“Women’s involvement in politics and business is especially close to my heart.”
Interview with Marina Carobbio
President of the National Council Marina Carobbio reveals which issues are particularly important to her in 2019.
Leading the National Council and the Federal Assembly during an election year is no easy task. Which principles do you plan to follow?
I’d like to try to guarantee fairness during the debates. There should be an atmosphere of mutual respect between the Councillors as they engage in political deliberations. Each and every one of them has the right to voice an opinion and to have this opinion heard – even during an election phase.
Which issues will you be focusing on in 2019?
One issue I’m particularly passionate about is women’s involvement in politics and business. I just recently had the honor of overseeing the Federal Council elections. Two competent women, Councillor Karin Keller-Sutter and Councillor Viola Amherd, were elected in the first round of voting. This was a historical day both for Switzerland and for us, as women. At the same time, though, it was merely one more step along the path toward a future where equal opportunities exist in all facets of our lives. There’s still a lot left to be done in that respect and I hope that I’ll be able to make a modest contribution toward the cause.
For me, another vital issue is social cohesion and politicians’ proximity to the people. In my capacity as President of the National Council, I plan to attend a large number of association-organized events. I’m convinced that you have to talk to the people directly before you can possibly understand what’s important to them and ultimately represent them. Politicians cannot be allowed to be distanced from the population, particularly given the fact that there are minorities and social groups out there which have nearly no voice because they’re not directly tied into the political process.
Relations between Switzerland and the EU are particularly essential. Which aspects of these relations take center stage?
Switzerland and the European Union cooperate closely in many areas, with positive outcomes for both sides. The economic sector is just one of them, but an especially important one, of course: Switzerland exported around CHF 114 billion worth of goods to the EU in 2014, with imports from the EU amounting to CHF 131 billion.
With figures like those, a proactive approach to European policies is decisive to Switzerland’s prosperity. We’ve successfully been following a bilateral course that has also been endorsed by the electorate several times. Yet if we want to continue pursuing this bilateral approach, while simultaneously strengthening and expanding it in the energy market or the financial services sector, for example, we need an institutional framework agreement.
Which aspects of this are dragging along in particular?
The accompanying measures are undoubtedly key issues and occasionally give rise to major differences of opinion. However, we must continue to guarantee this level of protection to ensure that Switzerland’s wage situation and working conditions are shielded against any potentially negative repercussions of the free movement of persons. I consider this to be fundamental. Second, I think getting the people of Switzerland involved as early as possible is vital. A framework agreement will never happen without their consent.
What would be a possible solution?
Negotiations always involve at least two players, each of which representing their own interests. When trying to reach a solution that both sides can agree on, they need to communicate in an open and honest way – respectfully and without making threats. There’s no magic formula for that, though, and no recipe that will guarantee success. With many different sectors and interests involved, the negotiations between Switzerland and the EU are extremely complex.
Could you name a few other areas in the political arena where you see major need for improvement?
One is the topic of pension schemes. The baby boomer generation is retiring and that is presenting the AHV with some temporary financial difficulties. Not only do we have to solve these, but we also have to raise pensions at the same time to ensure retirees a dignified life as they grow older. Plus, we need improvements in how insurance covers the new, flexible working models. The situation is tough, but I’m certain that the various political players will be able to work together to find a sustainable solution. Politicians also need to find answers to other issues like the rising costs of healthcare and climate change.
Switzerland hasn’t been very open to reforms in recent years: Of the three big reforms slated for the 2015-2019 legislative sessions, the pension scheme and tax reforms were rejected while the energy reform is effectively stalled. When will major progress be possible again?
There have always been phases throughout the history of Swiss politics when multiple reforms have been blocked. These phases, though, have also been repeatedly followed by periods of intense political innovation. Plus, approaching a problem step by step is typical for Switzerland. This way of doing things definitely has its advantages. That’s why I’m certain we’ll be able to preserve our high standard of living going forward and remain adaptable.
As President of the National Council, what are your own personal goals for your year in office?
As I announced when I took office, I plan to lead the National Council in Italian. That isn’t just a symbolic act, however. I’d like to boost the visibility of the Italian language and strengthen it over the long term. In a country with several official languages and a variety of cultures, it’s also a question of national cohesion. Many members of parliament understand and speak Italian. Parliamentary Services are flexible in that regard and are preparing more documents in Italian than in the past. Promoting the involvement of women in politics, which is still a very underrepresented group, is another ambitious goal. To that end, I also collaborated with female employees of the Parliamentary Services to launch the “Political Women” website. It aims to encourage women to get involved in politics and follow in the footsteps of the pioneering women who were the first to join the parliament in 1971. Among other things, this site draws parallels between the first wave of the women’s rights movement in Switzerland and the current debate on the actual status of gender equality efforts.