In the red, everybody must do their part

The warning light came on in Bern: the Swiss federal government's 2022 accounts concluded with a shortfall of 4.3 billion francs
© CdT/Gabriele Putzu

The warning light has been lit in Bern. The fiscal situation is turning sour. The 2022 accounts of the Swiss Confederation came to a close with a deficit of 4.3 billion francs. The worrying factor is not only the magnitude of these red amounts, but more importantly the realization that for the first time since 2005, the regular budget has a structural deficit of 1.6 billion. This implies that even under normal economic conditions, revenues are not adequate to fund expenditures. The Federal Council has taken action to bridge the gap and put the accounts back on track (otherwise structural deficits would accumulate) thanks to the instrument of the debt brake, desired by popular demand more than two decades ago specifically to avoid such chronic deficits. New Finance Commissioner Karin Keller-Sutter said it will not be a walk in the park. The cost-saving exercise, in fact, could meet resistance, not least because it will touch sensitive areas; from Defense (the target of increasing military spending to 1 percent of GDP in 2030, which was approved after the outbreak of war in Ukraine, will only be reached five years later) to OASI widow's pensions, to kindergartens (the idea is to allow more burdens to be left to the cantons). All of this is combined with across-the-board cuts, intended to touch even an increasingly sizable administration. But the Federal Councillor gave two important signals. Firstly, she made it clear that there was strong unity of purpose in the government. Secondly, she said she will combat attempts to loosen the debt brake, which is considered a factor of stability and "a finance minister's best friend." The fact remains, that in order to respect financial discipline, in the political world everyone will have to play their part. Parliament, which is often at the origin of vast increases in spending (Ueli Maurer had blamed it for having lost its sense of proportion) and the scene of struggles, also among lobbies, over resource allocation, is now called upon to make an effort at moderation. On the measures one can and should discuss. But adding more tasks would only be a source of new challenges.