Why elected MPs in Switzerland are very different to everywhere else

The Local
The Local - [email protected] • 21 Oct, 2019 Updated Mon 21 Oct 2019 12:37 CEST
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The 200 newly elected members of Switzerland's parliament will not be rushing to move to Bern full-time because, well, they have lives outside of politics. But is there a downside to this?


On Sunday the Swiss elected their new parliament, the Federal Assembly, consisting of the 200-seat National Council and the 46-seat Council of States. 
But newly elected members will not be rushing to move to Bern full-time because Switzerland’s deputies are not career politicians. Most of them have “regular” jobs in their home districts, in addition to their part-time parliamentary duties.

How often does the Federal Assembly meet?

The parliament convenes four times a year for several weeks to discuss various issues and pass legislation. But in between sessions, each deputy must read proposals for new laws and attend commissions meetings. On average, parliamentary duties will take up between 50 and 70 percent of a deputy's time, though some legislators work more hours.

Why don’t members of the Swiss parliament work full-time on behalf of their constituents?

The Swiss believe in the grass-roots notion of “citizen legislature”, which means being close to their constituents and keeping one foot in the “real” world. This allows them to have a better grasp of everyday lives of their constituents and the issues that affect them. Being a politician “is not our main profession, and it’s not our only profession”, said Gerhard Pfister, president of the Christian Democratic People’s Party, who is a retired high school teacher. 

What are some of the jobs that deputies have away from the parliament?

Predictably, there are many lawyers, but the ranks also include teachers, doctors, farmers, secretaries, architects, chefs, post-doctoral candidates — virtually every profession that is in line with what their constituents do.

How much are Swiss parliament members paid for theirt part-time work?

Switzerland is among the highest-income countries in the world, and deputies are paid relatively well, between 130 000 and 150 000 Swiss Francs a year. However, a percentage of their salary is given to their party. And even though Swiss deputies don’t work full-time, their wages are in line with those of other European parliamentarians.


What are some negative aspects of a system allowing elected officials to hold jobs outside the parliament?

One of the risks is the possibility of a conflict of intrerest between a deputy’s parliamentary duties and their professional responsibilities, which opens the door to lobbying.

"I can’t imagine how an elected official can make decisions in the parliament that would not be in the best interest of their employer”, said Georg Lutz, a political scientist at the University of Lausanne.

According to a study published in September by Transparency International, the 246 members of the previous parliament had vested interests in 1,700 companies — pharmaceutical and banking industries top among them.

Do these these conflicts of interest interfere with an honest policy-making process?

Like everything else in Switzerland, lobbying too is well regulated and vested interests have to be clearly stated. Deputies must list their links to the private sector in a special register, so there is some oversight of their outside dealings. In other words, there is a degree of transparency and accountability.

Are the Swiss constituents satisfied with the work done by their part-time representatives?

The 2018 World Values Survey indicates that the Swiss have a very high level of trust in their parliament. However, as Florian Maier, president of Young Liberals Party tweeted: “Trust is good. Control is better. Swiss legislative politicians know that every law they introduce is subject to a referendum. Thus, they can’t become elitist”.




The Local 2019/10/21 12:37

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