The campaign "0.7% – Together against Poverty" was what set in motion the gradual increase of Switzerland's allocations to development assistance. It was launched in 2004 by over 70 organizations, trade unions and churches under the coordination of Alliance Sud, at a time when drastic cuts were looming. With over 200,000 signatures, which were submitted in May 2008, the campaign was a resounding success.
Broad-based coalition and fruitful lobbying
Against the backdrop of this extensive popular support, Alliance Sud was able to forge a broad coalition in Parliament spanning various party lines. The coalition advocated for the goal of allocating 0.5% of gross national income (GNI) to official development assistance as politically, a higher figure seemed less likely to succeed. At the start of 2008, this figure was 0.37%, compared to the Federal Council's target of 0.4%. Thanks to lobbying by aid agencies and the commitment of parliamentarians from across the political spectrum, it was possible to convince a majority, first in the Council of States, then also in the National Council, to accept 0.5%.
Reluctant Federal Council, finally a partial victory
First it was a matter of breaking down the Federal Council's resistance. It cited budgetary considerations and initially refused to follow a request by Parliament made in December 2008 to table a dispatch on supplementary credit. In the end, the Council of States forced it to do so. In December 2010, an initial tranche was approved for the period 2011-12 and this was confirmed in February 2011 by the National Council with 106 to 79 votes.
With a clear Yes to the Federal Council Dispatch on International Development Cooperation 2013-2016, the National Council finally confirmed on 5 June 2012 that the development budget was to be increased to 0.5% by 2015. In 2015 this figure finally stood at 0.52%. This amount must be seen in perspective, however, as a substantial part of it is "phantom aid", meaning that 13% of official development aid spending goes towards caring for asylum seekers in Switzerland, and this in no way benefits developing countries.
Ecopop calls for earmarking
The question of the level of official development assistance again became topical in the public debate in August 2014. The Ecopop initiative was launched mainly by right wing circles and called for annual immigration to Switzerland to be limited to 0.2% of the resident population and for 10% of development spending to go to voluntary family planning.
Alliance Sud joined forces with the Sexual Health Switzerland foundation to oppose the second demand. It publicly made clear that there was no lack of contraceptives in poor countries of the South but that access for their peoples to healthcare and education was inadequate and incomes were too low.
On 30 November 2014 voters firmly rejected the initiative with a 73% No vote. Thereafter the media labelled it the Ecoflop initiative.
Hopes dim after national elections
Once again, the outlook for development assistance became somewhat gloomier in the wake of the federal elections of autumn 2015. Since 18 October, the bourgeois rightwing parties SVP, FDP and allied smaller parties together command an absolute majority of 101 seats of the 200 in the National Council.
In December 2015, Alliance Sud's fears came true: in the 2016 budget, the National Council approved massive cuts of CHF 115 million in development cooperation with the South and with Eastern Europe. In the 2017-2019 Stabilization Programme, development cooperation is expected to bear the brunt of the cuts.
Encouraging international signs
There is a glimmer of hope against these cuts at the international level. The 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals were approved in late September 2015 in New York in the presence of over 100 Heads of State and of Government. Goal number 17 ("Means of Implementation and global partnership") underscores that developed countries should allocate 0.7% of their GNI to development.
At the UN level, the Sustainable Development Goals will replace the Millennium Development Goals, which were one-sidedly oriented towards poverty reduction. The 2030 Agenda binds all countries to gearing their economy towards the sustainable use of natural resources and to combating their internal inequalities.
By contrast, the 2030 Agenda is largely devoid of the will to introduce binding mechanisms to combat tax optimization and tax evasion by multinational companies. Yet the outcome of this practice is that the countries in the South are truly being bled dry. The adoption of the 2030 Agenda is nevertheless a powerful signal in favour of positive momentum among UN Member States, including Switzerland.