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Militia system Attracting young generation for volunteer public service

Pupils visiting the House of Representatives

Students visiting the Swiss parliament: The younger generation is also a small minority in local governments, a study found.

(Keystone/Peter Klaunzer)

Swiss municipalities have presented a host of measures to encourage young people to take up political office at a local level. A study found potential in harnessing the traditional part-time public service to get young adults to actively engage in local politics.

The Swiss militia system is not just about military training. It can involve a variety of civilian functions, such as serving in the volunteer fire brigade. The study suggests expanding the range of civilian duties to include sitting in local councils.

“The militia system is part of Switzerland’s republican heritage and a tenet of the successful Swiss model,” says the association representingexternal link more than 70% of the country’s 2,212 municipalities.

But about half of them have serious problems finding enough interested citizens to become local councillors, according to a study published in 2017.

In a bid to tackle the shortage of personnel, the association launched a nationwide brainstorming effort and commissioned a study as part of its activities during the Year of Militia Work.

There are up to 20% of young adults aged 25 to 35 who are potentially interested in taking an active role in their municipalities, according to the study which was published on Thursday.

But many respondents say such a mandate might be too time consuming and they feel it could also be too much of a commitment over several years.


Nevertheless, the authors of the study conclude that steps are needed to make involvement in a local council more attractive and, not least, to find ways of engaging the younger generation.

Nine out ten younger citizens were never contacted or asked whether they were interested in a mandate at local level, the scientists say.

An online platformexternal link provides local politicians, municipal administrations and political parties with 84 proposals to help them find candidates, using video clips and interactive tools.

The promoters launched a nationwide brainstorming competition to make the current militia system more attractive. The ten best ideas will be chosen at a public event, sponsored by the Swiss business community, at the end of this month and the winners are awarded financial support to be invested in refining the proposals.

The list of ideas includes a code of conduct for local politics, including transparency rules, as well as a proposal to make active engagement in a municipality part of the Swiss conscription system.

A booklet by the Avenir Suisse think-tank to respond to the shortage of political volunteers drew public attention in 2015. with input from Sonia Fenazzi

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