(as of december 2012)
01.080 s Governance reform
The PICs of both Councils first called strongly for government reform back in the 1990s. In 2001 the Federal Council submitted a proposal setting out the introduction of a second level of government consisting of ministers answerable to the Federal Council. However, in spring 2003 the Council of States decided in favour of expanding the Federal Council to nine members, together with an extension of the period of office of the President of the Confederation to two years. In spring 2004, the National Council passed the proposal back to the Federal Council and asked it to submit fresh proposals aimed at strengthening political leadership and improving efficiency within the administration.
On 13 October 2010, the Federal Council put before parliament an additional dispatch on government reform. The principal proposal was an extension of the period of office of the President of the Confederation to two years. Moreover, the Federal Council suggested various changes to the Government and Administration Organisation Act (GAOA) which codify duties to inform within the Federal Council, between department heads and their deputies and committees, and the deployment and functions of state secretaries. The Councils modified the proposal to amend the GAOA with further provisions to strengthen the role of the Federal Chancellery and adopted it on 28 September 2012. However, there was no majority in the PIC-N for the further-reaching proposals to reform the Federal Council. On 10 September 2012, the National Council decided, in accordance with the PIC’s proposals, to abandon proposals 1-3 regarding a two-tier government and a nine-member Federal Council and not to discuss proposals 4 and 5 regarding a two-year term of office for the Swiss presidency. On 26 October 2012, the PIC-S, on the other hand, came out in favour of an expansion of the Federal Council to nine members by 6 votes to 4 and requested its Council not to abandon proposals 1 and 2. However, the Council did not follow the motion in the winter session 2012 and rejected the proposals by 25 votes to 13 and 24 votes to 14 respectively. These proposals have therefore been eliminated leaving just proposals 4 and 5 pending, which are intended to introduce a two-year presidency.
08.432 n Parl. init. Switzerland must recognise its children
The parliamentary initiative submitted by National Councillor Ada Marra on 9 June 2008 proposed that third generation foreign nationals living in Switzerland should be able to apply for naturalisation at their own request or at the request of their parents. In general, after a preliminary examination of the initiative, both PICs recognised the need for legislation in this respect. The majority of committee members agreed that children born in Switzerland whose parents grew up in this country should no longer be seen as foreign nationals, but as part of Switzerland.
Following preparatory work by its sub-committee, the PIC-N launched a proposal on 5 November 2009 to amend the Federal Constitution and the Citizenship Act. The proposal aims to facilitate the naturalisation of third-generation foreign nationals and ensure uniform procedures across the country. The automatic granting of Swiss citizenship at birth (ius soli) is not envisaged.
On 15 April 2010, the PIC-N noted the mainly positive results of the consultation, but decided on 9 September 2010 to suspend its proposal to await the Federal Council’s draft text for the total revision of the Citizenship Act (11.022
n). When it met on 23 February 2012, the PIC decided to postpone debating its draft until deliberations on the total revision had been completed, as it would like to deal with this topic in a wider context. The Commission is expected to pick up the proposal again during the second quarter of 2013.
10.052 s Asylum Act: Amendment
The aim of the partial revision of the Asylum Act is to streamline proceedings.
Since its adoption by the Federal Council on 26 May 2010, the proposal has undergone numerous changes and amendments in the parliamentary procedures. As the designated first Committee, the PIC-S requested the Federal Department of Justice and Police (FDJP) to submit a report by the spring of 2011 indicating how asylum procedures could be streamlined across the board and not just in certain areas. In May 2011, the Committee took note of the FDJP’s report and decided to divide the proposal into two drafts. In Proposal 1, the Committee presented suggestions for solutions that can be implemented quickly, as set out in the original Federal Council dispatch together with the new requests listed in the Federal Council’s additional dispatch submitted to parliament on 23 September 2011. In the winter session of 2011, the Council of States addressed the proposal and approved its Committee’s requests. At the same time, the chamber decided to follow its PIC’s recommendation to return the original draft bill in its entirety as Proposal 2 to the Federal Council with the instruction to propose a marked acceleration in asylum proceedings, in particular by expanding existing federal asylum centres and constructing new ones.
The PIC-N, as second Council, dealt with both proposals in the first and second quarters of 2012. On the recommendation of its Committee, the National Council adopted a series of tougher restrictions in the 2012 summer session, which include providing all asylum seekers only with relief aid rather than social assistance. In addition, the National Council decided to follow its PIC’s recommendation to formulate a third proposal, declared as urgent, with legal provisions, stating that conscientious objection and desertion would no longer be grounds for asylum and that applications for asylum would no longer be accepted at Swiss embassies abroad. In addition, federal buildings and facilities may be used to house asylum seekers for up to three years without cantonal and communal authorisations and asylum seekers who are unruly or have a criminal record may be accommodated in special centres. The Council of States largely approved the suggestions relating to Proposal 3 in the autumn session of 2012. During the resolution of differences procedure, the Councils eventually adopted a provision allowing the federal authorities, with a view to the next revision of the Asylum Act, to conduct trials to test new, streamlined procedures in processing centres. The proposal, which was also declared urgent by the Council of States, came into force on 29 September 2012 and is valid until 28 September 2015.
