Today, Switzerland announced its new president for 2017. 53-year-old Swiss Christian Democrat party member, Doris Leuthard, will take over from outgoing president Johann Schneider-Ammann on 1 January 2017, less than three weeks before the scheduled start of Donald Trump’s term as US president. Her term will last one year. His will last four.
Born in the canton of Aargau, Leuthard studied in Zurich and worked as a lawyer before entering politics. She became a Federal Councilor in 2006, and, like the outgoing president, speaks four languages: German, French, Italian and English. She is one of two women in Switzerland’s executive, known as the Federal Council.
The job of Swiss president is ceremonial. All seven members of the Federal Council take decisions collectively and the president’s power doesn’t exceed that of the other six members of the executive. To some extent the president acts as the face of Switzerland and is an important element of the nation’s international diplomacy.
Leuthard, the current head of the federal department for the environment, transport, energy and communications, was elected by 188 votes. Of the total 207 votes, 21 were blank, 11 were for Ueli Maurer, and 7 were invalid.
It will be the second time she has taken on the role, last holding the position in 2010.
The election of Swiss presidents follows a convention: the Federal Council member who has not been Federal President for the longest becomes President.
In 2004, Doris Leuthard earned the nickname “Madame Cassis de Dijon“, after championing a new body of rules designed to remove protectionist trade barriers created under the guise of differences in product standards. Her work on this won her many fans who hoped it would bring down Switzerland’s high retail prices. Numerous interest groups, including farmers’ associations, strongly opposed the move. A referendum opposing it was attempted, however too few signatures were collected to make it happen. Revised rules came into force in 2010. Their impact on prices is debatable, but the nickname has stuck.
The name “Cassis de Dijon” comes from a case where Germany banned imports of the (sissy) French drink Cassis de Dijon because it didn’t have enough alcohol in it to meet German drink standards.
The outgoing president will be remembered by some for his “involuntary humour” in a presentation given on Switzerland’s day of the sick, and later parodied by a French TV presenter.
The following Facebook video, posted by Swiss broadcaster RTS, gives a short retrospective on outgoing president Johann Schneider-Ammann’s year as Switzerland’s most prominent statesperson.
Election of the 2017 president – Federal Council website (in French) – Take a 5 minute French test now
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Dr. Zeki Ergas says
Your title is somewhat bewildering, even oxymoronish: why should there be fanfare and ideological division if the presidency is very largely a ceremonial position? It used to be said that the majority of the Swiss didn’t know the President’s name in the old days. And that he used to take the street car because nobody would recognize him. Now it is somewhat different. The President, especially if she is a woman, is used for publicity and public relation purposes. The seven federal councillor poisitions do matter. But what really matters is that Switzerland has always be ruled by a center-right majority, never by a center-left majority. And the two essential values are Pragmatism et Conformism. That means, at the international level, to respect power relations. For example, whatever the US wants, the US gets, as shown by the banking secrecy crisis. Internally, you don’t rock the boat. Essentially big banks and large corporations run the show. One has to admit that the system has worked well for Switzerland until now: the Swiss are the richest people in the world. As the Americans say: you don’t argue with success. But the Americans are in deep trouble now. One hopes it won’t happen to little and cute Switzerland …