The suspense is over. After the Swiss people’s party’s (UDC/SVP) success at the recent Federal election many expected the party to get an extra seat in the Swiss Federal council, the seven member body that makes up the Swiss executive.
On 9 December 2015 it was announced that the new UDC member to join the other six on 1 January 2016 is Guy Parmelin from the canton of Vaud. On 1 January 2016 he will replace Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, who formed a new political party called the PBD after leaving the UDC in 2008, so reducing the number of UDC seats in the cabinet.
After the UDC won 65 of Switzerland’s 200 parliamentary seats in the October 2015 Swiss Federal election, demands for an extra UDC seat on the Federal council began.
The UDC put forward three candidates. Norman Gobbi from the Lega dei Ticinesi, a politically right movement in Italian-speaking Ticino, Thomas Aeschi, a young Harvard educated consultant from Zug, and Guy Parmelin.
- Swiss 2015 Federal elections – UDC gains big ground (Le News – 18.10.15)
- Why this former Swiss president’s days could be numbered (Le News – 20.10.15)
- Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf quits Swiss cabinet (Le News – 28.10.15)
Guy Parmelin is considered somewhat of an outsider. He originates from Bursins, a small town near Lake Geneva in the canton of Vaud. In an editorial entitled the Parmelin or triumph of limpness (Parmelin ou le triomphe de la mollesse) Le Temps said by electing Guy Parmelin parliament has once again chosen the most malleable candidate, not the most competent.
Who is Guy Parmelin?
On his website Guy Parmelin places particular emphasis on this views related to farmers saying that “Here as elsewhere, working the land is no longer remunerated properly. Ensuring consumers are aware of these deplorable conditions that farmers find themselves in is urgent.” He co-owns a farm.
He believes in restricting immigration. “We must regain national sovereignty and only welcome highly qualified migrants useful to multinationals, pharmaceutical companies and finance. As for low skilled migrants, they can come seasonally like those who come for harvesting.”
On Friday 11 December 2015, Guy Parmelin was set to inherit the portfolio of the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport from Ueli Maurer (UDC) on 1 January 2016.Ueli Maurer will take over the position of head of Finance from the outgoing Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf.
From 1 January 2016, the party makeup of the Federal council will be:
- 2 members from the PS (Socialist Party)
- 2 members from PLR (Liberal Radical Party)
- 2 members from UDC (Swiss People’s Party)
- 1 member from PDC (Democratic Christian Party)
The addition of Guy Parmelin will bring the number of French-speaking Swiss in the cabinet to three, equivalent to 42.9%, higher than the 22.5% of the Swiss population that is francophone. This has not happened since 2006. The other two francophones are Didier Burkhalter (PLR) and Alain Berset (PS).
Guy Parmelin was recently mocked in the media for saying: “I can English understand, but je préfère répondre en français” according to the Tribune de Genève. This has triggered discussion around whether Federal councillors should be able to speak English.
Switzerland’s magic formula
The make up of the Swiss Federal council has traditionally followed an unwritten “magic formula”. When modern Switzerland was formed in 1848 the seven-member executive all belonged to one political party. Over time Swiss politics has evolved and the political party makeup of the executive has moved with it. In 1959 an unwritten convention was agreed that meant that the Federal council’s makeup would broadly reflect the shares of parliamentary seats.
This video from Swissinfo.ch nicely explains this “magic formula” and its evolution.