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Last days of the Swiss Briefing Tour

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June 15, 2010

Politforum coordinator, Michael Fritsche giving a brief history of the tower we had our meetings in
Lukas Golder talking about polls and opinion gathering in the country

By Johanna Herman

So the Swiss Briefing Tour is now officially over, a lot was learned and discovered, both people and places. The second to last day was spent in Bern, the capital of the country of Switzerland. We met with multiple people at the Politforum office, which is housed in an old tower in the city of Bern that was once a prison for criminals in the city. We were first introduced to the organization, given a brief history of the tower as well as the use of the tower now, to house political groups and meetings to help further different political ideas. Although it is a government building, it is free to use by any group who wants to discuss or exhibit any political issue. We next heard from Lukas Golder who works for a company that conducts polls throughout the country. He also further discussed the differences between how the people use referendums and initiatives in the country. The Swiss minaret vote was discussed and how polls showed it would fail, but in actuality it passed. The reason for this was that no polls are done in the last ten days before the vote and that many people did not indicate their real opinion when called up by a pollster.

Bruno Kaufmann introducing Michael Reiterer, the EU ambassador to Switzerland
The Swiss Chancellor, Corina Casanova, explains how the chancellery works in the Swiss government
The European Union ambassador to Switzerland, Michael Reiterer, was next to come and talk to the group. He talked about the roll Switzerland plays in the larger European view as well as the dependencies the Swiss people have on the EU. He talked about the potential upcoming Citizens Initiative, which would allow citizens from multiple European countries to petition for an issue to be discussed by the European Parliament. This initiative process is far weaker than the Swiss model, but it is seen as a stepping stone into introducing more democracy on the European level. He also talked further about how more democratic means could be introduced on the European level and the issues that are faced by politician working for the EU. Daniel Schwarz then came in to discuss an online method of simplifying the candidate elections throughout the country. His company compiles the information on where different politicians stand on issues and helps voters make a more informed decision by selecting politicians that are similar to their ideals. Due to the large amount of candidates on all levels of government, it is hard for residents to choose the members of their government, this method makes it easier to make an informed decision. The last person to speak to us was Hans-Urs Wili, who is the administrator of initiatives and referendums in the country. He has been at his post for 35 years, each time appointed by the new government to stay at his post. He gave a brief history of democracies in the world, noting that those few other countries that have adopted the Swiss system do not have a functioning direct democracy system like Switzerland. He also introduced the group to the idea of the counterproposal. Where the government would, if they do not like the proposed idea presented to them, they would offer a counter idea, something similar to the original but a little different, and propose that be approved instead. It is a flexible way for the government to work and allows for enabling more issues to get approved by the government.

The group then went to visit the Parliament building where we listened in on both houses as they discussed, and voted on, different issues. We also met Andi Gross again and the current proposed treaty between the USA and Switzerland regarding bank secrecy was the main topic of discussion. At dinner, a sum up and evaluation was held in between courses. Members of the group highlighted the points that interested them the most, what they learned and the objective to help further goals to try to implement changes back home where possible. All agreed the trip was informative and enjoyable, with Bruno offering the best services and tour coordinator could do.

The last day of the tour was just a meeting in the morning with the Federal Chancellor, Corina Casanova. She briefly talked about the role of the chancellery in the government, the different duties she and her staff attend to as well as her role in the cabinet. Other members of the group asked her questions, she asked a few of her own too. The issue of transparency in the US system, as opposed to the Swiss system was an interesting item brought to attention, as well as the campaign add ban. With the end of the meeting, the tour was officially over. Members said their goodbyes, leaving with promises to see them again at the San Fransisco Conference on Global Democracy. A lot was learned during the short trip and understanding everything fully will still take a few days. With that in mind, overall it was a wonderful experience and a great opportunity to be a part of the group.

See also