A part-time parliament
Switzerland’s Parliament is a semi-professional body: its members dedicate a great deal of time to their parliamentary work, but most continue to pursue other professional activities. Due to the high workload – and the increasingly complex range of subject matter – voices can occasionally be heard questioning the present system and calling for a professional parliament. The counter argument is that part-time politicians are more grounded, accessible to the people and able to make a valuable contribution to debates due to their professional experience and expertise.
The members of the Federal Assembly spend a lot of time in Bern. In addition to their attendance during the sessions, council members also have to come to Bern for committee meetings. Members of the National Council sit on one to two committees, while their colleagues in the Council of States sit on three to four committees. This means that National Council members are in Bern for an additional 30 to 50 days a year, and those in the Council of States are in the capital for an extra 40 to 70 days a year.
Although around 18 per cent of National Council members and 40 per cent of those in the Council of States are full-time politicians, most continue to pursue other professional activities, ranging from medicine or law to the trades, business to professional associations. Farmers, bankers and communal politicians can also be found among the parliamentarians in Bern.
The council members’ remuneration is regulated in law:
- An annual salary of CHF 26,000 is awarded for preparing for parliamentary work.
- There is a daily allowance of CHF 440 for attending council sessions and committee and parliamentary group meetings. Council members who head a committee receive double this amount. Members are paid CHF 220 for producing a report for a committee in their council.
- There is an annual allowance of CHF 33,000 for staff and material expenses.
- In addition, there are allowance for food, travel and accommodation.
- Council presidents and vice presidents receive an additional allowance.
In addition to this income and expenses, council members receive contributions to their pension fund. They pay tax on their salary and social insurance contributions are deducted from this; allowances and expenses are tax- and deduction-free, however.