Politicians’ extra-parliamentary networks unravelled

Each member of the Swiss parliament has on average eight non-parliamentary positions – in clubs, foundations or private companies. These play a significant role in setting parliament’s agenda.

This content was published on August 2, 2015 - 11:00
Tania Boa, Christa Gall, Timo Grossenbacher, Thomas Preusse and Pauline Turuban, Swiss public television, RTS

Lawmakers are not only influenced by party affiliation in their parliamentary activities. They also have roles in institutions and companies – so-called interest connections – which they must declare on entering Parliament and must update annually. A public register of parliamentarians gives information on this, but it has some gaps. This was confirmed by Otto Hostettler, co-president of the association, whose goal is to increase the transparency of the lobbying work conducted in the Swiss parliament.

Hidden behind the matter-of-fact term “interest connections” are public and private positions, both honorary and paid, in associations, foundations or companies. and Swiss public television, RTS, cooperated to compare the public register with further data (see infobox on Methodology). In addition, the parliamentary motions put forward in the current legislative period were also examined.

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Parliament’s specialists

Some lawmakers are active in a very narrow specialist area, in line with their external roles. Hans Egloff, of the conservative right Swiss People’s Party, devotes himself exclusively to property and residential laws in the five motions he has put forward during this parliamentary term.

The motion “Safe living. One-time voting right on notional rental value”, for example, attempts to implement a tax reform that would benefit property owners. His proximity to these topics is no surprise when you look at his interest connections. A lawyer, he is among other things president of the Swiss Homeowners Association. He also sits on the boards of several real estate companies.

Ruth Humbel, of the centrist Christian Democratic Party, also focuses primarily on one area in her motions – healthcare. She is not only a member of the boards of the health insurer Concordia and two private clinics, but also sits on the boards of several foundations – the Foundation for Clinical Cancer Research and the Swiss Academy for Chiropractors, for example. She is one of the most industrious parliamentarians, with 24 motions during the current legislative period.

“The fact that I sit on the board of a health insurer doesn’t by any means imply that I only push for policies that favour the insurers. I have also put forward motions that didn’t suit the insurers,” Humbel says. She says she is above all concerned about fairness, solidarity and individual responsibility in healthcare.
Bea Heim, of the leftwing Social Democratic Party, is equally diligent, with 26 motions. In her case, too, the choice of subjects matches her “interest connections”.

Heim is the president of the board of the Solothurn Hospital Club. When asked, she says, “I could only achieve some progress in patient protection with a large number of motions.” She said her motions relating to healthcare were not a consequence of her extra-parliamentary roles. It is more the case that she receives offers from organisations because of her political activity.

Big differences between the parties

Kurt Fluri, of the centre-right Radicals, holds the record for the number of declared interest connections. He plays a role in 33 organisations outside parliament – among them, as president of a regional energy provider and as a member of the executive of Pro Natura Solothurn. The politician has this to say about it: First, lots of these positions are honorary; second, looking after economic interests for the prosperity of the country is not something fundamentally negative.

With his above-average number of interest connections, Fluri is in good company in the Radicals. The lawmakers in his party have on average 11 extra-parliamentary positions, followed closely by Christian Democratic politicians. On the other end of the scale are the Greens, with six positions on average.

The number of motions is a different matter – here Christian Democratic politicians are the most politically active, with an average of 11 motions, followed by Social Democratic politicians with nine. One of these is Susanne Leutenegger Oberholzer. With 31 motions, she is the frontrunner.

Interestingly, Radical politicians submit the fewest motions on average, despite their many connections – around six in the current parliamentary term. Consequently, there is no link between the number of extra-parliamentary positions and the number of motions. The assumption that politicians with many interest connections are particularly active politically cannot be confirmed by the figures.

These areas attract the most “activists”

Even so, certain patterns do emerge. Lawmakers who work in the health sector are by far the most active. Out of 43 of them, 23 have submitted at least one motion in that area. This debate is dominated by specialists, more than other subject areas. Of the 210 total motions submitted in this area, 54% were put forward by lawmakers who have a connection with the sector. One-third of them are doctors.

A similar picture emerges in the areas of energy and agriculture: here, too, motions are primarily put forward by lawmakers who have a personal or professional connection to the subject – more than in other subject areas.


RTS acquired a list of all motions in parliament during the current legislative from Smartvote, as they are published on the website of the parliamentary service. The parliamentary service already categorised the motions; the category “health insurance” was added manually. One motion can be listed in several categories.

Parliament also publishes a list of the self-declared interest connections of members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. These must be declared on taking office and every year after that. Because the list of interest connections is partly incomplete, RTS also consulted the Monetas database, which includes entries in trade registers (in cooperation with Stefano Puddu and Martin Péclat, University of Neuchâtel.) The interest connections were manually categorised.

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