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Direct Democracy in foreign policy: Switzerland and Europe. A contribution to the 43rd Otago Foreign Policy School “Power to the People ? Public Participation in Foreign Policy” by Andreas Gross (Switzerland)

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Direct democracy in foreign policy switzerland and europe l.jpg

Direct Democracy in foreign policy: Switzerland and Europe

A contribution to the 43rd Otago Foreign Policy School “Power to the People ? Public Participation in Foreign Policy”

by Andreas Gross (Switzerland)

Director of the Scientific Institute for Direct Democracy in St.Ursanne and Swiss MP & Leader of the Social-Democrats in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE)

Dunedin (NZ), 21 st of June 2008

www.andigross.ch [email protected]


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An overview of my presentation:

I. After the Irish No - a timely debate

II. The banalization of today’s democracy/ies -

III. The history of Direct Democracy (DD)

IV. What more Direct Democracy would really mean

V. DD and European Affairs: The Irish vote was the 49 th Referendum about Europe in Europe since 1972

VI. The paradoxes of Swiss Foreign Relations and Policy

VII. How foreign Policy still is today in the age of globalization ?

VIII. We have to learn to transnationalize Democracy

IX. Where is New Zeeland in all this ?


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I. After the second Irish No at the 12th of June 08

Le Monde: The Irish and the Dutch people belong to most convinced Europeans: There No-votes 2008 and 2005 are not “anti-European” votes.

“Why should we approve, what we can not understand ?”(TA,ZH

“It highlights how out of touch the Continent’s political elites are” (The Australian, June 16)

“The Irish voters lost their confidence in their political class; indifference and distance produce rejection” (FAZ , June 14 )

“Many people feel, the Union is remote, undemocratic and ever more inclined to strip its smaller members of the right to make their own laws and (...) futures.” (IHT, June 14-15)

“To be sure, referendums are always imperfect means of deciding complex issues.” (FT/13/14.6.08)

“Of course referendums are a bad way of deciding vast packages of reforms.” (FT, Edito, 13/14.6.08)


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II. We should overcome the banalisation of the terms Freedom and Democracy

Democracy is more then a choice;

it enables us to be free.

Freedom means, to act together

on our common life

(« Life is not a destiny »)

Democracy constitutes the rules,

rights and procedures in order

to prevent conflicts to be solved violently


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The Democracy - project since 1789 :

To be able to participate in all decisions

which concern you !

(input/procedural (design/institutional) challenge)

Freedom is not a privilege !

Democracy has to deliver too -

enable all to be capable to act and to be free

(output / substantial challenge)


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III.Modern DD was not made in CH - it was only most practised in CH

Assembly self-ruling traditions in New England States 17. Century

Modern Referendum is a innovation of the French Revolution 1793

Citizens Initiative: An innovation of French and German Radical Democrats 1830ff


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Modern DD was in CH practised in CH (1860-1890) and US (1890-1914) an opposition product:“By, with and for the people”

Liberal founders of modern CH from 1848 were elitists - as many in many countries today again

Many people (farmers, artisans, working class) saw themselves not represented by their parliament

They created broad peoples movements who asked for the “last word”


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Representative democracy is an essential part of Democracy. practised in CHBut it should not have the monopole of Democracy !

Indirect Democracy (ID) enables you to vote your representatives;

Direct Democracy (DD) enables you to vote on important issues you don’t want to leave to your Representatives;

The citizens should be able to decide, when they want to decide themselves - this would also make representative Democracies more representative !


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IV. practised in CHThe democratization of Democracy is an ongoing, never ending process:Every democracy is unfinished,DD is a little bit less unfinished than ID !

Democracy was reduced to represent. Democracy in a time, where most people couldn’t read or write and were enable to make political judgments !

Today modern citizens know often as much about politics as MP’s: They feel frustrated that ID excludes them and reduces them to objects instead of the subjects of politics.

A society in which citizens feel excluded looses a enormous amount of creative potentials, misses collective learning options and undervalues itself !


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A bit more Direct Democracy means that practised in CHyou share more power with the citizens, the only source of legitimate political power

Nobody should have so much power, that he or she has the “privilege” not to have to learn...

