The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) is the global organisation of national parliaments. It was founded in 1889, making it the world's oldest international political organisation.
The IPU has close historical ties with Switzerland. In 1891 Albert Gobat (1843‒1914), a National Council member who went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1902, represented the Swiss Parliament at the third IPU conference in Rome. There he was given the chair and organisational responsibility for the fourth conference the following year in Bern. It was under Gobat's initiative that a permanent organisation with a secretariat was established ‒ as the Inter-Parliamentary Union ‒ with its headquarters in Bern. His proposals were largely met with approval and he served as the IPU's first Secretary General from 1892 to 1909.
While initially based in Bern, the IPU's headquarters have been in Geneva since 1920.
The vast majority of the world's national parliaments are now members of the IPU (see here for a complete list of member states).
The IPU thus provides a platform to promote peace and international security, democratisation and respect for human rights through parliamentary diplomacy.
Other issues addressed by the IPU include gender equality, sustainable development and youth empowerment.
One of the main strengths of the IPU's twice-yearly Assemblies and other meetings is the largely informal nature of discussions. The IPU facilitates regular contact between parliamentarians from around the world and the exchange of experiences and good practices between national parliaments.
Swiss delegation to the IPU
Under the terms of Article 6 paragraph 1 letter a of the Ordinance on International Relations (ORInt; SR 171.117), the Swiss delegation to the IPU comprises five National Council members and three Council of States members.
Resolutions adopted by the IPU are not binding on national parliaments but may have to be introduced separately into national legislative processes. Members of the Swiss delegation have in the past tabled IPU resolutions in the Federal Assembly by means of parliamentary procedural requests.
The IPU and the UN
The IPU became a Permanent Observer in the UN General Assembly in 2002 and has entered into cooperation agreements with the UN and many of its specialised agencies and programmes. Their activities include annual parliamentary hearings at the UN to serve as a parliamentary sounding board for individual issues on the UN agenda, as well as meetings at regular UN sessions and international ad hoc conferences. Parliamentarians play an important role in multilateralism as they can act as intermediaries between citizens and international institutions. As a close partner of the UN, the IPU works to ensure that parliaments and their members pay more attention to UN programmes. Moreover, with its headquarters in Geneva and the Office of the Permanent Observer to the United Nations in New York, the IPU has a presence at the UN's two main locations.
Governing bodies of the IPU
Portuguese MP Duarte Pacheco was elected the 30th President of the IPU on 2 November 2020 for a non-renewable term of three years. He is the political head of the organisation and its representative at external events and gatherings. The IPU's main political body is the Assembly. This is held twice a year, usually once in Geneva and once in another city around the world. Special events such as themed seminars and regional workshops are also organised.
Such events are attended by parliamentarians from all over the world, thereby reflecting the will of citizens across all regions. The Standing Committees on Peace and International Security, Sustainable Development, Finance and Trade, Democracy and Human Rights and United Nations Affairs monitor developments in their specific area of work and prepare resolutions to be adopted by the twice-yearly Assemblies.
The IPU's administrative decisions are taken by the Governing Council. In addition to electing the President and Secretary General, the Governing Council also decides on admitting and suspending member states and oversees the IPU's budget and work programme. The Governing Council also appoints the members of the Standing Committees and other committees and working groups. The Swiss delegation currently participates in four such bodies. The national Council member Laurence Fehlmann Rielle (SP/GE) is a member of the Committee on Middle East Question (term ends October 2026). National Council member Laurent Wehrli (FDP/VD) is a member of the Group of Facilitators for Cyprus (term ends October 2026). National Council member Thomas Hurter (SVP, TG) is a member of the Working Group on Science and Technology (term ends March 2025). State Council member Johanna Gapany (FDP, FR) is a member of the High-Level Advisory Group on Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism (term ends March 2025). The final decision-making body is the Executive Committee, which prepares recommendations for the Governing Council’s decisions. National Council member Laurence Fehlmann Rielle (SP/GE) was a member of the Executive Committee until October 2021. Here she represented the Twelve Plus geopolitical group, of which Switzerland is a member. The six geopolitical groups play an important role in ensuring a fair representation of all parts of the world within IPU structures. The presidency of the IPU also usually rotates among these groups. Moreover, decisions on key issues are prepared within geopolitical groups so as to coordinate positions in advance.
The Association of Secretaries General of Parliaments, a consultative body of the IPU, exchanges information about the different legislative procedures in the national parliaments. The Federal Assembly Secretary General Philippe Schwab is an active member.