Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf is currently one of the seven-member Swiss Federal Council, the executive branch of Switzerland’s government. While all seven members act collectively as the head of state, one holds the ceremonial title of Swiss president, acting as the nation’s figurehead for one year. Normally Federal Council members are reelected. Non-reelection of a sitting member has occurred only four times in the history of federal Switzerland. Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf has been a Federal Councillor for nearly 8 years and was Switzerland’s president in 2012. So why might her days as a Federal Council member be numbered?
Since 1959 the composition of the Federal Council has followed a “magic formula” that results in its party makeup being broadly in line with the number of seats held by the main parties in the Federal Assembly – the 200-seat National Council plus the 46-seat Council of States.
So what has changed?
In the recent federal election on 18 October 2015, the Swiss People’s Party’s (SVP/UDC) gained 11 National Council seats and would like an extra Federal Council member to reflect its election success. Both the Socialist and Liberal (PLR/FDP) parties have two members despite having fewer National Council seats than the Swiss People’s Party. The Socialists have 43 and the Liberals (PLR/FDP) 33 seats, compared to the Swiss People’s Party’s 65 seats – together these three parties hold just over 70% of the 200 National Council seats.
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So why is Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf in the firing line?
She does not belong to one of the main parties. Some time ago she was a member of the Swiss People’s Party in the canton of Graubunden. That changed in 2007 after she won an election to the Federal Council. The Federal Council vote effectively replaced Christoph Blocher, a prominent member of the Swiss People’s Party’s leadership, with Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf. The party’s leadership was not happy, called her a traitor and asked her to resign. She refused to resign. This led the party’s Graubunden branch to break away and form a new party called the Conservative Democratic Party of Switzerland. Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf now belongs to this party.
What happens next?
A vote. The next Federal Council election will take place on 9 December 2015.
Two questions loom. Will Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf resign as a federal councillor? And if she doesn’t, will she become the fifth federal councillor in the history of federal Switzerland to miss out on reelection ?