Switzerland

   

Executive Accountability

#15
Key Findings
In part due to a legislature that is less professionalized than in many other OECD countries, Switzerland’s executive accountability falls into the middle ranks (rank 15) in international comparison. Its score on this measure has fallen by 0.2 points since 2014.

Swiss citizens are reasonably well informed about policies and referendum proposals. Many citizens overestimate the country’s leverage vis-à-vis the EU when voting in referendums, leading to political and diplomatic difficulties. Media policy coverage is generally of high quality.

Parliamentarians have strong formal oversight powers, but comparatively few resources. There is no national-level ombudsman, but the Audit Office is independent and autonomous.

Political parties are somewhat oligarchic, but membership rates are declining. Economic organizations are pragmatic and sophisticated, often more so than parties, while other interest groups vary widely.

Citizens’ Participatory Competence

#19

To what extent are citizens informed of government policymaking?

10
 9

Most citizens are well-informed of a broad range of government policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many citizens are well-informed of individual government policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few citizens are well-informed of government policies; most citizens have only a rudimental knowledge of policies.
 2
 1

Most citizens are not aware of government policies.
Policy Knowledge
8
There is some debate as to whether citizens are well informed in Switzerland. One of the first studies on the issue, based on surveys conducted after popular votes, found that only one out of six voters had a high level of policy knowledge. Studies based on larger data sets and relating to more recent data have showed that about 50% of citizens have good knowledge on public policy issues (i.e., they know the issue at hand and can provide reasons for their decisions). A recent study concluded that roughly equal shares of the citizenry lack civic competences, have medium competence and have a high level of competence. The voting behavior in the tax reform of 2017 showed the power of “no-heuristics.” In cases where the public feel insufficiently informed they vote against change. Three-quarters of respondents said they had difficulties understanding the proposal (which was of eminent importance to the economy) and a third of those who voted “no” explained their vote by their lack of knowledge (VOTO 2017, Kriesi 2005b). Another important explanatory variable for public knowledge of the content of a bill, participation and voting behavior is the intensity of the campaign around a given issue.

Another recent study found that just 42% of Swiss citizens knew how many parties were in the government (which at the time of the survey had not changed during the previous five decades). Moreover, 36% knew how many signatures were needed to trigger a referendum, and about 45% knew the number of EU member states.

In a 2007 comparative study titled “Citizenship and Involvement in Europe,” Swiss citizens scored at the same level as their counterparts in the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway with regard to the importance attributed to politics and interest in politics in general. These four countries demonstrated the highest scores among the 11 countries under study. In another recent study on political interest and sophistication, Switzerland ranked in sixth place (behind Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and Germany) among the 21 European countries examined in the European Social Survey. An analysis in 2005 showed that citizens are relatively well informed and rational when making decisions in direct-democratic votes (Kriesi 2005a). Either they consider arguments and counterarguments, or rely on reasonable heuristics. One of these heuristics is the “no-heuristic” (i.e., when the public are in doubt they tend to vote against the respective proposal). Thus, in general it seems fair to say that Swiss citizens are as well informed about policies as citizens in other mature and wealthy democracies.

There are, however, limitations to this cue-taking as an effective means of political decision-making. For example, since 2014 a large share of citizens believe claims by right-populist politicians that the European Union is so invested in Switzerland, that it must renegotiate the bilateral agreements to allow for the constitutional amendment limiting immigration. Based on this argument, a majority of citizens supported the new constitutional amendment. From the very beginning, however, the European Union made clear that it would not enter negotiations over the free movement of labor. Hence, limited political knowledge on the part of citizens, common to all democracies, and ideological contentions by political elites, used as reliable cues by knowledge-poor citizens, may lead to political cul-de-sac situations in a direct democracy.

Citations:
Hanspeter Kriesi, 2005a: Argument-Based Strategies in Direct-Democratic Votes: The Swiss Experience, Acta Politica 40: 299-316.

Hanspeter Kriesi, 2005b: Direct Democratic Choice. The Swiss Experience. Lanham: Rowmann & Littlefield.

VOTO 2017: VOTO-Studie zur eidgenössischen Volksabstimmung vom 12. Februar 2017, Lausanne, Aarau, Luzern: FORS et al.

Legislative Actors’ Resources

#21

Do members of parliament have adequate personnel and structural resources to monitor government activity effectively?

10
 9

The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring all government activity effectively.
 8
 7
 6


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring a government’s major activities.
 5
 4
 3


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for selectively monitoring some government activities.
 2
 1

The resources provided to the members of parliament are not suited for any effective monitoring of the government.
Parliamentary Resources
5
The Swiss parliament is not broadly professionalized. Officially, it is still a militia parliament, meaning that legislators serve alongside their regular jobs. However, this is far from reality. Almost 90% of members use more than a third of their working time for their political roles. Legislators’ incomes have also been increased over time. On average, the various components of remuneration total more than CHF 100,000 annually (about €85,000). However, legislators do not have personal staffs, and the parliamentary services division offers only very limited research services, though legislators do have access to the parliamentary library. Thus, in comparative perspective, member of parliament resources are very limited.

