Policy Performance


Economic Policies

With a broad set of strengths, Switzerland falls into the top ranks internationally (rank 2) with regard to economic policy. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.2 points since 2014.

The country has experienced steady, moderate growth in recent years. 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.

General unemployment and youth unemployment rates are very low, and employment rates high, though about 45% of employed women engage in part-time work. Tax rates are moderate but generate sufficient public revenue. A corporate-tax reform is being redrafted following a referendum defeat.

Despite low public debt levels and several years of budget surplus, the government is continuing to pursue moderate austerity programs. Stalled negotiations with the EU over replacing the existing system of bilateral trade 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 11) in international comparison. Its score on this measure is unchanged relative to its 2014 level.

The quality of the education system is high, but students of low social status are less likely to go on to higher education. Growth in demand for tertiary education has been very strong in recent years. Social-assistance policies largely prevent poverty, but tensions over welfare benefits provided to foreigners are increasing.

Health care quality and inclusiveness is excellent, but the system is very expensive, and cost-containment efforts are meeting with resistance. Family policy, generally managed on the cantonal level, is a relative weak spot. Family-benefit spending is low, and pre-primary education offerings lag behind international norms. Pension levels are generally high.

Integration policy, while varying by canton, has not been broadly successful, and naturalization can be very difficult. An anti-foreigner right-wing populist grouping is the strongest political party. Crime rates are low. Development-aid contributions have declined due to recently adopted austerity measures.

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) with regard to environmental policy. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.1 point relative to its 2014 level.

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. The country appears unlikely to meet CO2 emissions-reductions targets set in 2012.

Additional strategies have recently focused on sustainability, climate change and forest management. Control of water pollution and waste management are particular strengths. The country’s public expenditure on environmental protection is substantially higher than the OECD average.

Biodiversity is a problem area, as the country has Europe’s lowest share of conservation areas for this purpose. Pesticide use on a per capita basis is high, despite the rather small agricultural sector. Voters have consistently supported the construction of highways over environmental protection.



Quality of Democracy

With its vigorous direct-democratic system and a developed media and open-information culture, Switzerland scores in the top ranks (rank 5) with regard to quality of democracy. Its score on this measure is unchanged relative to its 2014 level.

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 results sometimes conflicting with human-rights or treaty obligations. The outcomes of some recent votes have reflected problems with regard to insufficient public knowledge and access to information. In 2018, voters rejected proposals that would have eliminated the public media system and given federal law precedence over international law.

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 overall rankings (rank 9) with regard to executive capacity. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.1 point relative to its 2014 level.

Strategic planning, largely performed by the Chancellery, has been given new weight in recent years. As there is no prime minister, the seven members of the Federal Council act collegially. Coordination has become more difficult as government parties have become more polarized.

While no formal RIA process exists, functional equivalents are often in place. Ex post evaluations are standard in most policy fields. Influential groups are 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.

Cantonal implementation of regulations is pragmatic, and is often tailored to the concerns of powerful local interests. 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 has highlighted inflexibilities with regard to domestic adaptability.

Executive Accountability

With 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. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.7 points relative to its 2014 level.

Swiss citizens are reasonably well informed about policies and referendum proposals. 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. A referendum that would have phased out funding for the public broadcaster failed, but the organization has downsized in response.

Parliamentarians have strong formal oversight powers, but comparatively few resources. There is no national-level ombudsman, but the Audit Office is independent and autonomous. A Federal Officer for Data Protection is effective, independent and works transparently.

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