The National Council is working on the counter-proposal for biodiversity


fall session

Away from area targets: National Council is working on a counter-proposal to the biodiversity initiative

The National Council rejected the biodiversity initiative after a long debate. In the counter-proposal, the large chamber wants to dispense with a binding area target.

With a popular initiative, nature conservationists want to strengthen biodiversity in Switzerland. Politicians also share this goal.

Andrea Stalder

After several hours of debate – spread over three days – the National Council dealt with the counter-proposal to the biodiversity initiative. The council clearly rejected the actual referendum on Wednesday by 101 votes to 72 with 19 abstentions. The counter-proposal is not a sure-fire success either: it finally passed the large chamber with 104 votes to 83, with 5 abstentions.

A binding area target has been removed from the template. The Federal Council and the majority of the Commission actually wanted to define a value of 17 percent. This is how large the share of ecological infrastructure should have been by 2030. On the other hand, the council followed a request from Matthias Jauslin (FDP/AG). He chose the approach not based on a percentage of the area but on the quality of the areas.

Area target triggers «defensive reflex»

After consulting the cantons, the Confederation defines additional biodiversity areas of national importance. The situation and goals are determined by the Federal Council, the cantons implement the necessary measures, but in return they have a greater say. This is also a tactical measure. The rigid 17 percent were often the focus of criticism in the parliamentary debate. This number would trigger “defensive reflexes”, said Federal Councilor Simonetta Sommaruga.

The opponents of the proposal had repeatedly argued that the 17 percent would mean “an additional area the size of the canton of Lucerne” that would have to be set aside to promote biodiversity. This argument was now lost to the critics of the bill. This is probably one of the reasons why the SVP and parts of the center unsuccessfully supported the approach via the area. However, it was also criticized that the Federal Council received a “black box” with the Jauslin application, according to Stefan Müller-Altermatt (middle/SO). “This concept is a pig in a poke,” he said. All competence goes to the Federal Council.

Agriculture fears increasing pressure

“The total area should not increase,” said Simonetta Sommaruga. On the other hand, she sees “opportunities for upgrading” within these areas. The agricultural representatives in particular feared that the farmers’ areas would come under pressure with the initiative and counter-proposal. Sommaruga said she couldn’t understand other farmers’ concerns either: “Soil fertility, water retention, pest control, pollination – these are core interests of agriculture. You would have to represent them, »she said to the farmer’s president Markus Ritter (middle / SG).

Unlike the glacier initiative, the counter-proposal should not lead to the biodiversity initiative being withdrawn. This is “an insufficient answer to the acute biodiversity crisis and the loss of landscape and building culture”, announced the initiative committee at the presentation of the Federal Council’s plans. The financial resources provided would not even suffice to maintain the most valuable natural areas. According to the initiators, Parliament must improve the draft significantly so that withdrawal is an option.

The federal people’s initiative “For the future of our nature and landscape (biodiversity initiative)” came about in October 2020 with 107,885 valid signatures. The request requires that the Confederation and cantons provide the necessary “areas, funds and instruments” to strengthen biodiversity. Several nature conservation organizations are behind the initiative. Now the ball is in the Council of States.


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