The Swiss authorities online
Any member of the Swiss electorate can launch a popular initiative to demand an amendment to the Federal Constitution (of one or more articles or paragraphs). If the initiative is successful and is not subsequently retracted, the amendment to the Constitution will be put to the popular vote and needs to be approved by a majority of the electorate and the cantons (a ‘double majority’) in order to be made.
The Federal Council and the Federal Assembly may propose a direct counter-proposal to the initiative (usually a more moderate proposal), in the hope that the initiative committee will retract the original initiative and that the electorate and cantons will support the counter-proposal.
If the initiative (or the direct counter-proposal) is approved at the ballot box, in most cases parliament then has to draw up legislation on the basis of the amended article or articles in the Constitution.
At federal level, you can only launch a popular initiative to request an amendment to the Constitution and not the revision or introduction of a new federal law. However, a request to amend a law, which is called a ‘legislative initiative’, is permitted in several cantons (see below).
A popular initiative can be launched by all members of the Swiss electorate – including Swiss living abroad.
Click on the link below to find out how and where to submit signature lists at the Federal Chancellery in Bern.
Don’t forget that launching a popular initiative can cost a considerable amount of money. The committee has to pay all the costs for setting up and reproducing the signature lists and for any posters, advertisements, public stands or other signature-collecting activities. In the last few years all the initiatives which have been successful have cost about 150,000 francs.
Initiatives can also be launched at cantonal and communal level. These often have a greater scope than a federal initiative. For example, in several cantons it is possible to launch a legislative initiative to request a change in the law.
Go to your canton’s website if you would like to know more about launching an initiative at cantonal and/or communal level, and what it is possible to achieve with such an initiative.