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Federal Council rejects citizens’ service initiative without counter-proposal

Updated at 08 Mar 2024 11:40 am

The Federal Council rejects the popular initiative for a citizens' service and does not want a counter-proposal to the service-citizen initiative submitted last October. It made this decision on Friday.

The popular initiative "For a committed Switzerland (Service-citoyen initiative)" demands that Swiss citizens perform a service for the general public and the environment. This could either be service in the army or other equivalent and recognized militia service.

Conflict with ban on forced labor

The target number of soldiers in the army and civil defense must remain guaranteed. The initiative does not want to exempt foreign nationals living in Switzerland from compulsory service. The extent to which they should serve should be regulated by law.

Even though the Federal Council recognizes the need for citizens to assume collective responsibility for society, it rejects the initiative and does not want a counter-proposal.

Initially, the Federal Council is unsure whether the army and civil defense will have enough personnel in the future, even with the initiative. It also wonders whether compulsory service is compatible with the ban on forced labor. However, it also has economic concerns, because twice as many people would be obliged to serve compared to today.

Economic concerns

He writes that it does not make sense to take so many personnel out of the economy without the activities of those subject to compulsory service having a direct connection to the proven need for security. In addition, the higher number of conscripts would increase the cost of replacing them.

The Federal Council points out that a citizens' service or service citoyen would not only increase the number of days of service, but also the number of areas of deployment. It remains to be seen whether compulsory service would be compatible with the current relative neutrality of the labor market - i.e. that people working full-time would not be forced out of their jobs.

The Federal Council bases its argument against the service citoyen on its report published around two years ago on the funding of the army and civil defense. In this report, two options for compulsory civilian service had already been examined and rejected.

Encouragement for concerns

The initiators received a lot of support when they submitted their petition: According to the Sotomo generation barometer, 74 percent of the population were in favor of a service citoyen for all, they wrote at the time.

They want to initiate a discussion with their request. They claim that the further development of the compulsory service system has been blocked for years and that the focus is on securing the army's stocks. Instead of this "demand optimization that bypasses the people", a comprehensive reform is needed.

The Department of Defense, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS) is currently working on two options for the further development of compulsory service. According to the Federal Council, the results will be available at the end of the year.

Members of parliament on the committee

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

The initiative committee includes several members of the Swiss parliament, namely National Councillors Islam Alijai (SP/ZH) and Emmanuel Amoos (SP/VS), National Councillors Corina Gredig (GLP/ZH) and Maja Riniker (FDP/AG), Councillor of States Johanna Gapany (FDP/FR) and Councillor of States Charles Juillard (Mitte/JU). Bern's Mayor Alec von Graffenried (GFL) will also be taking part.

However, Parliament cannot yet comment on the initiative immediately. The responsible defense department will now prepare the message to the councils; it must be ready by next October.

©Keystone/SDA

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