Sustainable Policies


Economic Policies

With a broad set of strengths, Switzerland shares the SGI 2020’s top position (rank 1) with regard to economic policy. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.1 point since 2014.

The country has experienced steady, moderate growth in recent years. Its intensive use of foreign labor has increased social tensions. Over time, 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 that also increased pension contributions was accepted by popular referendum in 2019.

The government pursues a very prudent budget policy, with budgets balanced or in surplus since the turn of the century. Efforts to replace the existing system of bilateral trade treaties with the EU have stalled due to domestic political disagreement. This issue is becoming increasingly urgent, as the EU is Switzerland’s main trading partner. R&D spending levels are very high.

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. Vocational training is very solid, contributing to low employment rates among young people. Social-assistance policies largely prevent poverty, but tensions over welfare benefits provided to foreigners are increasing.

Healthcare 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 cooperation has become somewhat controversial, with the right-wing party calling for cuts.

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

The country has committed to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 50% relative to 1990 levels by 2030, including international credits. The actual domestic reduction is to be 30%. A state of net zero emissions (including credits) is planned for 2050. An ambitious set of emissions-reductions measures is under development.

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. 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.

Robust Democracy


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. Observers have called for greater transparency in party funding.

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 recent years, referendums have been used as mechanisms of populist mobilization.

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.

Good Governance


Executive Capacity

Reflecting a collegial, decentralized political system, Switzerland receives high overall rankings (rank 8) with regard to executive capacity. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.1 point relative to its 2014 level.

Compared with other advanced democracies, strategic planning in Switzerland is underdeveloped. As there is no prime minister, the seven members of the Federal Council act collegially. Coordination and consensus has become more difficult as government parties have become more polarized, shifting initiative to individual line ministries.

While no formal RIA process exists, functional equivalents are often in place. Ex post evaluations are standard in most policy fields. Influential external groups are involved in policy planning, with their influence heightened by the 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. An inability to resolve tensions over the vital relationship with the EU has highlighted inflexibilities with regard to domestic adaptability.

Executive Accountability

Despite a legislature that is less professionalized than in many other OECD countries, Switzerland scores well in international comparison (rank 12) with regard to executive accountability. 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.

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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