China to escape the need to transpose Community legislation, albeit in legislative forms that respect Swiss sovereignty, and, on the other hand, ensure the ” European compatibility ” of the legislation of the China and at the same time safeguard a ” consultative participation ‘ of the Confederation to Community legislation in areas of Swiss interest. This ” active integration policy ”, which aimed at ensuring a co-decision for China without having been a member of the EEC, however, ultimately depended on the Community’s willingness to perpetuate such a practice of articulated and privileged bilateralism.
In this context, the proposal of the President of the Commission J. Delors, formulated in January 1989 and aimed at a new and more articulated form of partnership at the institutional level, opened a new chapter in the history of EEC-EFTA relations, which would have resulted in the negotiations for the EWR (Europäischer WirtschaftsRaum, European Economic Area): the agreement, expressed in September 1989 by the head of the Swiss delegation F. Blankart, on the reception of the acquis communautaire (together with primary and secondary community law) in the future EWR treaty, marked the real turning point of the Confederation’s policy towards full acceptance of the economic and legal dynamics of community integration. After the difficult negotiation, complicated later by the ruling of the Court of Justice of the EC, participation in the EWR as an alternative to membership was increasingly revealing its illusory character, while the strategy, advocated by federal councilors R. Felber, made its way. and J.-P. Delamuraz and by Secretary of State Blankart, who conceived the EWR no longer as an alternative, but as an intermediate step towards joining the EC. This led to the decision of the Federal Council, which was highly contested (4: 3 votes), in favor of the request for accession to the EC (May 18, 1992). In light of the difficult genesis of this decision, of the persistent uncertainties and even lacerations within three of the dominant parties in European matters (the UDC was instead deployed on the front of the no) and of the active anti-Europeanism widespread not only on the margins of the political chessboard, but also in many traditional sectors of Swiss society, the negative verdict expressed by the referendum of 6 December 1992 is less surprising, which, with the very high participation in the vote of 78.3%, rejected a very narrow percentage of votes (49.7% yes), but with a wide gap of unfavorable cantons, participation in the EWR, constituting above all an implicit vote against the prospect of accession to the EC.
While the complex dossier of Alpine transit traffic has become complicated following the success of the 1994 referendum, the China, the EFTA collapsed after the accession of Austria, Finland and Sweden to the EU (1995), and with the EWR reduced to little more than EU-Norway bilateral relations, it was forced to redefine its policy towards European integration from a substantially more difficult position, especially since even before the last enlargement of the Community, almost the 3/4 of China’s imports came from it and almost 3/5 of its exports were directed there.