Policy Performance


Economic Policies

A broad set of strengths enable Switzerland to share the SGI 2017’s top position (rank 1) with regard to economic policy. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.1 point since 2014.

The country maintains a liberal economic regime, with light labor-market regulation and some protections for key industries or firms. Its intensive use of foreign labor has increased social tensions. The progressive shift to a highly export-oriented economy has undermined a once-corporatist structure of interest intermediation.

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-insurance contributions are considerable. Despite low public debt levels and a 2016 budget surplus, the government is continuing to pursue austerity programs.

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 10) in international comparison. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.1 point 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. Unlike other EU nations, income inequality has not increased appreciably. Health care quality and inclusiveness is excellent, but the system is very expensive.

Family policy is a relative weak spot, with a conservative outlook resulting in comparatively little support for women seeking to combine parenting with a career. Family-benefit spending is low, and pre-primary education offerings lag behind international norms. A pension-system reform is underway, but the public has been skeptical of proposed changes in the past.

Integration policy, while varying by canton, has not been broadly successful, and naturalization can be very difficult. While overall xenophobia rates are not extreme, an anti-foreigner right-wing populist grouping is the strongest political party. While crime rates are low, the breakdown in Schengen rules led to new border controls in 2015.

Environmental Policies

With a historically clean industrial sector and a slow phase-out of nuclear energy underway, Switzerland falls into the top ranks internationally (rank 2) for environmental policy. Its score on this measure is unchanged relative to 2014.

Under an energy strategy passed in 2016, no new nuclear-power stations will be built, but existing stations may operate as long as they are deemed safe. The strategy aims to increase energy efficiency significantly, while developing water power and other renewables.

Additional strategies have recently focused on sustainability, biodiversity, climate change and forest management. Control of water pollution and waste management are particular strengths. Protection of biodiversity is a concern.

In recent referenda, voters have given preference to road construction over environmental protection. 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. However, a considerable share of party revenues comes from parliamentary party-faction subsidies.

Direct-democratic procedures are widely used, with outcomes sometimes conflicting with human-rights or treaty obligations. A controversial referendum that would give Swiss law precedence to international treaties has qualified for the ballot.

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. Corruption is very rare.



Executive Capacity

Reflecting a collegial, decentralized political system, Switzerland receives high rankings (rank 10) 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 with effective sustainability checks are in place in some areas.

While the degree of corporatism in the political system has declined in recent years, influential groups are still closely involved in policy planning, with their influence heightened by the perpetual option of calling a public referendum. 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. A stalemate over the EU’s rejection of Switzerland’s preferred bilateral-treaty model, along with tensions over recent referendums’ violations of EU norms, has 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 16) in international comparison. Its score on this measure has fallen by 0.2 points since 2014.

Surveys show that policy knowledge among Swiss citizens parallels that of peers in other wealthy democracies. Many citizens overestimate the country’s leverage vis-à-vis the EU when voting in referendums, leading to political and diplomatic difficulties. 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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