Among other things, politics is the representation of interests. On 17 May 2015, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung NZZ wrote: “But the instinctive reaction to criticize lobbying is based on a misconception: that there is an objectively definable general interest within a state towards which politicians would dutifully work, if only they weren’t constantly dissuaded by shady whisperers with influence and money. The opposite is the case. Politics is what emerges from the struggles between parties, organizations and sectors. It usually begins in the administration, where the relevant organizations already sit at the conference table before the first draft for a law or regulation is even formulated. And it ends in the parliament, where the final touches are added, before the people act as adjudicator. So, logically, the representatives of the various interests can be found seeking attention in the Swiss federal parliament building, tobacco lobbyists and representatives of the Swiss Lung Association, and even a ‘lobbyist for God’ who is there to remind the peoples’ representatives of Christian values.”
Consequently, this means that it is an essential element of Swiss democracy for parties, organizations, companies, professional groups, NGOs, cantons, and individuals to try to voice their legitimate interests for the national lawmakers to hear. They do this either through direct contact or with the help of specialists. These include not only individual consultants, but also public relations agencies who offer services in the area of public affairs.
Misconception: The Swiss militia system makes members of parliament particularly vulnerable to lobbying.
The truth is: Swiss parliamentarians have a normal job alongside their political mandate. This system enables interests to be represented directly in the legislative body. Because of Switzerland’s parliamentary militia system, professional lobbying has developed far more slowly in the country than in other democracies with full-time parliamentarians. Farner Consulting is a pioneer in the field of public affairs, which also includes lobbying.
Misconception: Lobbying is a grey area without any rules.
The truth is: there are clear rules defined by the professional organization of lobbyists SPAG – the Swiss Public Relations Association – as well as by the BPRA Association of Swiss Public Relations Agencies in Switzerland. These rules specify that whoever lobbies must guarantee transparency and tell their contact partner for whom and for what they have a mandate. In addition to this, Farner has set down these rules in its own Code of Conduct for its colleagues, and ensures that they are trained in it.
Misconception: Lobbying provides access to the ‘corridors of power’ and is enabled by individual members of parliament issuing passes.
The truth is: Lobbying takes place everywhere, and is probably the least effective during sessions of parliament, when the foyer of the Swiss federal parliament building is noisy and busy. The existing system, in which each member of the parliament can provide two people with a pass, is outdated. For a long time the relevant organizations have been arguing for it to be replaced by a system of accreditation. Farner has played a leading role in promoting this change by helping to develop the BPRA position paper.
Misconception: Politicians are being ‘remotely controlled’ via lobbyists and PR consultants.
The truth is: Lobbyists and PR consultants work with information and specialist knowledge. The classification, assessment and use of this expertise for political work are always the responsibility of each individual member of the parliament. The underlying idea behind Swiss direct democracy and its fundamental democratic order is based on the ‘free marketplace of ideas’. The freedom to exercise a self-determined vote in a parliamentary ballot is guaranteed, and includes a ban on voting according to instructions. The educated and autonomous citizen or politician is in the position to determine his or her own will from the variety of ideas, opinions and statements and their intellectual processing. This is what Farner also believes.
Daniel Heller, Partner Farner Consulting Ltd.