In Switzerland, the position of president is ceremonial. Switzerland’s executive is led jointly by all seven members of the Federal Council, known as les sept sages (the seven wise ones) in French-speaking Switzerland.
From left to right: Guy Parmelin, Alain Berset (vice-president), Simonetta Sommaruga, Viola Amherd, Walter Thurnherr (Federal Chancellor), Ueli Maurer, Ignazio Cassis (president), Karin Keller-Sutter.
The ceremonial role of the president rotates annually among Federal Council members. In addition to the diplomatic duties of the president, he or she chairs Federal Council meetings and has the tie-breaker vote on contentious decisions. This year the role of president passes to Ignazio Cassis, Switzerland’s foreign minister, a role he’s held since 2017 when he became a Federal Councillor.
Every year, the government issues a photo of the Federal Council. This year the photo (above) places Federal Council members on a map of Switzerland’s rail network illustrating the geographic links and cohesion between Federal Council members along with the nation’s diversity. All Swiss have different origins, languages and mentalities, but it is this combination of diversity that makes Switzerland Switzerland and gives it its strength, said Cassis. This value is particularly important as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to upset daily life and test our patience, he added. It is more important than ever to illustrate the things that connect us rather than those that divide us.
Ignazio Cassis was born in the town of Sessa above Lake Lugano in Italian-speaking Switzerland in 1961. He was born Italian and became Swiss in 1976 at the age of 15. After Swiss military service, he studied medicine at the University of Zurich, graduating in 1987. He specialised in public health and was the head of medicine in the canton of Ticino from 1996 to 2008 and then vice-president of medicine at the federal level from 2008 until 2011.
In 2007, Cassis was elected as a member of the federal parliament where he remained until 2017. From 2015 until 2017 he was the leader of Switzerland’s Liberal Radical Party (PLR/FDP).
In 2017, before becoming a Federal Councillor, Cassis renounced his Italian citizenship, a controversial move that was covered heavily by the media. Critics argued that he had set a dangerous precedent that brings into question the legitimacy of elected officials with citizenship beyond Switzerland. Others, notably some outspoken members of the Swiss People’s Party (UDC/SVP), viewed the move through a lens of loyalty and patriotism and perceived his actions more favourably.