Today, Swiss Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter announced his resignation. One of seven in Switzerland’s executive, he became known around the world, during his stint as the nation’s president, when a photo of him of him standing alone on a public train platform waiting for his train was Tweeted.
The photo was taken by Le Temps journalist Serge Jubin, standing on a railway platform in Neuchâtel, Burkhalter’s home town, waiting along with the general public for his train to arrive. No armour plated limousine in sight. Jubin’s message reads: “Switzerland, a wonderful country where the president happily taps away on his smartphone surrounded by regular train travellers while waiting for his train at the railway station in his home town of Neuchâtel.” The photo was retweeted around the world.
In his time as Foreign minister he also made many friends among leaders such as Barack Obama and John Kerry.
Burkhalter told the media that after a good 30 years in politics at all levels of government, a period he described as very very very long, his final decision to resign came naturally and quickly, like a wave. Driven by personal reasons, the 57 year old said he felt the need to turn a page and do something different, adding that politics had taken up a lot of space in his life.
He said that he took the decision last Sunday after thinking about it over a long period of time.
He is a member of the political party PLR/FDP and Head of the Department of Foreign Affairs, a role that has involved him heavily in difficult discussions with Brussels regarding Switzerland’s bilateral agreements. When asked by the press if this was why he was resigning he said it wasn’t, adding that he had had other difficult projects. At the same time he said that his position on EU relations was not truly supported. “It is difficult to steer the project in the direction I’d like. If my heart was really in it I would have stayed for the extra five years needed. I continue to believe in an institutional agreement and don’t believe in eroding the status quo and the slow degradation of relations between Switzerland and the EU.”
Regarding the new page in his life, he offered no clues. “I don’t know what ink I’m going to use”, he said.
Didier Burkhalter is married to an Austrian national and has three children and a degree in economics. His last day as Federal Councillor will be 31 October 2017.
Switzerland was surprised by his decision.