The most important outcome in the resolution of differences procedure regarding Proposal 1 was that the Council of States abandoned the provision, whereby asylum seekers should only be provided with relief aid rather than social assistance.
In the 2012 winter session, the Councils will consider the remaining differences relating to Proposal 1 and are expected to conclude their deliberations on this proposal.
In the winter session 2012, the Councils resolved the remaining differences and passed proposal 1 in its final vote. Following the referral of proposal 2, the Federal Council is expected to submit a new draft bill to parliament in the second half of 2013 whose preliminary examination will also fall to the PICs.
10.403 n Parl.init. New system of support for the press
For several years now the PIC-N has been addressing the question of support for the press. It was this Committee that drew up the proposal that led to a system of indirect support for the press through preferential postal rates (06.425 n
Parl. init. Supporting the press through subsidies for distribution costs). As part of the total revision of the Postal Services Act (09.049 n
), the Committee succeeded in securing the unlimited extension of these reduced postal rates, contrary to the Federal Council’s wishes.
In the medium term, however, the PIC-N would like to arrive at a practicable alternative to reduced postal rates. Accordingly, it submitted a Committee initiative calling for an efficient and sustainable model for maintaining and promoting a varied and high-quality press; at the same time, a legal basis for such a model should be set up. Following the PIC-S’s approval of the initiative, the PIC-N set up a sub-committee to implement its wishes. This sub-committee is currently examining possible models and the pertinent basic legislatorial conditions in detail. In January 2012, at the request of its sub-committee, the PIC-N decided by 15 votes to 0 with 6 abstentions on a Committee motion (12.3004)
, which was approved by the National Council in the spring session. In the 2012 summer session, the Council of States decided to follow its PIC’s recommendation and adopted the motion in part. It instructed the Federal Council to examine support for the press and to develop a funding concept, but decided not to instruct it to draft a specific bill yet at this stage. The PIC-N is expected to decide in the first half of 2013, how it intends to proceed with its parliamentary initiative.
10.440 s Parl. init. PIC-S, Improved organisation and procedures in parliament
In its report dated 29 August 2011, the PIC-S set out a proposal containing many changes to the Parliament Act for the attention of the two Councils. The following proposed modifications to the Parliament Act are of greater consequence: initiatives submitted by members of Parliament or cantons may no longer be general proposals but should be in the form of specific preliminary drafts; an extraordinary parliamentary session should be an opportunity not only for a general debate in the National Council but also for both Councils to take joint decision; controversial questions must also be debated by parliament: the mass handling of procedural requests by the National Council without any discussion must be brought to an end.
The Council of States voted in favour of these proposals during the 2011 autumn session. The PIC-N requests the National Council to approve the proposal to hold a verbal debate on all controversial procedural requests. The Committee also approves the proposed form that extraordinary parliamentary sessions should take. A new instrument should be introduced at regulatory level, the ‘current debate’, to give the National Council the opportunity to hold discussions on current issues, as before. On the other hand, the PIC-N is not in favour of parliamentary initiatives and cantonal initiatives being submitted only in the form of a preliminary draft. On 6 and 10 December, the National Council followed the recommendations of its committees.
10.457 n Parl. init. New rules for concluding and approving of international agreements
12.069 n Competence to conclude international agreements. Provisional application and agreements of limited scope
During the discussions on the international cooperation agreement with the USA over the UBS case it became apparent that the competence of the Federal Council and the Federal Assembly with regard to concluding and approving international agreements is not clearly defined. The PIC-N would like these powers to be defined more precisely and, on 13 January 2011, voted clearly in favour of addressing a corresponding parliamentary initiative from National Councillor Joder (21 votes to 0 with 1 abstention). On 25 March 2011 the PIC-S followed suit, with 6 votes in favour, 3 against and 2 abstentions. Since the Councils submitted two motions during the 2010 winter session which also call for more clarity on this issue (10.3354 Mo. FAC-S and 10.3366 Mo. CEAT-N), the PIC-N first waited for the Federal Council to issue a corresponding dispatch, which was submitted to parliament on 4 July 2012 (12.069). The PIC-N unanimously rejects the Federal Council’s proposal, whereby the Federal Council intends to retain its responsibility for the provisional application of international treaties, the approval of which is the responsibility of Parliament. The Committee proposes that the relevant committees of both Councils must approve any provisional application. A minority is in favour of abandoning provisional application of agreements altogether. The proposal is expected to be addressed by the National Council, as first Council, in the spring session of 2013.
