DISTRIBUTION OF COMMITTEE SEATS
A new legislative period does not begin when the new members of parliament are sworn in, but when the parliamentary committees are reconstituted. The council offices select the members of their committees in the first session of the new legislative period. The members have a four-year term of office, and can be re-elected to the committee. There is a total of 427 committee seats for the two chambers of parliament. A sophisticated distribution ratio ensures that all parliamentary groups are represented in all committees in approximate proportion to their size. However, an apparently minor change in the size of a group – by just one or two seats – can mean that it ends up with disproportionately more or fewer committee seats. This is why the various parliamentary groups are keen to attract independent members of parliament to their ranks. Parties may also seek to join forces to form a larger group in order to have a strategic advantage to defend a common point of view.
The following example illustrates the impact that the election of a new member of parliament has on the composition of the committees. When FDP party member Karin Keller-Sutter was elected to the Federal Council in December 2018, the seat she left vacant in the Council of States had to be filled. Benedikt Würth, a member of the CVP, took up the seat in May 2019, making his party the strongest group in the chamber. This gave the CVP the right to an additional seat on no fewer than three committees, thus greatly increasing the party’s influence on policy in the Council of States committees.
The election held on 20 October 2019 changed the compostion of parliament considerably. Since the preliminary consultation committees shape the decisions later made by the Councils, these changes in the 51st legislative period may well result in significant policy changes.