New Swiss parliament starts first session: 6 key issues to know

New Swiss parliament starts first session: 6 key issues to know

With the most recent federal elections in Switzerland now in the rearview mirror, newly elected lawmakers have been sworn into parliament for their first-ever session. From balancing the books to healthcare and climate change, here’s all you need to know about what is being debated in the next parliamentary session.  

67 lawmakers enter Swiss parliament for the first time

On December 4, lawmakers in both the National Council (lower house) and Council of States (upper house) were sworn into office after the most recent elections. 54 members of the National Council joined 13 State Councillors in being elected to parliament for the very first time. 

Thanks to their strong performance in the last election, the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) remains the largest in the 200-seat National Council with 62 seats - nine more than they won in 2019. They are followed by the Social Democratic Party (SP, 41, +2), FDP. The Liberals (28, -1), the Centre (29, +1), the Green Party (23, -5) and the Green Liberal Party (GLP, 10, -6). 

In the cantonal-based Council of States, the Centre is the largest party with 15 seats - two more than in 2019. They are followed by the FDP (11, -1), SP (9), SVP (6), Greens (3, -2), Geneva Citizens’ Movement (1, +1) and GLP (1, +1). 

What key issues are the Swiss government facing?

Thanks to both chambers’ composition, and the fact that Swiss parties don’t tend to form “coalitions” with each other, any changes will need to be made on a case-by-case basis with the help of other parties. Of course, the threat of a referendum also looms large over the decisions they make.

With this in mind, here are some of the major issues facing the new Swiss parliament in its first-ever session: 

1. Balancing the federal books

According to Watson, the most important issue facing federal authorities will be stabilising the country's budget. The Federal Council warned that “expenses are growing faster than income”, and that from 2025, Switzerland faces “deficits in the billions that will only increase over the years.”

The newspaper explained that these expenses are largely locked in thanks to policies enacted by parliament. Some notable expenses include increasing the budget of the armed forces by 4 billion francs a year by 2030, subsidies for childcare services, funds to help people replace oil, gas and electric utilities, aid to Ukraine and growing costs in the asylum system.

What's more, without further reform, federal authorities predicted that second-pillar pension plans will also be in the red from 2029. Officials have asked that a report be drawn up on how the system can be reformed so that it remains financially stable. This report is expected to be published in 2026.

Commentators noted that parliament will have to consider whether plans to spend big on public transport and the energy transition are financially viable. The Federal Council said that parliament’s willingness to spend means it will also have to examine “revenue-side measures” - while vague, the growing deficits could see lawmakers vote to raise taxes in the near future.

2. Switzerland's plans for net-zero in 2050

Second on the agenda is likely to be how Switzerland will fulfil its target to be climate neutral by 2050. Recently, the alpine nation has been criticised for its slow approach to meeting the goal - not helped by the fact that the first concrete measures to combat climate change were only approved at a referendum in June 2023

This means that parliament will likely face several climate-related votes in the coming weeks and months. These include streamlining the approval process to build solar panels, wind farms and hydroelectric plants in the mountains, and revising laws related to CO2 emissions.

Parliament will also have to respond to a number of popular referendums, such as lifting the ban on new nuclear power plants to assist the energy transition and enshrining biodiversity as part of the constitution. 

3. Tough decisions on healthcare

The new parliament and government will also have to face up to the prospect of reforming the Swiss healthcare system. In a sector beset by worker shortages, federal authorities predict that the country will spend 100 billion francs a year on healthcare in the next two years. This is reflected in the fact that the cost of health insurance in Switzerland is expected to rise by more than 8 percent in 2024.

“It would be important to take a step back and ask: Is the Swiss healthcare system set up to continue to provide the population with high levels of care in the future? And what does it take to achieve this goal? Such an opportunity presents itself to the new Minister of Health,” Watson noted. 

4. Swiss foreign policy

Looking abroad, the SVP has announced that it will be launching new debates and votes on foreign policy and asylum seekers. The first two, if approved, will call on the Federal Council to reverse the less stringent criteria given to Afghan women seeking asylum in Switzerland. According to Watson, this vote remains on a knife edge and will depend on whether the Centre will come out in favour of it.

Another planned vote would see Switzerland join other nations in banning Hamas and labelling it a terrorist organisation - this measure, which is widely supported in parliament, is likely to happen in February. Finally, parliament and the Federal Council will debate relaxing the rules on giving arms and equipment to other countries.

5. Switzerland - European Union talks likely to resume

On December 15, the Federal Council is expected to ask parliament for its backing to restart negotiations with the European Union. As the country's largest trade partner, lawmakers have called for reforms to the framework that defines Switzerland's relationship with the EU

These talks originally broke down in May 2021, when Switzerland walked away from the table after the two sides couldn’t find an accord over protections of salaries, state aid rules and EU citizens’ rights when accessing Swiss social security. If approved, negotiations with the EU could restart as early as March 2024.

Swiss parliament to choose the next Federal Council

Finally, arguably parliament’s most pressing job will come on December 13, when a joint session of both houses will vote to decide on the composition of the seven-member Federal Council - Switzerland’s executive branch. So far, seats in the chamber have been subject to the so-called “magic formula”, which means two seats are given to the SVP, FDP and SP, and one seat is awarded to the Centre.

This year will see Health Minister Alain Beset step down from the council, which will leave one SP seat vacant. After an internal ballot within the party, the seat will either be filled by Beat Jans of Basel-Stadt or Jon Pult of Graubünden. What’s more, Green Party National Councillor Gerhard Andrey announced that he would try to disrupt the “magic formula” and take one of the seats from the FDP - either from Ignazio Cassis or Karin Keller-Sutter.

In what will largely be a ceremonial vote, parliament will also elect who out of the Federal Council will become the President of Switzerland. Currently, the role is set to be inherited by Viola Amherd (Centre) of Canton Valais.

Thumb image credit: Mor65_Mauro Piccardi /

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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