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The People of Switzerland Will Get to Vote on Their Country’s Famous ‘Neutrality’

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Armed with some 130,000 certified signatures, Swiss activists submitted a petition in Bern on Thursday that would pave the way for a national vote in the coming months on proposed constitutional amendments to enshrine Switzerland’s longstanding policy of neutrality in international affairs. An initiative needs 100,000 signatures to get on the ballot.

Debate about Switzerland’s neutrality sharpened last year after authorities followed in the European Union’s footsteps to adopt increasing sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine—bucking a centuries-long tradition of not taking sides in global conflicts. In 2022, a top Swiss official also warned that the country would impose punitive measures should China invade Taiwan, though Switzerland did not join subsequent E.U. sanctions against China.

A 2023 survey of Swiss voters found 91% of respondents approved of neutrality in general, though 75% believed sanctions against Russia were compatible with the principle.

Read More: The Architect of Swiss Neutrality Thinks It’s Time for His Country to Take Sides

The initiative, introduced by advocacy group Pro Switzerland calls for Switzerland to avoid entering any military alliance unless it is attacked as well as to not impose “any non-military coercive measures” unless obligated by the United Nations. The amendment would also enshrine that “Switzerland uses its perpetual neutrality to prevent and resolve conflicts and is available as a mediator.”

The conservative Swiss People’s Party (SVP) backs the initiative, saying in a press release on Thursday: “The gradual dissolution of neutrality is a threat to Switzerland’s internal and external security.”

Critics argue the neutrality initiative would isolate Switzerland by destabilizing its relations with its partners, and the Federal Council that serves as head of state and government in Switzerland opposed the initiative when it was introduced, saying that it would restrict Switzerland’s ability to maneuver on foreign policy and security.

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