The Swiss welfare state system

With special reference to education policy

Authored by: Jean-Michel Bonvin , Stephan Dahmen

The Routledge International Handbook to Welfare State Systems

Print publication date:  January  2017
Online publication date:  January  2017

Print ISBN: 9781472449306
eBook ISBN: 9781315613758
Adobe ISBN: 9781317041085


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Social policies in Switzerland are characterized by their high complexity in at least three respects: the intervention of a plurality of actors in a multilevel federalist system marked by the presence of multiple veto points, the importance of corporate and private actors, and the late emergence and unequal significance of social policies in various fields of social policies. The first dimension points to policy processes based on the constant search for consensual solutions, striving to integrate all stakeholders in the decision making process in order to avoid possible referenda at a later stage. This feature offers not only local policy makers at cantonal or municipal level, but also social partners or other lobbies, a powerful say in the making of social (and other public) policies. This also translates to a division of labour between the different levels of government in the line of executive federalism, each one being in charge of specific policy fields (e.g. social insurances at federal level, social assistance at cantonal or municipal level), which risks resulting in a high fragmentation of the Swiss landscape of social policies. These two features – search for consensus (and the ensuing existence of veto points when policies are designed 1 ) on the one hand and subsidiarity and the difficulty to organize cooperation centrally on the other (when policies are implemented) – also account for the fact that Switzerland is often presented as a latecomer in the field of social policies.

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