The Impact of Legislature and Citizens on the Budgeting Process in Switzerland: Lessons for Central and Eastern Europe
Scholars evaluating national and local budget procedures in Central and Eastern Europe generally advocate a greater role for legislative bodies and citizens. Mature federations and decentralised countries in Western Europe are often cited as prime examples of participatory budgeting which is supposed to lead to greater fiscal discipline, a better allocation of public resources and higher administrative efficiency. This paper investigates the strengths and weaknesses of legislative activism in Switzerland, with special regard to its ability to answer the double challenge resulting from a push for new expenditures and lower taxes, on one side, and an attempt to maintain deficit levels close to zero, on the other. While the strong consensus orientation, the careful regulation of revenue and expenditure assignment, as well as the systematic use of voters' right to direct participation are perceived as key to the success of the Swiss democracy, this study also highlights how these features can limit the effective influence of the parliament on budgeting and planning. Central and East European countries may learn several lessons from the Swiss case, all of which are rather thought to add an input to long-term reforms rather than provide immediate solutions. The analysis points out some serious limitations of the hierarchical budgeting model as well as the consequences of a haphazard and opaque expenditure and revenue assignment. It reminds, however, that the dynamic process of post-socialist transition requires governments and parliaments to preserve a great deal of flexibility in the budget procedure. At the same time, new methods of public management and a greater transparency of public budgets are examples of tools that may be introduced on the medium term without the risk of slowing down the transition process.
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