Friday, 19 September 2014

Budgeting in Switzerland

There has been some concern expressed amongst the financial press that promises made to Scotland will cause budgetary uncertainty and devalue Britain as an economic safe haven (click here). But Switzerland shows that that need not be the case. The OECD published this detailed analysis in 2005. Things may have changed since but reading it reveals a number of things. They have a constitutional commitment to debt containment. The limits are defined mathematically and compensate for the business cycle. 75% of the budget is transferred to sub-national government and social security funds. It's complicated, but shows how detailed financial policy can be implemented in a direct democracy federation by elected, often part time, politicians.
The report also provides a succinct summary of Switzerland's constitutional history:-

"Switzerland came into existence as a national State in the first half of the 19th century as a consequence of a process of political integration of 25 regional communities known as “cantons”. This process culminated in the establishment of the first federal constitution in 1848. This constitution was based on a compromise between a liberal Protestant majority, mostly living in a small number of populous cantons, and a Catholic conservative minority, mostly living in a large number of thinly populated cantons. The rights of the minority were protected through constitutional provisions that guarantee the competences of the cantons and limit the responsibilities of the Federation and through cantonal representation in the federal political system, particularly in the Council of States (the upper chamber of Parliament)."

And it summarises their unique system:-

"The Swiss budgeting system is characterised by three special features that differentiate it from most other OECD countries:
● the political environment, characterised by direct democracy (referendums), federalism and a tradition/system of achieving consensus;
● the debt containment rule, which is a constitutional provision mandating a balanced budget over a business cycle (structural balance);● the nature of the Swiss federal budget as a transfer budget."

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