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Cashless society? Not in Switzerland where people will vote on keeping banknotes and coins forever

A national vote on whether to prevent Switzerland ever becoming a cashless society has been triggered.
A national vote on whether to prevent Switzerland ever becoming a cashless society has been triggered. Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Reuters
Published on Updated
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Enough signatures have been acquired to put the issue of retaining traditional money to a national plebiscite under Switzerland's direct democracy.

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Swiss citizens will get the chance to try to ensure their economy never becomes cashless, a pressure group said, after collecting enough signatures on Monday to trigger a popular vote on the issue.

The Free Switzerland Movement (FBS) says cash is playing a shrinking role in many economies, as electronic payments become the default for transactions in increasingly digitised societies, making it easier for the state to monitor its citizens' actions.

It wants a clause added to Switzerland's currency law, which governs how the central bank and government manage the money supply, stipulating that a "sufficient quantity" of banknotes or coins must always remain in circulation.

There is no evidence of moves towards a cashless society by Swiss authorities.

FBS said it had garnered over 111,000 signatures in support of the measure, above the 100,000 needed to trigger a popular vote. 

In defence of cash

Under Switzerland's system of direct democracy, the proposal would become law if approved by voters, though government and parliament would decide how that law was implemented.

"It is clear that... getting rid of cash not only touches on issues of transparency, simplicity or security... but also carries a huge danger of totalitarian surveillance," FBS president Richard Koller said on the group's website.

He also views Switzerland as a European standard-bearer for the defence of cash, as pushing through such guarantees in the European Union would entail the "almost impossible" process of securing approval from all 27 member states.

Accelerated by the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns, the trend towards increased cashless payments was evident as far back as 2017, when an Ipsos study found more than a third of Europeans and Americans would happily go without cash and 20 per cent pretty much did so already.

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