By John Revill
ZURICH – Swiss voters have clearly rejected a proposal to give the neutral country’s laws priority over international law, a move that critics claimed would have deeply damaged its global standing and hurt its economy.
Some 63 percent of voters in a national referendum on Sunday voted against the “Swiss law, not foreign judges” measure, according to the second round of projections by broadcaster SRF.
The measure, backed by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), called for a provision to be added to the national constitution giving it explicit precedence over international agreements.
Where there is a clash between the two, Switzerland would have had to alter its international obligations so they complied with its constitution or quit the international agreement.
Backers argued that neutral Switzerland’s historic autonomy was being watered down by its participation in international agreements covering areas like environmental protection, police cooperation, air transport and trade.
Their campaign said such arrangements endangered the long tradition of direct democracy in Switzerland, where citizens have the final say on political decisions via referendums.
Debate over whether sovereignty has been eroded has intensified in recent years, as Switzerland struggles to clarify its relationship with the European Union, currently governed by a tangle of bilateral pacts.
The SVP, the largest party in the Swiss parliament, said its proposals – also called the self determination initiative – would empower citizens and free them from interference from international bodies like the EU.
They were opposed by the Swiss government, business groups and most other parties, who said the proposal would force Switzerland to cancel existing treaties, weaken human rights protections and hurt its economy.
They said a “yes” vote would mean Switzerland having to renegotiate thousands of treaties it has signed, undermining an open economy which is highly dependent on global trade.
Jan Atteslander of business lobby group Economiesuisse, said he was pleased with the outcome.
“The result shows that Swiss voters are happy with the institutions we have and there is no need to change them. If this had passed it would have been a disadvantage to the economy and damaged Switzerland’s standing in the world.
“We have to stick to our words internationally and be a good and reliable partner in good times and bad times.”
Tania Ovanne-Erias, from the canton of Geneva, said: “I voted against the initiative because I don’t think we have to vote again on treaties that have already been voted. I think this initiative is absurd.
“I don’t think we can just think only of our country, Switzerland, we are part of a continent and a world.”
Switzerland also rejected a proposal to subsidise farmers who let cows and goats grow their horns naturally, amid debate over whether the practice of removing horns harms the animals.
(Reporting by John Revill; Additional reporting by Cecile Mantovani; Editing by Andrew Roche and Mark Potter)