European pushback against government overreach

Two instances of the people being fed up with overweaning statism - in Switzerland and France - may indicate the people of Europe are approaching the limits of their tolerance for the ever-expanding powers of government.

In Switzerland, a measure to limit the pay of executives went down to a crushing defeat:

Switzerland stepped back from a movement to control corporate pay levels, overwhelmingly rejecting an initiative that would have restricted executive salaries to 12 times that of the lowest paid employee.

Roughly 65% of Swiss voters Sunday opposed the 1:12 Initiative for Fair Pay, according to results from all of the country's 26 cantons reported by Swiss television. Another 34% supported the referendum item, which was named for the organizers' belief no one in a Swiss company should earn more in a month than someone else makes in a year.

The rejection of the 1:12 initiative marks a move away from Swiss efforts to more tightly govern how companies compensate their employees that has been driven by a growing wealth gap between the country's executive class and everyday workers.

Earlier this year, Swiss voters approved a strong say-on-pay proposal that will require a binding shareholder vote on executive salaries at all publicly traded Swiss companies when a law is finalized. Named after Swiss businessman and politician Thomas Minder, it will also ban signing bonuses, golden parachutes and other forms of compensation.

"We certainly don't need the state dictating pay levels," Martin Janssen, chief executive of the ECOFIN-Group, a Zurich-based institutional investment adviser, said of the 1:12 Initiative. He added that the Minder initiative would provide Switzerland with enough guidance on salary issues.

Opposition to the 1:12 initiative had been fierce, with the cabinet and both houses of parliament issuing recommendations that voters reject the measure because it would make Switzerland a less attractive place to for companies to do business.

In France, farmers blocked roads with their tractors to protest new taxes and regulations being imposed on them by the EU:

A total of seven roadblocks were up in the Paris region, according to the website of DiRiF, which runs the area's road network, and which advised commuters to take public rail transport. Television news channels showed long lines of blocked traffic under rainy skies and near-freezing temperatures.

"I don't think this is the right way to express one's views," Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll said in an interview in Le Figaro newspaper. "We are always open to dialogue."

The action is the latest in tax revolts in France, which in recent weeks has seen horse-riding clubs, truckers and small retail outlets protesting against increased levies by President Francois Hollande's government. Hollande, who's seeking to narrow the government's budget gap, has become the least popular French leader since 1958.

Today's protest was called by farming associations in the Paris region. In addition to nationwide issues such as a proposed trucking levy and a higher value-added tax on fertilizer, the farmers are angry about anti-pollution laws that would limit tractor use on certain days. They're also opposing changes to the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy that will increase spending on livestock to the detriment of cereal farms, which predominate in the Paris basin.

Routes to Paris's two airports were open. The A6 highway from the south was reduced to one lane in the Paris direction about 40 kilometers south of the capital. The N12 toward Normandy was blocked 50 kilometers west of Paris.

Any opposition to the ever expanding role of government in the lives of people should be cheered - even if the steps are small and tentative. The debt crisis in Europe - which has temporarily been submerged by worries about economies slipping back into recession - is likely to come to the fore again sometime soon. This will serve as a reminder that the cradle-to-grave nature of EU governments is not sustainable and that other ways must be found to achieve social cohesion and security.

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