Twenty-four-year-old Mathias Reynard is the youngest of the 246 members of the two houses of Swiss parliament in Bern. A teacher by profession from the canton of Valais, he wants radical change in society.
The new parliamentarian is aligned with the left of his party, the Social Democrats, but is nevertheless in favour of debate and seeking consensus.
From the terrace of the cafe where we meet, you only have to raise your head to see the imposing parliament building with its green dome. “I always feel a certain emotion when I come here, even though I’ve been in parliament for six months now.”
A surprise electoral success on October 23 last year, Reynard won his seat on the Social Democrats’ list along with his mentor Stéphane Rossini. As the youngest member of parliament, he had the honour of delivering the opening speech for the winter session. Swiss parliament meets for three-week sessions four times a year.
“Generally, people don’t listen too closely when the chamber is full. I had the opportunity to speak in front of an attentive assembly,” he said.
In March, for his second session, he was appointed rapporteur of his commission on the question of exam fees for medical students. “Access to higher education for all and the defence of workers are at the top of my agenda,” he said.
So far his contributions in parliament have mainly been connected to these issues, but he also spoke out in favour of fixed book prices and the defence of minority languages in parliamentary commissions.
Freedom of speech
Involved with the trade union Unia since the age of 15, Reynard clearly belongs to the left wing of his party. “I want to reach out to labourers, employees, workers. The Social Democrats should not represent an upper middle class, advocating some social and economic reforms.” The young deputy is well aware that “this vision is not shared by all of his fellow party members in Bern”.
His campaigning against the initiative of ecologist Franz Weber to limit the construction of holiday homes cost him a few friends, to say the least, at the heart of his own camp. In March voters accepted the proposal to limit the construction of second homes to no more than 20 per cent of each commune.
“There was quite a bit of tension, but my position, supported by the unions in Valais, was respected in the end,” he explains. “I could not campaign against the people who elected me. There are numerous small craftspeople active in construction who are not responsible for the excesses of the past and who will have to suffer the consequences of this vote from now on. My parents are among them.”
Mathias wants to be able to express himself completely freely, independent of the dictates of his party or the pressures of interest groups. He has observed their omnipresence in Bern, especially those representing the health insurers. Reynard also emphasises his appreciation of discussion and the debate of ideas.
“I am very much at ease in a [parliamentary] commission, the search for a consensus does not put me off. My only difficulty is not mastering German well enough yet.”
Reynard has observed the limits of part-time parliament though he is in favour of the system. His teaching job takes up three and a half days per week and he attends courses at a teacher-training college. “My diverse commitments take up a huge amount of time. In fact if you don’t count the numerous memberships of boards and associations, very few parliamentarians have regular jobs.”
On top of his professional and political activities, Reynard is involved in a host of social and community activities which he would not give up for anything. On his internet site the politician is seen dressed as a fan of FC Sion football club and as a HC Nendaz hockey player. In another photo he plays the trumpet with the traditional music group Guggenmusik de Savièse and he pops up as a grenadier in the Corpus Christi procession of Granois.
“I am very attached to Valais and its traditions. I love taking part in popular festivals, but never in the VIP tent,” he said.
Ardent protector of the local Savièse patois, Reynard admits to a conservative side when it comes to the defence of his local area. “It’s only by knowing your own roots and culture that you can open up to others. There’s no reason to leave the issue of identity to the [rightwing] Swiss People’s Party.”
What about the People’s Party? Reynard says it was one of his school friends, a member of that party, who pushed him into politics. “He made me realise that my values were very far from his own.”
So he takes offence when the media compare him to prominent People’s Party politician Oskar Freysinger, who comes from the same village of Savièse, is also a teacher and member of the same parliamentary commission.
“I combat his ideas vigorously. It’s true that we sometimes end up taking the train together to Bern. We are friendly to each other … as long as we don’t talk about politics.”
Reynard is prepared to make small compromises like wearing a suit, as long as he can keep his eyebrow piercing. The young idealist swears that we he will keep the spirit of revolution at his core.
His next great battle will take place at the cantonal and national levelss in two initiatives calling for a minimum salary. “I am aware that it will be hard to win this but it is important to make our voice heard today for future victory.”
Still genuinely taken aback to find himself in Bern, the young politician says he has no career plan.
“Whatever happens – friendship, family and my job as a teacher come first. I refuse to sacrifice everything for politics.”
Born on September 7, 1989 in Sion, in the southern canton of Valais, Mathias Reynard is the youngest member of the federal parliament.
He started his political involvement in 2003, as a member of the Valais Young Socialists, and in the youth parliament of the canton.
He was elected to the real Valais cantonal parliament in 2009.
In parliament he has spoken mainly about such issues as defending local post offices, working conditions, the economic development of the canton, youth unemployment, study scholarships and defending the local dialects known as patois.
For two years he helped edit his party’s newspaper, the Peuple valaisan.
In the federal elections of 2011 he was unexpectedly elected to the House of Representatives. In his own commune of Savièse he obtained 2,175 votes, 500 more than the well-known politician Oskar Freysinger of the rightwing People’s Party.
In the federal parliament Reynard is a member of the Committee for Science, Education and Culture and of one of its sub-committees dealing with children and young people.
He holds an MA degree from Lausanne University and works as a secondary school teacher in Savièse.end of infobox
(Translated from French by Clare O'Dea), swissinfo.ch