The area of Public Relations concerned with political topics is known as Public Affairs (PA). PA mandates can include lobbying as part of their activities. Lobbying is defined as follows:
„Lobbying refers to the process whereby representatives of interest groups or companies attempt to influence and/or gain information from representatives of the state who are involved in the political decision-making process (executive, legislature, judiciary).“
Blümle, Ernst-Bernd (1987): Lobby. In: Görres-Gesellschaft (Hrsg.): Staatslexikon. Bd. 3 (7. Auflage) (Sp. 929–932). Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder.
As one of Switzerland’s leading Public Affairs agencies, Farner is committed to lobbying transparency and has set down rules to be observed in this area in its own Code of Conduct. Employees responsible for PA mandates that involve lobbying activities in accordance with the above definition must declare their mandates. (See the list below, which is updated on a quarterly basis).
As a member of the Association of PR Agencies in Switzerland (BPRA), Farner also advocates an accreditation solution for access to the federal parliament building.
Lobbying in Switzerland: rules and legal bases
Attempts by political parties, associations, companies, professional groups, trade unions, NGOs, cantons, local authorities and private individuals to make legislators aware of their legitimate interests are part and parcel of democracy and are made either through direct contact or with the help of specialists. These include not only individual consultants, but also PR agencies that offer lobbying as a service in the area of Public Affairs.
In addition, Switzerland’s system of part-time public service is based on members of parliaments or governments holding down regular jobs alongside their political activity. Voters know this, and often vote for their representatives precisely for that reason. Parliaments at every level have rules for the disclosure and handling of such vested interests.
On 17 May 2015, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung NZZ wrote about lobbying:
„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 of 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.“
Swiss direct democracy and the legal system that underpins it are based on the concept of a “free marketplace of ideas”: lobbyists and political advisers deal with information and special knowledge. However, each parliamentarian or member of a public authority is responsible for deciding how to classify, assess and use this expertise in their political work.
The following articles of the Federal Constitution (Cst) serve as a basis:
- Art. 5 Cst – Rule of law: State activities must be conducted in the public interest.
- Art.16 Cst – Every person has the right freely to form, express, and impart their opinions.
- Art. 147 Cst – Consultation procedure: the cantons, political parties and interested groups shall be invited to express their views when preparing important legislation, projects or treaties.
- Art. 161 Cst – Prohibition of voting instructions:
- The members of the Federal Assembly do not vote on the instructions of another person
- They disclose their links to interest groups
Access rights to parliament
Lobbying will always take place wherever and whenever politicians meet representatives of interest groups, and not just in the noisy corridors of the federal parliament building during parliamentary sessions – naturally a favourite venue for practical reasons, given that it is so easy to cross paths with Swiss parliamentarians here. In the picture of lobbying conveyed by the media, the Wandelhalle, or foyer, of the Federal Palace is held to be the Mecca of all lobbyists. However, in the real world, it lacks the significance accorded to it.
At present, access to the parliament building is governed as follows:
- For stakeholders wishing to influence government policy, permanent access to the parliament building takes on a certain importance. The majority of lobbyists gain such access by means of a guest pass.
- Each of the 246 members of parliament may issue two people with a pass. Details of every person granted unrestricted access in this way, including their function, are available for public inspection. However, guests are not required to disclose the interests they represent.
- The issuing of daily passes is also a customary practice. In addition to the guest passes, each member of parliament may grant access to the building on each day on which the parliament is in session to any two persons, who are not required to disclose their function. According to figures collated by the Parliamentary Services, 150 to 160 additional people each day gain access to the antechambers of the National Council and Council of States. However, they must be accompanied by the member of parliament who invited them and are not permitted to move around freely.
- Lobbyists can also be found among former parliamentarians. The latter are given a lifelong entry pass on request. According to Parliamentary Services, 400 badges of this kind are currently in use!
Our view: the existing “godparent system” which entitles parliamentarians to issue access passes to two people is outdated. The industry has been arguing for it to be replaced by a system of accreditation for some time now. Farner has played a leading role in promoting this change by helping to develop the BPRA position paper. In addition, Farner supports the procedural requests to further transparency in parliament that are currently under discussion.
As at: April 2020 [PDF] (updated on a quarterly basis)