Parliament to be more closely involved in soft law projects

Press release, 27.06.2019

The Federal Council wants to involve Parliament in a more targeted manner in soft law projects. This is because although not legally binding, soft law can be politically effective. In line with postulate 18.4104, the Federal Council notes that soft law has become an instrument used to shape international relations. At its session of 26 June, the Federal Council adopted a report outlining ways for Parliament to be involved in a more targeted manner in soft law projects while maintaining the constitutional balance of powers and Switzerland's ability to conduct foreign policy. In particular, the Federal Council aims to improve the provision of information and reporting to Parliament and to step up exchanges between the two bodies on soft law.

In recent years, soft law has evolved into an instrument that is deployed to shape international relations. Despite the weakening of the multilateral system, soft law opens up opportunities for Switzerland because it allows for a consensus-based further development of the international order and swift response to emerging global challenges. Nevertheless, soft law also poses a challenge for Switzerland, in particular with respect to Parliament's participation in shaping foreign policy. The Federal Council therefore considers it a priority to create the necessary conditions for Parliament to better assess soft law instruments and, on this basis, to exercise its right to participate in a more targeted manner.

Parliament's right to participate in foreign policy
Since foreign policy and domestic policy are closely interlinked, Parliament's right to play a part in shaping foreign policy has gradually been extended. In order to safeguard Switzerland's interests in a fast-moving international environment, a balance must be struck between the scope afforded to the legislative branch to participate and Switzerland's ability to conduct foreign policy. The criterion of material importance that applies under current law is key to Parliament's involvement in soft law projects. Given that there are a large number of soft law instruments and that they are usually issued under tight deadlines, it would be unfeasible for Parliament to participate in the creation of these instruments across the board.

The Federal Council's proposals
The Federal Council therefore takes the view that no new legal basis is required. It considers, rather, that greater involvement by Parliament can be achieved within the existing legal framework by keeping it fully informed of soft law projects and involving it in good time. The Federal Council proposes three measures to keep Parliament better informed and to allow more exchanges on soft law matters between the two bodies. In particular, members of Parliament are to be consulted more frequently and provided with better documentation and regular reports on relevant soft law projects. This should improve Parliament's ability to exercise its right to participate in shaping foreign policy with respect to soft law and in general also strengthen trust between the executive and legislative branches in the area of foreign relations.

What is soft law?
Soft law refers to a large variety of international instruments. What these instruments have in common is that they are not legally binding (soft) but prescribe certain behaviour (law). Unlike international law, soft law does not create any obligations under international law, which is why states cannot be held legally responsible for breaching it. Failure to implement soft law is at worst subject to political sanctions.

Report (de)(pdf, 887kb)

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