The ties between parliament and foundations is much weaker than those between parliament and associations. There are simple reasons behind this.
The list of interests for members of the National Council and Council of States details about 2,000 mandates at associations, foundations and various organisations within the private sector. Of these roles, 333 are at foundations, 239 of which are unpaid. This means foundations are much more badly networked in parliament than associations: parliamentarians hold 965 roles with associations, 631 of which are unpaid. Lukas Golder, co-director of the research institute gfs.bern, is not surprised: ‘For politicians, foundation mandates are just a supplement, but associations can form the basis for a political career,’ he says. He cites an association’s members as the lever that makes them appealing for parliamentarians. They are closely linked to the associations and their issues. ‘Association members can lend their support during an campaign and help with financing,’ he says. He sees foundations as primarily communicating expertise on very specific issues and, in some cases, with little public impact.
‘Politicians may well underestimate the power they can gain by taking up a trusteeship,’ says Golder. He also sees a certain reluctance on the part of foundations. They fear that their activities could be depicted in a controversial way and are put off by the increasingly polarised nature of politics. This is where the involvement of female parliamentarians could help to reduce their misgivings. ‘Despite the fact that we have a civil parliament, the people there are practically professionals,’ says Golder. They can take away the fear associated with involvement in politics. An important task, in his eyes – because, he says, if you think politically, you quickly become more relevant. ‘You have more leverage on the ground and can create the basis for something new.’ Due to their specific skills, he sees the potential in foundations and would like them to acquire more of a start-up mentality, acting as a counterweight to polarised politics. Political education is of central importance to a democracy. and he has identified a gap here that foundations could close. There are already a few individual commitments, but nowhere near enough. ‘Political education creates a counterweight to polarisation. It teaches people to respect their opponent’s argument, to come together and to have a constructive dialogue,’ says Golder.
Worth five times as much
The members of the FDP parliamentary group have the highest number of unpaid posts on boards of trustees, with its 41 politicians totting up 59 roles among them. At 1.4 roles per person, the FDP also tops the leaderboard in terms of roles per person, followed by the Centre parliamentary group with 1.3 and the SP at 1.2. Green Liberal and Green parliamentarians come in at 0.9 and 0.8 respectively. Representatives of the SVP have the smallest number of unpaid positions on boards of trustees. In a comparison of both councils, members of the Council of States have a higher number of unpaid trusteeships, both per person and in total. ‘A seat on the Council of States is worth five times as much as a seat on the National Council,’ explains Golder. The National Council has almost five times as many members, but both chambers are on an equal footing. State councillors are of particular interest in terms of trusteeships since they are generally involved in more committees.