GENEVA: Swiss voters on Sunday approved a measure to tighten the Alpine nation’s gun laws and a shake-up of the corporate tax system.
The new gun law brings the country in line with many of its European partners despite the objections of local gun owners, while the new tax system heads off what the Swiss finance minister had called an existential threat to the country’s role as a business hub.
Switzerland’s public broadcaster said more than 63% of voters nationwide agreed to align with European Union firearms rules adopted two years ago after deadly attacks in France, Belgium, Germany and Britain.
The vote Sunday was part of Switzerland’s regular referendums that give citizens a direct say in policymaking. It had stoked passions in a country with long, proud traditions of gun ownership and sport and target shooting. Switzerland, unlike many other European nations, allows veterans of its obligatory military service for men to take home their service weapons after tours of duty.
The Swiss proposal, among other things, requires regular training on the use of firearms, special waivers to own some semi-automatic weapons and serial number tracking system for key parts of some guns. Gun owners would have to register any weapons not already registered within three years, and keep a registry of their gun collections.
Supporters of the measure, who included the Swiss parliament and executive branch, said similar measures adopted by the EU after deadly extremist attacks are needed to ensure strong police cooperation and economic ties with Switzerland’s partners in Europe’s Schengen visa-free travel zone. They insisted it will not block law-abiding citizens from obtaining legal guns, but would simply do more to track them.
Switzerland is not an EU member, but it is in the Schengen zone.
Opponents insisted the proposal would violate Switzerland’s constitution and do little to fight extremism or crime. They said the weapons used in recent attacks in Europe weren’t obtained legally. They argued the proposal cracks down mainly on lawful gun owners in Switzerland and rams through what they see as the latest diktat from Brussels.
Jean-Luc Addor, a populist Swiss People’s Party lawmaker from the southwestern Valais region, said adopting the EU directive would be “unjust, freedom-killing, useless, dangerous, and above all, anti-Swiss.”
“With no effect on the fight against terrorism, it will only hit honest, law-abiding citizens who possess legal weapons,” he wrote on his website. “It’s the epitome of injustice.”
Switzerland hasn’t faced major extremist attacks like those that have hit France, Belgium, Britain and Germany in recent years, leaving scores dead.
Ahead of the vote, most of Switzerland’s major political parties — except for the populist Swiss People’s Party — favored the measure, with support strongest among Socialists and Greens.
The rift on the issue has fallen along a rural-urban divide, with city dwellers more inclined to back the EU directive.
Tax and pension overhaul
The vote on tax reform and pension finance defuses a long-running row over favorable Swiss tax rates for multinational corporations. Acceptance was vital to prevent the country being branded a low-tax pariah, Finance Minister Ueli Maurer has said.
Two years ago, under the Swiss system of direct democracy, voters rejected an attempt to overhaul the tax system, which critics say gives the country an unfair advantage in attracting global companies.
Under pressure from the European Union and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Swiss had promised to meet international standards and eliminate special low tax rates that benefit around 24,000 foreign companies based in Switzerland.
The government plans to scrap special tax status for these companies that pay corporate rates in individual cantons as low as 7.8% to 12%, compared with 12% to 24% for “normal” Swiss companies.
Cantons in turn will lower their tax rates for normal companies to deter them from leaving.
To cover the resulting revenue shortfall of around 2 billion Swiss francs ($1.98 billion), the federal government will increase the share of federal tax that cantons get.
To allay fears that corporations would benefit at the expense of citizens, the package increases annual contributions to the state pension system by 2 billion francs by raising contributions from employers and workers and having the federal government chip in more.