Greta Thunberg Gives Swiss Greens a Boost in Parliamentary Election

Leonard Kehnscherper
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Greens Gain, Right Slips in Swiss Parliamentary Election

(Bloomberg) -- Switzerland’s Greens are on course for their best result ever in an upcoming parliamentary election, capitalizing on fears about global warming that are mobilizing people across Europe.

The gains expected to be recorded by environmentalists are a knock-on effect of Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future climate protests, which resulted in demonstrations across Switzerland and last month helped Austria’s Green party get voted back into parliament after a two-year hiatus.

Across Europe “we’re having a very intensive debate about climate change,” said Georg Lutz, professor of political science at the University of Lausanne. “There are topics that are important to people and there are parties that are identified with them. Those parties get a fillip when the campaign zeros in on their issue.”

While the Green party is likely to be the biggest gainer in percentage terms, the anti-immigrant Swiss People’s Party (SVP) is virtually sure to extend its tenure as the most popular party in the Oct. 20 ballot.

Swiss public broadcaster SRF will publish projections from noon, with the final result expected in the late afternoon or early evening.

Because plebiscites, held several times a year, give voters a say on everything from corporate tax to immigration, the outcome of the parliamentary election is much less of a determinant for future policy. No party wins in a U.S. or British sense, and there’s no coalition-building like in neighboring Germany.

Instead, Switzerland’s presidency is rotated annually among members of its seven-person executive. The newly formed parliament will elect the body in several weeks’ time, typically in December, with membership determined based on proportionality as well as strategic backroom deals.

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The election is taking place against the backdrop of a slowdown in Swiss economic growth, with the strength of the franc and Germany’s manufacturing sector woes dampening momentum.

Relations with the European Union, the country’s top destination for exports, are tense at times. Earlier this year, a disagreement between the two over a political treaty led to the Swiss disallowing the trading of shares in their companies within the bloc.

Yet survey data show neither economic concerns nor immigration, which dominated the 2015 election, are at the forefront of voters’ minds today.

It’s the environment, which climbed to the top of the agenda on the back of student protests, according to a report by pollster sotomo for broadcaster SRG.

Underscoring the issue’s importance, a study this week found that Switzerland’s glaciers lost more than 10% of their volume over the past five years, the fastest pace of decline in over a century.

“In the course of the year the topic gained traction with other age groups,” as well, and in recent weeks “again gained in importance,” sotomo said.

--With assistance from Chris Reiter.

To contact the reporter on this story: Leonard Kehnscherper in Zurich at lkehnscherpe@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jan Dahinten at jdahinten@bloomberg.net, Catherine Bosley, Vidya Root

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