Switzerland’s House of Representatives is very cost-effective compared with parliaments in other industrialised countries.
A study of 20 parliaments found that Switzerland’s had the lowest operating costs, primarily because its part-time parliamentarians are paid so little.
The study, carried out by Bern University's Institute of Political Science, was based on information from the past legislative term - 1999 to 2003 - and related only to the House of Representatives.
It ranked parliamentarians’ salaries in 20 member countries of the Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD). The wealthy Swiss were the second most poorly paid – only Spanish parliamentarians took home smaller wage packets.
One reason is that Swiss parliamentarians are part-timers – they do not give up their day jobs when they take a seat on the benches.
“The study showed that we have the most cost-efficient parliament in the OECD,” said Ruth Lüthi, an administrator of a key parliamentary committee. “It also showed that ours is a very hard-working parliament.”
The Swiss ranked 14th in terms of the number of hours they spend on parliamentary duties. But although they tend to work fewer hours than in most other OECD countries, Lüthi said they typically put their public duties before their private jobs.
“Actually we don’t have a ‘militia’ parliament because most parliamentarians devote two-thirds of their working time to the House,” Lüthi told swissinfo.
As well as earning less than parliamentarians in other countries, Switzerland’s elected representatives do most of their own work, which saves the taxpayer from forking out for parliamentary aides and secretaries.
“Swiss parliamentarians are not that badly paid,” said Lüthi. “But they receive less support than [their counterparts] in other countries.”
In terms of their physical presence in parliament, the Swiss do not spend much time on the benches – ranking 17th in the study. They also tend to make fewer proposals and to ask fewer questions, although they do spend a substantial amount of time doing committee work.
Were it not for Luxembourg and Belgium, says the study, Switzerland would have the least animated parliament of any country.
The study was intended to contribute to an ongoing debate about whether being a parliamentarian should be a full-time job, as in the United States, Canada and France, said the office of parliamentary services.
The Swiss tend to serve shorter terms than their overseas counterparts, and critics of the militia system say that it favours the wealthy because parliamentarians have to have alternative sources of income.
The study’s authors said their research shows that different approaches to parliamentary duties are possible, and that countries with professional – ie: full-time – parliamentarians did not necessarily have higher legislative productivity.
They said members of semi-professional parliaments benefit from training and professional development.
A move to service on a full-time basis would likely require a pay rise and could result in older parliamentarians, the study concluded.
The average time in office would increase and there would be a decline in the number of new elected officials.
swissinfo with agencies
A Swiss parliamentarian receives on average SFr80,000 ($51,000) a year.
A German member of parliament earns SFr130,000 per year, while an Italian parliamentarian takes home SFr260,000.