Reading about the recent scandals in Germany and the United Kingdom where it was disclosed that British Ministers and German Regional Prime Ministers and their services could be bought (a meeting with the Prime Minister of North Rhine Westphalia Jürgen Rüttgers at about 6000 Euro, a conversation with the Prime Minister of Saxony Stanislaw Tillich at 8000 Euro…in comparison was the service of a British minister relatively cheaper at around 5500 Euro for a full day), I started to wonder why such scandals were not prevalent in the Swiss political system. Of course, it is possible that Swiss politicians are not that easily tempted by money.
However, one reason could also be that the interests of Swiss interest groups are so well represented in the Swiss parliament anyhow that they don’t need to buy the services of politicians for lobbying services for meetings or special lobbying activities anymore. The current Swiss parliamentary militia system provides an easy opportunity for business and social interests to create dependencies amongst Swiss parliamentarians. Swiss members of parliament receive approx. 120 000 CHF (ca 83 800 Euro) per year including 30 000 CHF (21 000 Euro) for personal assistants. This compensation is relatively modest in comparison to European colleagues so that an additional income thanks to advisory board seats of companies and associations is attractive. The affiliations to interest groups are all the more appealing since they leave the chance to dedicate more time and expertise to political work instead of earning money with a “normal job”. The increase of complexity in political affairs has led to an ever growing workload which is only weakly reflected in the latest increase of allowances for parliamentarians, their staff, as well as higher financial support for party groups.
Therefore, the current reform discussions in the Swiss parliament should also discuss whether this pseudo-militia parliament with the advantage of parliamentarians with a greater proximity to the citizens comes at the cost of a strong influence of interest groups which offer additional salaries and expertise. This point has not been underlined sufficiently in the ongoing discussion on parliamentary reform in my opinion. Before turning the parliament into a professional parliament with up to three assistants per MP as in other European Parliaments and higher salaries, a first step for more transparency should be the obligation to disclose all financial income sources of Swiss parliamentarians. Recent reforms in the European Parliament and German parliament which oblige parliamentarians to declare additional income sources to the public are at least first – sometimes not very well implemented – attempts to reveal dependencies of parliamentarians. Such a reform in the Swiss parliament might make it easier for voters (and political scientists…) to understand and interpret the behavior of their representatives.