Voters in nearly all of Switzerland’s 26 cantons rejected proposals to increase first-pillar pensions by 10%.

In a popular referendum over the weekend, nearly 60% of voters rejected the so-called AHV-plus model, which had proposed increasing the AHV basic state pension – known as the AVS in French-speaking Switzerland.

The Swiss government, company representatives, economic think tanks and the country’s pension fund association (ASIP) welcomed the outcome, with Interior minister Alain Berset suggesting “the people have understood the major hurdle we are facing of creating a stable first pillar”.

His remarks were made in a press conference after the results were published on Sunday – and just a day before the major chamber of Parliament, the Nationalrat, begins its autumn session, which includes discussions on the Altersvorsorge 2020 (AV2020) pension reform proposal.

A ‘yes’ vote on the AHV-plus referendum would most likely have sent the AV2020 proposal – which covers both the first and second pillars – back to the drawing board.

After this weekend’s resounding ‘no’ vote, Berset called on all stakeholders to “break up the reform clogging retirement provision”, warning that it would become “increasingly difficult and expensive” the longer it took to reach an agreement.

ASIP, which had rejected the AHV-plus proposal, welcomed the “clear result”.

It told IPE the unions’ argument that a higher AHV pension was needed because Pensionskassen could not deliver on their promises was “unconvincing”.

“This is a vote in favour of the more comprehensive ‘Altersvorsorge 2020’ reform,” it said. 

Like Berset, ASIP called on all parliamentary parties to find common ground on reform, rather than use it for political gain.

“We need a reform that is accepted by the majority and stands a chance of being accepted in a public referendum,” ASIP said.

Because parts of the reform package will require changes to the Swiss Constitution, the whole of the AV2020 proposal is likely to be put to a public vote.

In the wake of the AHV-plus referendum, conservative politicians withdrew their support for a one-off increase in AHV pension payouts, which is currently part of the reform package.

The Swiss people’s party SVP even announced that it would file a motion to break up the package into three parts.

The parliamentary session is scheduled for three weeks; when exactly the debate on the AV2020 will take place remains unclear.

For more on Switzerland’s pension reform process, read the November issue of IPE