11.022 n Civil Rights Act. Total revision
The aim of the Federal Council’s proposed total revision of the Civil Rights Act is to ensure that in future only successfully integrated foreign nationals are granted Swiss citizenship. Accordingly, only applications from foreign nationals who already hold a ‘C’ residence permit, who speak at least one national language and who demonstrate their desire to participate in the economic life of the country or to obtain training will be considered. As an incentive for successful integration, especially well integrated candidates should be able to apply for Swiss citizenship through the normal procedures after eight years’ residence in the same place instead of the current twelve years. Moreover, if they move house, the cantonal and local requirement should be three years’ residence at the most. Finally, the total revision of the Act should lead to the harmonisation of procedures throughout the country as well as improvements in the exchange of data between the authorities involved at all levels.
As the first Council’s Committee, the PIC-N discussed a proposal during the second quarter of 2011. Due to the fact that some Committee members considered the reforms put forward by the Federal Council and the results of the detailed examination to be excessive while others found them inadequate, the PIC rejected the draft bill as a whole on 19 May 2011 by 14 votes to 9. This constitutes a motion for non-approval of introduction of the proposal. However, on 24 February 2012 the Committee reviewed its decision and approved the proposal by 16 votes to 6 with one abstention. The PIC is due to re-examine the proposal in detail in the first quarter of 2013 and submit its recommendations to the National Council in the spring session.
Former Federal Councillors. Waiting period before taking up further employment
In recent times, whenever a former Federal Councillor has taken up a paid post after leaving office it has made the news. Both PICs felt that something needed to be done in this respect and on 31 March and 27 June 2011 respectively, agreed to address two parliamentary initiatives from members of the National Council. Both initiatives call for a certain period to be respected before former Federal Councillors take up paid positions in the private sector (10.511 n
Parl. init. Binder. Waiting period for mandates and posts for former Federal Councillors, and 10.517 n
Parl. init. Leutenegger Oberholzer. Restrictions on mandates for former Federal Councillors). When it met on 23 February 2012, the Committee acknowledged that the Federal Council has introduced its own code of conduct on this issue. A majority of the Committee members, however, considers this to be inadequate and would like to draw up legal provisions to be presented to the National Council sometime during 2013.
11.446 s Pa.Iv. Act on Swiss Abroad proposal
At the beginning of 2012, both PICs addressed this parliamentary initiative submitted by Filippo Lombardi, member of the Council of States. The PIC-S was charged with dealing with this initiative and set up a sub-committee to this end, which must produce an initial draft proposal by the end of 2012.
11.490 s Pa.Iv. Jenny. Transparent voting procedure
On 31 June 2012, the Council of States voted in favour (22 votes to 21 with one abstention) of the parliamentary initiative by its member This Jenny, which calls for the implementation of an electronic voting system in the Council of States. The PIC-S has prepared the necessary changes to the internal regulations. The Committee proposes to publish the lists of members’ names with the votes they cast only for votes on an entire bill, final votes, qualified majority votes and roll call votes. The Council of States will address the proposal in the 2012 winter session. The Council of States decided on 28 November 2012, by 25 votes to 20, not to approve the introduction of the proposal. However, following a number of miscounts in the chamber, it voted on 10 December 2012, by 23 votes to 20, in favour of a motion to reconsider and decided by 28 votes to 10 to re-introduce the proposal and refer it to the committees for renewed consideration.
12.056 n Popular initiative: Election of the Federal Council by the People
On 7 July 2011 a popular initiative was submitted calling for the popular election of the Federal Council. On 24 September 2012, at the request of its Committee and the Federal Council, the Council of States decided by 35 votes to 6 to recommend the People and the cantons reject the popular initiative without making a counter-proposal. The PIC-N decided by 16 votes to 7 to make the same request to it Council, with two minority proposals for a counter-proposal. The Federal Council is due to issue a dispatch on this initiative in June 2012 and the Councils will then decide on a recommendation for voters after considering the proposals put forward by their Committees. On 4 December, the Council decided by 120 votes to 61 to submit the popular initiative to the vote with no counter-proposal. It decided by 123 votes to 43 to recommend that the initiative be rejected by the people and the cantons.
Legislation for implementing the Deportation Initiative
The popular initiative “For the deportation of foreign criminals (Deportation initiative)” (09.060 s
) was discussed by the PICs, which recommended its rejection. The electorate and the cantons subsequently approved it in a vote on 28 November 2010 and now the Federal Council has been called on to put before parliament a draft ordinance on implementation. In December 2010 the Federal Department of Justice and Police, which is heading this task, set up a working group, which drew up a proposal and sent it for consultation by 30 September 2012. As soon as the Federal Council adopts its draft, the PICs will debate the implementing legislation.
Modification of legal stipulations on the integration of foreigners
Through their support for various parliamentary initiatives over the past few years (see 06.485 n
, 08.406 n
, 08.420 n
, 08.428 n
), the PICs have repeatedly been made aware of the legislatorial need to improve requirements concerning the integration of foreigners, in particular in relation to their residential rights and acquisition of Swiss citizenship. Finally, during the 2011 spring session, a Committee motion was put forward by the PIC-N (10.3343 n
) calling for the Federal Council to draw up a bill on integration in general or to revise the Foreign Nationals Act. A proposal is likely to be presented to parliament in the first quarter of 2013.