Sharing the political power, that means, giving 2 % of the citizens the power to ask for a Referendum on a law voted in the Parliament or a legisl.change they propose to the society, means:

Everybody has to listen more -

Everybody tries to convince and to discuss

Politics become softer, more inclusive and more communicative !


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In order to avoid a alienation between the civil society and it’s political system , Direct Democracy has to be carefully designed !

No quick fix: Everybody (Citizens, MP’s, administ., society) needs and gets the time they need :

A Referendum is a process over 2 - 4 years:

1 year for the citizens, 1 year for Gov+Parl., 1/2 a year for the Public debate and campaign !

In order to share the power and not to be exclusive and make the system responsive you should ask more than 1% of the electorates signatures for a Referendum and not more than 2% for a popular proposition (“Initiative”)

No quorums: They kill communication !


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In a carefully designed DD you have it’s political system , to understand real change as a collective learning process

Everybody has the right to propose where and how he or she thinks changes are needed (Open Agenda Setting and Attention providing)

More public debates and private discussions (the soul of DD) create a much better informed society

The invitation to decide, creates a sense of belonging (Integration)

The right to participate, reduces distances and increases identifications (“Democratic patriotism”)

After you participated in the decision making, you are best qualified to implement the decision


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V. The 3 it’s political system , rd Irish EU Referendum was the 49thReferendum in Europe about Europe between 1972 and 2008 !

8 Votes in CH, 6 Referenda in Denmark (4: +/2: -),

6 Referenda in Ireland (4: +/2:-), 3 in France (2: +/1-),

2 in Norway (Twice -)

17 EU-Accession Ref. (15 +);

13 EU-Treaty-Ratification-Ref. in 5 countries (9 +/ 4 -);


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VI. The paradoxes of Swiss Foreign Relations and Policy it’s political system ,

1830 - 1870 Switzerland belonged to the most progressive countries in Europe: The radical/liberal fathers of 1848 wanted to make a new beginning for whole Europe, not just a island in Europe

1871-1920/45 The wars and the Swiss two main cultures made out of a economic open country a politically very closed one. They survived alone and thought they should stay alone after 1945.

Learning after a catastrophe is easier than to learn to reform and change a rather successful past and presence.

Switzerland was made with Europe - it can not stay in the future without Europe !


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Swiss DD in Foreign Policy started in the 1920’s: it’s political system ,

1921 Referendum on Joining the league of Nations

1921-1977 Three Referenda on State-Treaties “with implications in Swiss home rule”

1986 1. UN-Referendum (No)

2001: 2. UN- Vote (Yes/Citizen’s Initiative)

1972-2006: 8 Referenda concerning Relations to the EU (Free Trade Treaty; EEA-Accession,2 bilateral treaties, Schengen-Treaty,Free-Movement-Enlargement, Cohesion-Contribution, 2 CI): 7 out of 8 times the majority of the Parliament could convince the majority of the people and the cantons !


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VII. How foreign “Foreign Policy” is today in the age of globalization ?“Today the nation-state is too big for the small things - to small for the big issues” -

Democracy is today similar to the ruder of a boat,which lies in the water, but the ruder does not touch the water anymore!

That’s why the big issues (Climate change, peace, migration, development, hunger, energy) are not “foreign policies” anymore, but issues of new global home or interior politics !


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VIII. For building a global democracy we have to learn to transnationalize democracy:

Getting inspired by the European Human Rights Convention (EHRC) with it’s individual right to bring your state to a international Court, but globalize and enlarge it (Non-state-powers, more then the classical freedom rights...)

Make a global constitution which gives to every person a status without founding a world-state and destroying the citizenship in and the nation-state itself.

Build a second/third chamber of MP’s/NGOs in the UN-General Assembly, in order to give the “People of the world” really a representation...


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IX.Where is NZ in all this ? transnationalize democracy:

How much Direct Democracy you got with the “Citizen Initiated Referendum” (CIR) - not binding, agenda-setting only, no new legal norm ?

How big is the distance between citizens and the MP’s - how representative is the NZ-representative democracy - does your political system realize the democratic potentials of your society ?

How much motivation have the Nzders to act for a global democracy ? How much the Government would support them ?


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