Youth in Action

Another Swiss Referendum, another Youth Campaign - 4:0 for Europe

YES fights another European battle - and wins!

, by Dominik Gerber

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

Another Swiss Referendum, another Youth Campaign - 4:0 for Europe

On the 26th of November Swiss citizens approved the Eastern Europe Cooperation Act (EECA) by 53.4%. This is the fourth popular vote since 2000 with a pro-European outcome. Given that the no-side prevailed in the pre-referendum surveys, the Young European Swiss (YES) were running a large-scale youth campaign, highlighting the merits of the European idea and pointing at the moral obligation of Switzerland to contribute its share to cohesion projects in the new member states. The recent vote is of a different quality: for the first time Switzerland is investing into the European project.

know thy enemy

The political pattern was similar than in previous votes: the parliament issues a progressive act, conservative isolationists (headed by the Swiss People’s Party) gather 50’000 signatures and compel a popular referendum. This time their grievances were directed against the EECA, establishing the legal frame for cohesion payments chiefly to the benefit of Eastern Europe, totalling 625 million Euros (1 billion Swiss Francs) and distributed equally over the next 5 years. Compared to other (uncontested) budget posts, this sum seems paltry: the Swiss militia army e.g. consumes a yearly amount of more than 2.5 billion Euros – an institution whose only remaining threat is its own identity crisis.

Nevertheless, the budget argument was used to undermine Switzerland’s commitment to Europe. “No sponsoring of post-soviet states”, “Switzerland as Europe’s milk cow”, “carte blanche for future payments” were the arguments raised. In public discourse, the EECA issue was widely reduced to “Ostmilliarde”. The decision to fix the ceiling sharply at 1 billion Swiss Francs facilitated populist abuse and was in our view unwise.

campaigning methods

The campaign of YES was based on conventional and less conventional instruments and tried to shift the debate away from the budget argument to the issue that was really at stake:

“we benefit from a stable and prospering Europe, so we do our bit!”.

For the conventional part of the campaign, YES collaborated with the European Movement of Switzerland. Both organisations used the same flyer and the same arguments. Many street actions and flyer distributions were operated by members of both organisations working together.

The less conventional part of the campaign was purely run by YES. Opportunities such as JEF Europe’s Visa Action were integrated into the campaign framework and used to point at the achievements of the European integration process. YES also managed to gather all of the progressive national youth parties issuing a common statement in favour of the EECA. This youth coalition comprised a total amount of about 180’000 young people. During the final phase of the campaign, as one of the highlights, yes scored a big coup in the national media with a satirical flash film. Surely this motivated one or two younger last-minute voter to bring her or his ballot-paper to the urn.

back up scenario

Should there have come out a “no”, YES would have been prepared as well. At dusk activist would have wallpapered whole Berne, Geneva, Zurich and Luzern with “wanted” posters, exposing the faces and mobile phone numbers of those conservative politicians responsible for the euro-political disaster.


It is now the fourth time since 2000, that Swiss voters have repeated a pro-European stance.The common paradox of all these votes is that Switzerland continuously moves materially and legally closer to the EU, whilst the hearts of Swiss citizens don’t start beating European. 53.4% in favour of the EECA does not mean 53.4% wishing to be a part of the EU. The EECA approval only cemented the status quo: cooperating bilaterally with Europe, assuring a good friendship-policy and keeping the fingers out of the EU institutions.


* Die EU als Milchkuh, source: Swiss Democrats

* The heroine Helvetia takes on another challenge; courtesy of YES .

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