Politician sets about tackling injustice

Ada Marra hopes her progressive politics will pay off in parliament Keystone

As the summer session of parliament opens, Ada Marra from Lausanne puts the fight against inequality and social injustice at the top of her political agenda.

This content was published on May 26, 2008 minutes

She is one of just a handful of full-time politicians in Switzerland and considers herself first and foremost an activist. Marra is rooted in her cultural background as the child of immigrants from southern Italy.

The current summer session of parliament in the capital, Bern, is only the third in her career after her election last October.

But the 35-year-old political scientist has considerable experience as a member of the Vaud cantonal parliament.

For all her political experience, she hasn't lost her spontaneity. She has a well developed sense of humour, her hands fly around and her glasses are regularly pushed back from her nose during our interview.

"I'm an activist, I can not deny it and politics is my calling. Long books on theory are not so much my thing," she says switching from Italian into French.

She says her upbringing as the daughter of Italian immigrants near Lausanne has made her who she is.

"Growing up in a rich country, I understood quickly that not everyone has the same opportunities. There are those who can choose and those who have to suffer their fate."

She stands by her commitment to the values of the Catholic Church. But confronted with perceived contradictions in her political and religious stance she sighs. "I was sure you would broach this subject too."


Marra says education, integration and citizenship are her key areas of interest. She chairs an association to fight illiteracy, but is also seeking to move into areas such as welfare and social security.

"Education is crucial. A minimum of professional training allows you to make a choice."

For herself, Mara has chosen to focus on her mandate as a parliamentarian for the centre-left Social Democrats.

Unlike most of her colleagues in Switzerland she has decided to give up her day job with the Swiss Students Union - a move that did not hurt her financially.

"I can live well on SFr6,000 ($5,816) net a month. I've have never had as much in my life."

She says she prefers to take her time to do her parliamentary work properly. Doctors also advised her to avoid too much stress as she was diagnosed with a form of multiple sclerosis last year.


After her election last October Marra says she is still in a learning phase.

"Parliament strikes me as a big showcase. Like in a theatre actors come on stage and leave again. Then there all are these unwritten rules."

She says she wants to avoid the trap of seeking the media spotlight at any price. Political parties are pillars of the democratic system, but extra-parliamentary groups and movements are better suited to bringing about the necessary reforms, in her view.

Not surprisingly, her political opponents are rightwingers with a xenophobic agenda. She is still savouring parliament's decision last December to vote out the controversial justice minister, Christoph Blocher.

And she plans to take on the rightwing Swiss People's Party on immigration and integration issues.


Marra wants to launch a new attempt to grant Swiss citizenship to all foreigners whose grandparents immigrated to this country. She warns against a proposal to reinstate ballot box decision on citizenship applications to be decided on June 1.

"The People's Party initiative is dangerous. Voters are awarded absolute judicial powers."

Marra was the driving force behind the creation of group of parliamentarians with dual citizenship.

"There are at least eight of us now, and definitely more than in the last term. We have a special responsibility to fight for citizenship matters."

Conversely, she is also in favour of a proposal to boost the status of Swiss expatriates in politics. "It's important to give them a say in parliament by creating a Swiss abroad constituency."

Labour and aid

As for the parliamentary summer session, Marra supports proposals to continue and extend a labour accord between Switzerland and the European Union. She is convinced that trade unions have a role to play to ensure labour agreements are not undermined.

She also supports moves to boost Switzerland's contribution to development aid.

"It is a good sign that proposals to gradually increase Swiss aid to 0.7 per cent from less than 0.4 per cent won a majority in a parliamentary committee."

However Marra says she believes the funds should go to aid projects rather than governments. "There have been cases of abuse, and it's no good turning a blind eye to it."

And what are her hopes for the main event outside parliament next month - the Euro football championship?

"In an ideal world both Switzerland and Italy qualify for the final, then I will win either way," she laughs.

swissinfo, Urs Geiser and Andrea Tognina

In brief

Marra was elected to the House of Representatives as a member of the centre-left Social Democratic Party in Lausanne, canton Vaud.

She is one of more than 50 new parliamentarians elected last October.

Her party has 52 seats in the two chambers, making it the second-largest group in the 246-strong parliament.

Marra, a 35-year-old political scientist, was born to Italian parents who had immigrated to Switzerland. She holds dual Swiss and Italian citizenship.

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Summer session

The regular three-week summer session summer takes place from May 26 to June 13.

High on the agenda are proposals to continue and extend a labour accord between Switzerland and the EU.

The House of Representatives is due to begin debating Switzerland's contribution to development aid over the next four years.

Similarly the house is the first chamber to debate plans for a constitutional amendment on human research.

Also on the list is a plan to boost patent protection against imported goods.

The Senate discusses a proposal to ease property sales to foreigners in Switzerland.

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