Policy Performance


Economic Policies

A broad set of strengths enable Switzerland to share the SGI 2016’s top position (rank 1) with regard to economic policy. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.3 points since 2014.

The country maintains a liberal economic regime, with light labor-market regulation. However, it does intervene to prevent key company failures, and its intensive use of foreign labor has increased social tensions. The appreciation of the franc has put some stress on the highly export-oriented economy.

Unemployment rates are very low, and employment rates high, though nearly two-thirds of employed women engage in part-time work. Tax rates are moderate but generate sufficient public revenue. Social contributions are considerable. Debt is low, and balanced budgets or fiscal surpluses are common.

Stalled negotiations with the EU over replacing the existing system of bilateral treaties are becoming increasingly urgent, as the EU is Switzerland’s main trading partner.

Social Policies

Despite some gaps, generally successful outcomes give Switzerland’s social policies a good overall ranking (rank 7) in international comparison. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.2 points since 2014.

The quality of the education system is high, but students of low social status are less likely to go on to higher education. While social-assistance policies largely prevent poverty, tensions over welfare benefits provided to foreigners are increasing. Health care quality and inclusiveness is excellent, but cost efficiency is a problem.

Family policy is a relative weak spot, with a conservative outlook resulting in comparatively little support for women in the workforce. The pension system has a comparatively bright financial outlook.

Integration policy, while varying by canton, has not been broadly successful, and naturalization can be very difficult. Crime rates are low. Development aid has been criticized by the right-leaning nationalist party.

Environmental Policies

With a pending decision to phase out use of nuclear energy and a historically clean industrial sector, Switzerland falls into the top ranks internationally (rank 3) for environmental policy. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.1 point relative to 2014.

Strategies have recently been developed on sustainability, biodiversity, climate change and forest management. Control of water pollution is a particular strength, but legislation on CO2 reduction and clean energy has suffered parliamentary setbacks. Several cantons have decided to prohibit fracking.

A 2011 government decision to phase out nuclear power remained stuck in parliament. The country’s global environmental role largely depends on collaboration with the European Union.



Quality of Democracy

With its vigorous direct-democratic system and a developed media and open-information culture, Switzerland scores in the top ranks (rank 6) with regard to quality of democracy. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.1 point relative to 2014.

Voting rights are robust, but exclude the very large foreign-citizen population. Political parties are not publicly financed, and there is little scrutiny of party fundraising or activities.

Direct-democratic procedures are widely used, with outcomes sometimes conflicting with human-rights or treaty obligations. The strongest political party is seeking to give Swiss law precedence over international treaties.

The media is free, but becoming more concentrated. Information-access laws are strong. Civil rights are protected, but tension between EU norms and Swiss sovereignty has emerged. A major political party engages in xenophobic discourse, and gender discrimination in the labor market remains problematic. With corruption rare, the scandal surrounding Zurich-based FIFA represented an exception.



Executive Capacity

Reflecting a collegial, decentralized political system, Switzerland receives high rankings (rank 11) with regard to executive capacity. Its score on this measure is unchanged relative to 2014.

Strategic planning is not a focus, with most decisions made on an ad-hoc basis. Lacking a prime minister, the seven existing departments work closely together. The Chancellery and Federal Council provide coordination. While no formal RIA process exists, functional equivalents do exist in some areas.

The political system is highly corporatist, with influential groups closely involved in policy planning. Most tax revenue is raised by highly autonomous local administrations. Cantonal autonomy ensures significant variation in standards.

International coordination has been problematic, as it is seen as infringing sovereignty. Increasing tensions with the EU over Switzerland’s preferred bilateral-treaty model and recent referendums’ violations of EU norms have highlighted inflexibilities with regard to domestic adaptability.

Executive Accountability

In part due to a legislature that is less professionalized than in many other OECD countries, Switzerland’s executive accountability falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 13) in international comparison. After declining last year, its score on this measure has recovered to within 0.1 point of 2014’s level.

While levels vary, surveys show that policy knowledge among Swiss citizens is not particularly strong. Media policy coverage is generally of high quality.

Parliamentarians have strong formal oversight powers, but comparatively few resources. There is no national-level ombudsman, but the Audit Office is independent and autonomous.

Political parties are somewhat oligarchic, but membership rates are declining. Economic organizations are pragmatic and sophisticated, often more so than parties, while other interest groups vary widely.
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