Switzerland votes against putting ′Swiss Law First′ | News | DW | 25.11.2018
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Switzerland votes against putting 'Swiss Law First'

Swiss voters have rejected a plan to put Swiss court rulings ahead of international ones. However, they approved allowing insurers to spy on customers and against a ban on the dehorning of cows.

Some 66 percent of voters and all of the country's 26 cantons voted on Sunday against the "Swiss law, not foreign judges" measure.

The measure, backed by right wing groups, called for domestic law to be placed above international law, a move that opponents claim would damage the neutral country's global standing.

The anti-migrant, right wing Swiss People's Party (SVP) had sought to portray the measure as essential for safeguarding national sovereignty.

However, government and business groups were staunchly opposed. They warned that hundreds of vital trade deals could have been put at risk by a formal repudiation of international courts.  

Switzerland's direct democracy system allows voters to cast ballots on national issues four times a year.

Swiss voters were also deciding on a proposed constitutional amendment to preserve cow horns headed by a livestock farmer inspired by talking to his herd of cattle. The agricultural provision against the dehorning of cows was ultimately defeated by a slim margin, with 55 percent nixing it. 

Read more: Swiss create giant postcard to save melting Alps glacier

Swiss activist Armin Capaul (Reuters/D. Balibouse)

With his long beard and array of woolen caps, farmer Capaul has become a household name — and face — across Switzerland

Safeguarding cows

Ahead of the referendum, much of the public attention had been focused on the unusual grassroots campaign, which began with few resources and no political support: Farmer Armin Capaul collected more than 100,000 signatures — the amount needed to force a national vote on protecting cows' horns.

Capaul's cows gave him the idea to push for Sunday's referendum. "I always talk to my cows in the barn," he said. "They asked me if I could do something for them, if I could help them keep their horns," he said.

Despite the defeat, Capaul said that his larger effort to protect cattle from unnecessary human abuse had not been a failure. "I've alerted people about animal suffering and I've put the cow in the heart of the people," he told Swiss public broadcaster RTS.  

Read more: Study sheds light on 5,000-year-old Alpine diet

Yes to spying on welfare recipients

Meanwhile, an estimated 64.7 percent of voters ultimately backed the government on allowing insurance companies to spy on clients. 

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Saving a mountain village in Switzerland

Sunday's vote brought to a head years of public debate on the issue: Insurers in the wealthy Alpine nation had long spied on customers suspected of making false claims, but the practice was halted in 2016 following a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights.

The Swiss government, however, insisted that such surveillance was necessary to curb insurance fraud and keep costs low for all. Following the European court's decision, Bern updated its legislation to restore surveillance powers to insurers.

Opponents of the revised surveillance law then mobilized enough supporters to force a referendum. 

"What the Swiss wanted to show was that the social safety net is important, but that [for it to work] we all have to be absolutely responsible," Benjamin Roduit of the center-right Christian Democratic Party told RTS.

kl/rc (AP, AFP, Reuters, Tribune de Geneve, Neue Zürcher Zeitung)

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