Swiss elections: much at stake for farmers

2011 is definitely an election year! And one that’s brought all kinds of change. Canada finally saw a conservative majority voted in last spring after several minority governments, and the socialist NDP is enjoying its first stint as the official opposition. In Zambia this September they ousted the former conservative MMD president Rupiah Banda and voted in the more liberal PF Michael Sata, who is busy making some sweeping changes in the country. Switzerland elected its parliament this weekend, with some surprising results too. Two small newer parties – one conservative, one green- liberal, made good inroads into the parliament, taking some seats of the more traditional parties.

The provocative election posters of the most powerful Swiss party, the conservative SVP, were the topic of many talk shows. "Stop mass immigration! - Swiss vote SVP"

Farmers have a bit of their own agenda when electing their representatives. The SBV (Schweizer Bauern Verband – or Swiss Agriculture Association) always puts out a recommendation list for the voter. The Schaffhausen newspaper made a point of asking our local representatives what their positions were on the pressing agriculture issues of the day. There are some major bills coming to parliament in this next legislative session that will affect agriculture for the coming years.

The most contentious issue is surely the EU Free Market bill. At the moment Switzerland has what they call bilateral agreements with the EU, which gives the Swiss some protected status. Many are demanding an open market atmosphere. The SBV contends that an open market would be disastrous not only for the agriculture sector but the whole business community. Certainly for some parts of the business community it would be; others would clearly profit. From what I read and hear, Swiss farmers probably stand to lose more than they would win in an open market with the EU.

As a candidate that feels Switzerland has no choice but to enter the EU free market, Heydecker probably didn't get too many votes from farmers!

The AP 2014-17 (Agriculture Political direction plan for 2014-2017) is also a hotly debated topic. The government is determined to tie agriculture subsidies even more closely to animal and environmentally friendly production methods and those that protect biodiversity. Many farmers find the existing regulations very restricting and chaff at the thought of even more rules.

Parliament has introduced a ‘Swissness’ Initiative in an effort to protect Swiss products. What percentage of Swiss commodities or production need to be in a product to be declared as Swiss? It sounds like an easy one, but is actually very complicated. Each stakeholder has a different idea.

So there’s a lot at stake for agriculture. It seems most of the representatives recommended by the SBV got in, so agriculture should continue to have a strong presence. Interesting, I thought, is that the representatives come from a broad spectrum of parties. Hopefully there will be a powerful desire to work together and find the best solutions to difficult issu

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