Switzerland should take a leading global role on climate and environmental protection, Corina Gredig believes. The young, newly elected Liberal Green parliamentarian plans to push sustainable policies that could harmonise the often disparate interests of society, business and the environment.
“I was very positively struck by the first parliamentary session in December. It seems that deputies treat each other with mutual respect, even when their views differ, and that there can be discussion and expression of opinions beyond the barriers of party and language”, Gredig says.
The young Zurich politician is one of a new generation, green and female, which swept into Switzerland’s parliament in last October’s electionsexternal link. Never before have so many seats in both chambers been occupied by women and environmentalists, from the Green and Liberal Green parties.
“Some long-term members of parliament have been saying that they feel a new atmosphere in parliament. I hope that’s true, and that it will be possible to put forward proposals from young groups or women which cut across traditional party lines,” she says.
“We already tried to do this December, for the issue of alternative national service, but we were short a few votes.”
Last October, Swiss citizens elected the most female parliament in the country's history. Although parity has not yet been reached, women now account for 42% of members of the House of Representatives. To mark this shift, swissinfo.ch is presenting profiles of up to eight newly-elected parliamentarians from different parties.
Holidays by train
Gredig, who grew up in the outskirts of Zurich, never seemed someone likely to take up a political career in Bern. At home she sometimes talked politics with her father, but her parents were not active. She was the first of her family to attend university, when in 2008 she began studing political science and economics at the University of Zurich.
“I wanted to understand how society as a whole functions politically and economically, given that those two aspects are closely related”, she says.
Gredig’s student years were quite a challenge: at the same time as working and studying, she had two children and started a political career. How did she manage to do it all?
“It was certainly a busy period in my life”, she recalls with a laugh. “I took longer than most to finish. Then too, there were some things I couldn’t manage to do. I didn’t have much chance to travel, for example. Some people my age have been to 60 or 70 countries.”
She is now wary of trying to catch up, however, due to the climate impact of travel.
In the past five years she has taken a plane for personal travel only once. “I choose to go by train, even to go on holidays. Clearly that means some restrictions. I tell my children they can bring only as much as they can carry themselves. Not seven teddy bears, just one.”
Liberal ideas for a greener society
What was it that drew her away from political science and into politics itself?
“As a political scientist, you begin to understand how politicians work. It’s a fascinating study in itself, but I personally found myself more interested in getting involved, getting things done and bringing about change. So I joined a party, the one that appealed to me the most. I did the smartvote questionnaire and my profile matched the Liberal Greens.”
And so, in 2010 she joined the Canton Zurich wing of the party, and by 2018 she had become co-chair.
After the Green Party, which was founded in 1983, the Liberal Greens are the only party established in recent decades that has seemed able to maintain itself on the national political stage. The centrist party was launched in 2004 by a group of people who had belonged to the liberal wing of the Green Party, which now tends to be more left-wing.
In last October’s election, the Liberal Greens won 7.8% of the popular nationwide vote, which translated to 16 seats in the House of Representatives.
Gredig’s party wants to build a sustainable society, but in accordance with liberal ideas. The Liberal Greens believe that business can also reap benefits from the transition towards sustainable energy, which means gradual withdrawal from nuclear power and fossil-fuels. This won’t be achieved by taxation and prohibition, but by the use of incentives favouring efficiency, energy savings and renewable sources of power, they reckon.
“For me, our party is a bridge between society, business and the environment. At least that is what it’s trying to be: it’s not easy to get these interests working together,” she says.
“The Liberal Greens strive to find a balance between these opposing interests. They are not trying to draw battle-lines, but to emphasise what we all have in common. This is what seemed fundamental for me when I first thought about getting politically involved.”
She is not somebody of extreme views, she says, and this suits the Swiss mentality.
“Switzerland is a country in the heart of Europe. Centrist politics is really in the nature of Switzerland. We are a constructive country, and constructive and pragmatic solutions have always got us ahead. I found I wanted to look for solutions, not get people’s backs up.”
In Gredig’s view, Switzerland can take on a leading role in the world when it comes to environmental and climatic issues.
“We can give up oil and nuclear power. It can’t be done in ten years, but we do need a vision. If, in the 19th century, people had said that a tunnel just couldn’t be built under the Gotthard, then that project would never have been implemented. My vision of Switzerland is not an Alpine country closed in on itself, but a country that wants to look after nature. I believe we can do it. We have great technological know-how... and the financial resources.”
Something is wrong
On the financial side, Gredig says she doesn’t understand the attempt to defend oil-based industry at all costs by the parties of the right, beginning with the People’s Party.
“Most of these fossil fuels come from dictatorships or countries at war. They are not products of our own. Conservative parties surely ought to be supporting local products. We don’t just need Swiss meat, we need energy produced in Switzerland too. I don’t know why the People’s Party, which says it is the party of farmers, has not recognised the potential of renewable energies.”
Although in 2015 her party’s initiative for “a tax on energy instead of VAT” was rejected by voters, Gredig still regards as essential a reform that would tax fossil fuels and redistribute the proceeds to those who respect the environment and climate.
“Today, usually, we don’t pay the real price of a product”, she says. “Coming generations will pay the price for unsustainable goods. Think of products made by children or women in poor countries: often they pay the real price with their low-paid work.”
“We need more transparency around the origin, manufacture, and real cost of a product. Today a flight from Zurich to London costs the same as a cheap meal in Switzerland. This cannot be, if you think of the money that would be needed to reduce its environmental impact. A train trip of the same distance costs CHF300-400. Everybody can understand that something is wrong here.”
New generation with environmental awareness
Sustainability, Gredig points out, cannot be just environmental, either. “We cannot leave financial burdens for the coming generations. It is great that we are living longer, but we need to adjust the pensionable age to life expectancy. If we spend too much of our old age security funds now, someone will have to make up the shortfall, and it is not fair to expect our children to do it.”
Gredig believes that sustainable development can only be reached with the support of all.
“We cannot just say the big banks are to blame for investing their money unsustainably and leave it at that. I think we all have to change: we can’t go on flying so much, having such big cars and such large living spaces.”
Notwithstanding the dangers to climate and the environment, Gredig is optimistic when she looks to ‘generation Greta’: “I think this generation has really taken the idea of sustainability and ecological awareness on board. I believe that maintaining the environment will become an fundamental requirement for all of us.”
(Translation from Italian by Terence MacNamee), swissinfo.ch