Are parliamentary committees able to ask for government documents?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may ask for most or all government documents; they are normally delivered in full and within an appropriate time frame.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are slightly limited; some important documents are not delivered or are delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are considerably limited; most important documents are not delivered or delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not ask for government documents.
Obtaining Documents
10
Parliamentary committees, as well as members of parliament, have access to government documents and receive copies of these promptly upon request. Legislators have also electronic access to the majority of government documents.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon ministers for hearings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon ministers. Ministers regularly follow invitations and are obliged to answer questions.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are slightly limited; ministers occasionally refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are considerably limited; ministers frequently refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon ministers.
Summoning Ministers
10
Parliamentary committees can summon ministers for hearings. Formally, this request is not binding. However, for political reasons, ministers typically respond to these requests, and answer the committees’ questions.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon experts for committee meetings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon experts.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are considerably limited.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon experts.
Summoning Experts
10
Parliamentary committees are free to invite experts to provide testimony at hearings.

Are the task areas and structures of parliamentary committees suited to monitor ministries effectively?

10
 9

The match between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are well-suited to the effective monitoring of ministries.
 8
 7
 6


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are largely suited to the monitoring ministries.
 5
 4
 3


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are partially suited to the monitoring of ministries.
 2
 1

The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are not at all suited to the monitoring of ministries.
Task Area Congruence
8
The Swiss government has only seven ministries, and all attempts to enlarge this number has failed due to political opposition within parliament. Hence, most of the seven ministries have responsibility for many more issue areas than in other democracies. Both the first and the second parliamentary chambers have nine committees dealing with legislation and two committees with oversight functions (such as the Finance Committee, which supervises the confederation’s financial management). Four other committees have additional tasks (such as the Drafting Committee, which checks the wording of bills and legal texts before final votes). Thus, the task areas of the parliamentary committees do not correspond closely to the task areas of the ministries. Nonetheless, this does not indicate that the committees are not able to monitor the ministries.

To what extent is the audit office accountable to the parliament?

10
 9

The audit office is accountable to the parliament exclusively.
 8
 7
 6


The audit office is accountable primarily to the parliament.
 5
 4
 3


The audit office is not accountable to the parliament, but has to report regularly to the parliament.
 2
 1

The audit office is governed by the executive.
Audit Office
8
Switzerland’s Audit Office is an independent and autonomous body. It supports the Federal Assembly and the Federal Council through the production of analyses and reports. The chairman of the Audit Office is elected by the Federal Council; this election has to be confirmed by the Federal Assembly. In administrative terms, the Audit Office falls under the authority of the Department of Finance.

Does the parliament have an ombuds office?

10
 9

The parliament has an effective ombuds office.
 8
 7
 6


The parliament has an ombuds office, but its advocacy role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The parliament has an ombuds office, but its advocacy role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

The parliament does not have an ombuds office.
Ombuds Office
2
There is no ombuds office at the federal level in Switzerland. Some cantonal administrations do have an ombuds office, however.

Media

#5

To what extent do media provide substantive in-depth information on decision-making by the government?

10
 9

A clear majority of mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions.
 8
 7
 6


About one-half of the mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions. The rest produces a mix of infotainment and quality information content.
 5
 4
 3


A clear minority of mass media brands focuses on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions. Several mass media brands produce superficial infotainment content only.
 2
 1

All mass media brands are dominated by superficial infotainment content.
Media Reporting
9
Radio and TV programs are of high quality in Switzerland. With very few exceptions, radio reports are reliable and analyses performed on an independent basis in a professional way. Some television programs are trending toward infotainment and the personalization of politics.

Parties and Interest Associations

#16

How inclusive and open are the major parties in their internal decision-making processes?

10
 9

The party allows all party members and supporters to participate in its decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are open.
 8
 7
 6


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, all party members have the opportunity to participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are rather open.
 5
 4
 3


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, a number of elected delegates participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are largely controlled by the party leadership.
 2
 1

A number of party leaders participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are fully controlled and drafted by the party leadership.
Intra-party Democracy
6
Party decisions and party lists are formally produced at conventions of party members or delegates. A 1999 analysis of local party organizations found that Swiss parties – with the exception of the Green party – prioritized party leaders’ strategic capabilities over membership participation. This tendency has increased in recent years.

However, these oligarchic tendencies are arguably not the primary problem with regard to inclusion in Swiss parties. The decline in party membership and party identification – particularly in the case of the Radical and Christian Democratic parties – along with the low level of party resources, may be even greater problems since party decisions are being made by an increasingly shrinking active party membership base.

To what extent are economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Business)
7
Employers’ organizations and trade unions in Switzerland are pragmatic and avoid rigidly ideological stances. Of course, the major interest organizations do have their ideologies, but this does not prevent them from entering rational discussions with other organizations and political parties. Furthermore, interest organizations in general have access to more substantial professional resources and often have a better-informed view of problems than do political parties. Thus, despite the defense of their own interests, associations often provide better policy proposals than do parties.

The influence of employers’ organizations has declined as single firms or small groups have elected to engage in their own lobbying activities. Internal differences have also split these organizations.

To what extent are non-economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Others)
6
Noneconomic interest groups are very heterogeneous in Switzerland. Some, such as environmental groups, undertake cooperative efforts with academic bodies, offer reasonable proposals and feature considerable capacity for political mobilization.
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