Interview with Albert Jörimann, former president of BIEN Switzerland


albertjorimanCan you remember you very first encounter with Basic Income?

That was back in 1995. Hans Peter Stihl, owner of a big chainsaw company and president of the German Federation of Entrepreneurs, spoke approvingly about the „Bürgergeld“ (Citizen’s Income). I was a union secretay at that time and wrote an essay about entrepreneurs not always being the class enemy, above all when who support Bürgergeld.

Then the topic left my sight until 2003, when I read an article about BIEN Switzerland in <<Le Courrier>>, a Geneva based newspaper.

How did Switzerland become involved with the First International Week 2008?

BIEN Switzerland was involved in the Basic Income conferences of the german speaking countries in the previous years. But since our headquarters were always in the French speaking part, in Geneva, we were not able to develop a real participation in the International Week in the german speaking part of the country. So, our role was rather one of observers. Furthermore, in the german speaking part, we were not very well connected at that time.

In 2006 the “Initiative Grundeinkommen” was created by Enno Schmid and Daniel Häni (initiators of the 2016 Swiss Referendum on Basic Income) in Basel. By hindsight, from then on everything evolved in the direction of the Basic Income popular initiative with the establishment of the film “Kulturimpuls”, the creation of the group around Daniel Straub and Christian Müller in Zurich, the publication of our financing book in 2010 and finally the Basic Income congress of 2011 in Zurich, rather than being focused on the International Week.

Which event has stayed in your mind as being special?

All the activities in Vienna I took part in. I met activists from the anti-poverty movement, which I remember as very enriching discussions and interpersonal connections. To see the status of development work in the different countries.

What is your vision for the future of Basic Income – for Switzerland and the world?

Well, I assume that sensible ideas prevail in the end. Basic Income is one of the most sensible ideas I have ever come across. It isn’t a vision, I feel confident that Basic Income will come within the next 10-20 years, that the debate will have advanced enough for that.

There are several obstacles in some states, above all in the developing countries, for instance the lack of a reliable national money distribution system, corruption, not to speak of things like riots or civil war. Apart from that, Basic Income is compatible with all different forms of government and organisation, also with islamic legal structures.

I am convinced that I will live to see the introduction of Basic Income.

It is not relevant if Switzerland will be the first country to have it, but we will all experience it, because it is simply the rational choice for a society built on full industrialisation and international division of labour.

There is no way around it.

What is your suggestion to activists / countries who are participating for the first time and don’t know how yet?

Basically, there are two things that should go hand in hand: to understand the essence of the Basic Income proposal and to disseminate and popularize it. In order to attract the attention of the public, you can try to develop spectacular activities with the corresponding media presence, for instance abseil from the parliament building, anything that might cause the media and the people to speak about Basic Income.

How can Initiatives who support opposing finance models work together internationally?

Since for the time being the Basic Income has got to be conceived at a national level, including how to deal with existing national social security systems, all kind of social subsidies, forms of taxation a.s.o., there cannot be at this moment an uniform proposal for the whole world, maybe apart from the distribution of a global CO2 tax, as Philippe van Parijs proposed it some years ago, which would be the same amount everywhere and would have to be operated by the United Nations.

An EU wide Basic Income is conceivable in addition to the existing welfare systems, but obviously, it would cover the basic needs only in the poorest member states. Otherwise, you have to take into consideration the national frameworks.

Why is an International Week important for Basic Income?

It helps to understand that you’re not active solely within your own country.

There is this paradox: on one hand side, Basic Income can only be conceived globally, as part of the basic human rights, and on the other hand side, it has got to be instituted locally, within national structures, for the time being.

I like it as a brilliant event, because Basic Income can really only be thought as a global idea.

 So what is happening in Switzerland right now?

Actually, all the activities are geared to the upcoming popular vote about the Basic Income initiative next year. At this very point, a lot of internal preparation for the campaign is going on. There is very little time and energy left for activities within the International Week in Switzerland.

In this context, the international movement and especially the neighbouring countries can support our activities, above all with personal contacts and by sensitizing people to the topic and to the upcoming popular vote. Furthermore, the Swiss are quite aware of the international public opinion, so the media coverage of the campaign can have a certain dimension, too. But if the voters get the impression that foreigners are exerting any influence or even pressure on the Swiss public opinion, this would be radically counterproductive.

Anyway, the campaign should be taken advantage of to create awareness of the public not only within Switzerland, but in other countries as well and thus strengthen the Basic Income movement there.

What is your believed outcome of the public vote next year?

There are two versions, an optimistic one and a realistic one. The optimistic forecast is: The voters are seized by a wave of optimism, of confidence in the future, of a will of change for the better, they capture the essence of the Basic Income proposal and are convinced, and this maybe even in conjunction with the dynamics of the refugee influx that puts into question several thinking patterns that seemed to be eternal… If this happens, the vote will become something like a big celebration to cherish life, community, the achievements of the modern society and to proceed towards the next steps of civilisation. This is not impossible, and if this is the case, we will have more than 50% of affirmative votes.

The realistic forecast is that the Basic Income initiative will have not more than 30% of affirmative votes, even if the opponents underestimate the strength of the proposal. The main goal of the popular initiative was anyhow to create a discussion within the population about the subject which previously was completely unknown to the large public. After all, it is not uncommon that such proposals need more than one attempt to pass. But still, we will try our best to have it now.


by Manja Taylor, 01.09.2015

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