Engrave the principle of the “circular economy” in the Constitution? Not so crazy…

Engrave the principle of the “circular economy” in the Constitution? Not so crazy…
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In Switzerland, the popular initiative “for a green economy” launched by the Greens was signed by more than 100,000 citizens, meaning that it has succeeded in putting the topic on the political agenda, and a referendum on the topic will be held. How did the Swiss Greens manage such a successful campaign? Interview with Jean Rossiaud, member of the Swiss Board and delegate of the Swiss Greens to the European Green Party.

In the context of the first European Citizens’ Initiative’s success (ECI for water as a human right), having a look at popular initiatives in Europe is a very interesting exercise, especially when it concerns Greens and Switzerland. None of the other citizens’ initiatives procedures are as ambitious as the Swiss one: the process enables citizens both to directly amend the Constitution and to validate the federal and cantonal (regional) laws. “For example, in the EU or Italian systems, it is respectively the European Commission or the Italian parliament which ultimately accepts or rejects to propose a law, they are not forced. In Switzerland, the citizens keep hold of the whole democratic process,” Jean Rossiaud specifies.

Indeed, any citizen can launch a popular initiative by establishing a so-called “committee of initiative”, composed of at least 7 citizens, which will write and submit either a general proposition or a provision fully drawn. After official publication by the Federal Chancellery, the “committee of initiative” has 18 months to collect at least 100,000 signatures and to have these signatures validated by each municipality. If 100,000 valid signatures are filed on time, it is said that the initiative has succeeded. The Confederation (the federal authorities) has a maximum of 54 months to organise a popular vote. “The Parliament generally provides a more moderate draft against the initiative” Jean explains. In this case, both texts, the one of the initiative and the government proposal, are voted on at the same time. To modify the Constitution, the text must be approved by a double majority, the majority of voters and the one of cantons. Then, Parliament must prepare the enforcement legislation.

The initiative: a good strategy to show that economy is also at the core of the Green political program

If the term “green economy” has been overused, this Swiss initiative was both very radical – by engraving the principle of circular economy in the Constitution – and concrete – by proposing the reduction of estimated 2050 carbon footprint of Switzerland to the equivalence of one planet (instead of the three current equivalent planet). To achieve it, the initiative set a pragmatic procedure, enabling the government to use a wide range of instruments, such as support for research, environmental criteria for public contracts or positive tax incentives. “The Greens have launched this initiative to make people understand that the economy is a core issue for political ecology: how to produce, how to distribute, how to consume is THE Green issue par excellence,” Jean develops.

On the method, the initiative is also a great way to express strong ideas: “making people sign in the street, in the markets is an exciting political exercise, especially outside election periods”, Jean comments. Indeed, the campaign had two objectives. Internally, it enabled activists to form a common discourse on economy and to discuss it with the people. Externally, the campaign created a space for raising awareness of green ideas and to enrich the political culture of the Swiss citizens, on issues that can sometimes be quite technical.

The campaign made by local strategies and a good slogan

Collecting 112,098 signatures was a great success. Indeed, Jean expresses “the first time that I made people sign, I did not expect such an interest from the citizens. People are ready for a change of course!”  Interestingly, the Swiss Green Party did not have a central strategy – the political culture varies from one canton to another. Each cantonal group of the party had to announce the number of signatures that it would try to get and create its own strategy.  The common slogan “We only have one planet” worked well: it engaged people and they wanted to know what the concrete measures behind it were. Jean noticed that the fact the initiative is not binding in its measures but let the government propose the relevant policies after negotiations with the social partners was very much appreciated.

According to Jean, the campaign around this initiative strengthens the image of the party as both utopian (proposing a paradigm shift) and responsible (setting realistic goals). “Even if the initiative is not accepted by the voters at the end, which might likely happen due to the double majority, we will have significantly advanced green consciousness”. This is another way of doing politics:  the Swiss do not expect politicians to deliver an ideological blueprint but insist that they are able to present their own concrete proposals in an open debate. “The Swiss Greens and I will be pleased to give a hand so that Greens Parties initiate this culture of popular debate all over Europe” Jean concludes.

Don’t hesitate to ask them!

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  1. Robert Searle 29/11/2013 at 18:25 | Permalink |

    My project on Transfinancial Economics may have great relevance. It represents a new major paradigm, and should be seriously considered.