"We’re going to have to learn how to 'work' with COVID-19."
Interview with Andreas Aebi
Swiss National Council President Andreas Aebi talks in an interview about how he plans to lead Parliament and which challenges await him and his colleagues in the National Council in the new year.
The past year has been unparalleled in many ways. The coronavirus pandemic has presented Switzerland with major challenges in terms of healthcare, politics, society and especially the economy. Which challenges will Parliament face in the new year?
In order for Parliament to function properly as an institution and perform the duties entrusted to it, it’s vital that the Councillors stay in good health. We’re doing everything in our power to take the necessary precautions to protect them whenever they’re in the building. Committee meetings can now be conducted via Skype Business, plus we’re checking to see whether Councillors can vote remotely.
There’s one thing we need to keep in mind, though: virtual contacts cannot possibly take the place of in-person discussions among the various Councillors. That means one of the challenges is to preserve Parliament’s cohesiveness in this difficult situation.
As President of the National Council, how do you plan to move ahead in the new year? According to which guiding principles do you intend to lead Parliament and where are your priorities?
I intend to lead the National Council in an efficient, non-partisan way. The same applies to meetings of the Administration Delegation (ADel) and the Office of the National Council.
The ADel is comparable to a company’s board of directors and is comprised of the highest-ranking representatives of each Council. The Office not only has representatives from the Council’s Presiding Colleges, but also from the various Parliamentary parties. The two bodies are important governing bodies of Parliament and their role certainly takes on even greater importance in times of crisis. They make strategic, organizational and operational decisions, whereas the Office also makes content-related decisions, like putting together the session program.
I’d also like to resume direct, interpersonal contact with other countries, especially with the presidents of other parliaments in the EU.
Over the course of the past year, the Swiss economy has suffered greatly as a result of the coronavirus crisis. The Federal Council, for example, offered COVID-19 loans to Swiss businesses to help ensure their liquidity. Which economic issues will you be addressing this year?
All of them. I don’t think there’s any one specific economic issue that stands out. We’re going to have to learn how to “work” with COVID-19. That also means reinstating or redefining aid for cases of hardship.
The billion-franc government aid package approved by Parliament last summer is nothing more than an enormous solidarity contribution paid by society. With our tax money, we’re all helping to mitigate the economic, social and societal repercussions of the pandemic. But even if we succeed in keeping the virus at bay, the effects of the crisis will still be seen and felt for a long time to come, particularly in light of the fact that it’s impacted the entire world. I’m concerned about those prospects, even if our social life hasn’t come to a complete standstill compared to other countries.
Is the coronavirus crisis shining a spotlight on a growing gap between business and politics? And if so, how can it be overcome?
I don’t see a growing gap. To me, it seems like collaboration between the two realms is even closer than in the past because we’re more dependent on one another during the crisis. Swiss banks, for example, cut through the red tape and offered help to get government loans paid out. And we’ll have to cooperate even more closely in the future, otherwise we won’t be able to overcome the crisis and its repercussions.
What do you expect 2021 to bring Switzerland in terms of the country’s relationship to Europe?
I’m sure the discussion will pick up steam again. The Federal Council has revised its negotiation mandate and a new Secretary of State is at the helm. We still don’t know which path the government will take, however. They’re playing their cards close to the chest for tactical reasons.
The Councils’ foreign policy committees are certain to take a clear stance and both Eurosceptics and Europhiles will try to exert leverage. I do hope that the Federal Council can conduct the negotiations in peace – indiscretions won’t help at all. But let’s not forget: The EU’s top priority is Brexit.
As President of the National Council, what are your own personal goals for your year in office?
I’ll do my utmost to provide the Council with sound, non-partisan leadership and to represent the institution of Parliament to the best of my ability.
I will make every effort to optimize our cooperation with the Federal Council and the Federal Administration. And I want to take steps to ensure that my year as President is full of positive experiences – in keeping with my motto: cohesion, confidence and satisfaction. I’d be thrilled if as many other people as possible could take my lead and do the same.