Every year Switzerland gets a new president, who is also a member of the Federal Council, Switzerland’s seven-member executive.
In Switzerland the role of president is largely ceremonial. The seven members of the Swiss Federal Council act collectively as the head of state. The president’s vote has no more weight than other Federal Council members.
In 2021, Switzerland’s president will be Guy Parmelin, a former wine grape grower from the French-speaking canton of Vaud. He is a member of the Swiss People’s Party (UDC/SVP) and was the party’s president in the canton of Vaud from 2000 to 2004.
Parmelin is one of two Swiss People’s Party (UDC/SVP) members in the Federal Council along with Ueli Maurer. Maurer was president in 2019.
A native of Bursins (Vaud) born in 1959, Parmelin was elected to the Grand Council of Vaud, the canton’s parliament, where he served from 1994 to 2003 until he was elected to the National Council, Switzerland’s federal parliament. He served there until he was elected by the Federal Assembly to the Federal Council in 2015 to replace Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf. Parmelin has been the minister of Economic Affairs, Education and Research since 2019. Before that he was the minister of Defence, Civil Protection and Sports.
In December 2018, Parmelin’s poor English was criticised in a NY Times article, which referred to an attempt by the minister to speak English in an interview.
However, struggling to communicate in English is not unusual among Switzerland’s leaders and reflects Switzerland’s linguistic challenges, which include an imperative to learn one of Switzerland’s three other national languages alongside English.
According to the EF English Proficiency Index, Switzerland is ranked 18th out of 100 nations. There are however, large differences within the country. German-speaking Swiss speak better English than French or Italian speakers, something echoed in the rankings of Germany (8th), France (28th) and Italy (30th) – Guy Parmelin comes from French-speaking Switzerland.
But we are now entering 2021. Switzerland’s new president has had more than two years of English practice since the infamous interview in December 2018.
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ELISABETH BELCHAMBER says
i CANNOT UNDERSTSAND WHY YOU JUDGE GUY PARMELIN ON THE SOLE CRITERIA OF HIS ABILITY TO SPEAK ENGLISH. SURELY HIS IDEALS AND AMBITIONS ARE MORE IMPORTANT.