Swiss press say ‘absurd’ European climate ruling could harm democracy

ZURICH (Reuters) – Influential newspapers in Switzerland on Wednesday criticised a climate change ruling against the Swiss government by Europe’s top human rights court, saying it risked undermining democracy and the political clout of environmental groups.

Tuesday’s ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in favour of over 2,000 Swiss women who said Switzerland had not done enough to combat climate change is expected to embolden more people to bring climate cases against governments.

As environmental groups celebrated the ruling by the Strasbourg court, newspaper editorials said the decision would fan fears that the judiciary was getting involved in politics.

“Absurd verdict against Switzerland: Strasbourg pursues climate policy from the judges bench,” the center-right Neue Zuercher Zeitung (NZZ) newspaper wrote.

Describing the ruling as “activist jurisprudence” that could pave the way for “all kinds of claims”, the paper said the elderly plaintiffs were ultimately pawns of environmental lobbies that used the court to circumvent democratic debate.

Switzerland, where referendums regularly test the limits of national policymaking, has committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030, from 1990 levels.

The government had proposed stronger measures to deliver the goal, but voters rebuffed them in a 2021 referendum.

Under the headline “We don’t want climate justice”, national daily Blick called the court’s ruling “questionable” and warned it was likely to deepen divisions over climate policy.

“And in European politics, it should be noted, this plays into the hands of those who smell foreign judges everywhere,” the paper wrote.

The center-left daily Tages-Anzeiger meanwhile said in an editorial that while the court had highlighted the limitations of Switzerland’s climate agenda, democracy would come under pressure if courts began to shape policy.

Making reference to the 2021 referendum, the paper said the ruling risked confirming widely held views that the court was meddling with national decision-making.

That in turn could come back to haunt environmentalists at the ballot box when disgruntled voters vent their frustration “against the Green parties who now want to use the verdict for their political agenda,” the paper wrote.

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