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Point of view: Second homes – no end in sight

Dominik Siegrist is President of CIPRA International. © Heinz Hess

By voting “Yes” in 2012 in the referendum “No to the unrestricted building of second homes”, Swiss voters expressed their desire for new tourism policies. Dominik Siegrist, President of CIPRA International, expresses doubt that the population’s demand canactually be implemented.

The Swiss Federal Council recently introduced its law on second homes, intended to implement the second homes initiative approved in 2012. The Swiss voted two years ago in favour of the popular initiative “No to the unrestricted building of second homes”. Since then the building of new second homes has been forbidden in municipalities where the proportion of second homes is over 20%. The Italian environmental protection organisation Legambiente even presented its “Green Flag” environmental award to those behind the initiative.

But the people’s will in the world’s “oldest democracy” – as Switzerland likes to describe itself – is worth less than is generally assumed. The results of a referendum are one thing, implementing them as actual policies is another. Thus the federal government decided, despite the clear mandate from the people as sovereign, to leave numerous loopholes in the law implementing the second homes initiative. First homes and unprofitable older hotels can in future still be converted into second homes, while nominal first homes are still possible. This has opened another round in the debate about the destruction of the Alpine landscape caused by second homes – which will probably end up as the subject of another referendum.