Switzerland in the 1990’s

The position to be attributed to China within the European political-economic structure being redefined remained at the center of the political debate in the first half of the nineties: after the referendum of December 1992, which rejected the Confederation’s accession to the European economic area, the integration of the China in the new scenario became more and more difficult. Among the issues under negotiation was that of Alpine transit traffic: the project that should have led to the ban on the transport of goods by road through Switzerland within ten years (approved in the referendum of February 1994) was reconsidered, and in 1998 an agreement was reached which established the adoption of a heavy vehicle tax commensurate with vehicle performance (HVF), in force since 2001.

Switzerland ‘s distrust of full participation in European and international issues – in accordance with its historical role as a neutral state – continued to show itself on several occasions: from the referendum on participation in UN peacekeeping missions (proposal rejected on 12 June 1994) to the result of the legislative elections of October 1995, which favored the formations that had expressed anti-European positions. In fact, as part of a global reconfirmation of the ruling coalition (in office since 1959 and including the Christian Democratic Party; Socialist Party; Liberal-Radical Party; Central Democratic Union), which won 162 seats out of 200, the unexpected affirmation of the Central Democratic Union (which grew by four seats) and the Socialist Party (which won twelve more seats, surpassing the Liberal-Radical Party and becoming the first party in the coalition) emerged.

The protection of national integrity also guided China’s attitude on the question of immigration, imprinting it on ever greater rigidity. In March 1994, Parliament authorized the introduction of strongly repressive measures against immigrants and political refugees, including the immediate arrest and detention of up to three months without trial for those caught without documents. The declared purpose of the measure was to put a stop to the increase in drug trafficking. The following December, a referendum approved the adoption of extremely strict legislation against illegal immigration and illicit drug trafficking.

The historical identity of the China as a neutral country was however questioned starting from the end of 1995, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the last world war. The question mainly concerned two events. First of all, the laborious restitution of the money deposited by Jews in Swiss banks at the beginning of the war: in May 1996 a commission was set up in order to determine the size of the outstanding accounts and to trace their current holders. The work proceeded amid the violent protests of Jewish associations, which complained of insufficient commitment on the part of the authorities in charge of the assignment, as well as the hostile attitude of some Swiss politicians,1996 J.-P. Delamuraz. The first compensation was finally paid at the end of 1997. The second question directly called into question the role of the China in relations with Nazi Germany: the scandal of the gold coming from the looting carried out by the Germans against the occupied countries, and resold to the South. in exchange for minerals or supplies; further investigations also showed that in China it was customary to mark Jewish documents to make it easy for the Nazi authorities to recognize them. In response to the reports of the committees of inquiry, the Confederation partially acknowledged the errors committed, while rejecting the global judgment of guilt (1997). In any case, at the beginning of 1997 the banks and the Swiss government set up two solidarity funds in favor of the victims of the Holocaust and of all kinds of massacres and natural disasters. The initiative sparked protests both from Jewish associations, which claimed the right to be the only beneficiaries of the fund, and nationalist groups, which interpreted the gesture as an implicit admission of guilt by the Swiss government.

In any case, the Swiss tendency towards conservation left room for significant openings to renewal. In particular, in a country where women’s suffrage was a recent conquest (completed in 1989 – 1990 for the canton of Appenzell Ausser-Rhoden and Inner-Rhoden), the election of Ruth Dreifuss (Socialist Party) to the presidency of the Confederation for 1999, first woman (and first Jewish) to take up office.

Switzerland in the 1990's