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Civil Service for All – Initiative submitted in Bern

  • By The Swiss Times
  • 27 October 2023

Whether forest maintenance, army or civilian service: every young person in Switzerland should perform a service for the community and the environment. This is what the Service Citoyen Initiative demands. It wants to initiate a debate about future compulsory service.

Civil Service for All – Initiative submitted in Bern
source: Keystone/SDA

With the initiative “For a committed Switzerland (Service-Citoyen-Initiative)”, the initiators want to supplement Article 59 of the Constitution, which regulates military and alternative service. On Thursday, the initiative was submitted to the Federal Chancellery in Bern, with 107,764 signatures.

The committee is confident that it has gathered enough valid signatures thanks to a final spurt, campaign leader Noémie Roten told media representatives. A professional campaign and payment for collecting part of the signatures were necessary.

Army or militia service

According to the will of the initiators, all citizens should perform a service for the general public and the environment. This means service in the army or equivalent militia service. The target level of the armed forces and civil defense must remain guaranteed.

The initiative is justified by the fact that with increasing internationalization, there are more and more people who traditionally participate little in the militia system and are excluded from local government offices.

Today, young Swiss men are required to serve in the army or civilian service, or in civil defense. According to the Sotomo generation barometer, 74 percent of the population is in favor of a service citoyen for all, write the initiators.

Initiate comprehensive reform

A further development of the compulsory service system has been blocked for years, they say, and its focus is on securing the army’s stocks. Instead of “optimizing the needs of the people”, a comprehensive reform is needed. The militia system should be made fit for challenges such as pandemics, wars, climate crisis, polarization of society, underprovision, violence, and loneliness.

The initiative does not want to exempt foreigners living in Switzerland from compulsory service. The extent to which they should serve should be regulated by law.

The initiators also want to enshrine in the constitution an income replacement for all service personnel. Here, too, the details are to be laid down in the law. Those who do not perform the prescribed service should owe a substitute levy for military and alternative service not performed, as is the case today.

Members of parliament on board

According to the constitution, if someone suffers health damage or dies while serving in the armed forces or in alternative service, he or she is entitled to appropriate support from the federal government. The initiative wants to establish this for all those who perform civic service.

Several members of parliament support the initiative. Among them are the future Zurich SP National Councillor Islam Alijai and SP National Councillor Emmanuel Amoos (VS), National Councillors Maja Riniker (FDP/AG) and Corina Gredig (GLP/ZH), Council of States member Charles Juillard (center/JU) and Council of States member Johanna Gapany (FDP/FR).

The association Servicecitoyen.ch was founded in Geneva in 2013. Its partners for the initiative include GLP, EVP and Pirate Party, as well as Young GLP, Young Center, Young EVP, Center Party Geneva, FDP Geneva, FDP Neuchâtel and the democracy platform Wecollect.

SP speaks of compulsory service

The SP Switzerland rejects the initiative and speaks in a statement of a “poorly paid forced service for all young people”. The request is problematic from a human rights and trade union perspective.

The Federal Council is considering two variants for the future compulsory service. One would combine civilian service and civil defense, while the other would extend compulsory service to women. According to the Federal Council, however, only as many people would be recruited as the army and civil defense need.

©Keystone/SDA

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