Switzerland’s parliament has re-elected Social Democrat, Simonetta Sommaruga (54) to the Federal Council to become the new President of Switzerland. She received 181 votes (well over 80%) in Wednesday’s parliamentary vote in Bern. She replaces Didier Burkhalter, the Foreign Minister. Sommaruga was first elected to the seven-strong cabinet in 2010 where she took over the justice and police ministry. The head of the economics ministry, Johann Schneider-Ammann, will serve as vice president.
She and the cabinet have a tough year ahead, thanks mainly to the UDC’s close-scrape immigration referendum success on 9 February 2014. They will have to negotiate with the EU on how to limit the numbers of EU emigrants to Switzerland (which contravenes the EU freedom of movement treaty) while avoiding retaliatory cancellation by the EU of most other bi-lateral treaties. This will be some balancing act, and one she must surely resent given that it is the right-wing parties that have put her and the government in such an awkward and potentially lose-lose position.
One of several other hot potatoes they must deal with is a right-wing sponsored initiative to introduce legislation ensuring the primacy of Swiss law over international law. This could pose serious problems for Switzerland’s relations with the EU and other nations in respect of issues such as human rights legislation.
That said, Simonetta Sommaruga is clearly not shy about challenging the status quo. She recently called for and secured acceptance by government for a draft law that requires the introduction of a quota for women directors on the boards of listed Swiss companies.
According to a report in swissinfo she has a state visit from French president, François Hollande to Switzerland set for next year. While political soul-mates on the left, let’s hope she doesn’t follow his sterling example of how to alienate just about an entire electorate.
This presidency will likely be one of the hardest in recent years. The stakes are high and will probably get raised again shortly. This former pianist will need to hold everything and everyone in harmony if she is to accomplish what Switzerland needs.