2022 brought the resignation of two members of Switzerland’s Federal Council, the nation’s seven member executive of cabinet who are elected for life. As the year comes to a close two replacements have been selected.
First to resign was Ueli Maurer, Switzerland’s minister of finance, who announced his plan to step down on 30 September 2022. Maurer, a member of the Swiss People’s Party (UDC/SVP), resigned earlier than expected, surprising the country.
Next to announce their departure was Simonetta Sommaruga, Switzerland’s energy minister. On 2 November 2022, Sommaruga, a member of the Socialist Party, announced she would step down citing personal reasons related to the health of her husband. The minister had already taken a week away from her duties to be with her husband.
Switzerland has a convention of ensuring the seven executive positions are shared out roughly in line with political party popularity, which is a point of contention for some in the Green Party who are not represented in the Federal Council despite being the fourth largest party in parliament. However, in the context of replacing members it typically means that an outgoing member of the Federal Council is replaced by someone from the same party. The party puts forward candidates and the combined members of the National Council (parliament) and the Council of States (upper house) vote.
This week resulted in the selection of two new Federal Councillors. The Socialist Elisabeth Baume-Schneider will replace Simonetta Sommaruga and the Swiss People’s Party member Albert Rösti will replace Ueli Maurer. Rösti was elected by a comfortable majority (131 out of 245), while Baume-Schneider was selected on a thinner majority (123 out of 245).
The Federal Council now has more members from the French and Italian-speaking regions than it does from the majority German-speaking part of the country.
Elisabeth Baume-Schneider is the first Federal Councillor from the canton of Jura, a canton created in 1979. The election of Baume-Schneider drew people to the streets of towns across the canton to celebrate. Preceding the creation of the canton in 1979, many of the French-speaking residents of the region, which was then part of the majority German-speaking canton of Bern, felt poorly represented in federal government. Now they have one of their own in Switzerland’s highest office. With a command of both French and German Baume-Schneider described herself as a bridge between the different cultures of the nation in a speech shortly after being elected.
Albert Rösti comes from a farming background in the canton of Bern. Educated in Switzerland and the US, he is a long time member of the Swiss People’s Party (UDC/SVP), which he joined at the age of 18. Interviewed after his selection, Rösti said that he would take into account Switzerland’s diversity in his decisions, reported RTS. When asked about the imbalance between members from the German and French/Italian speaking regions in the new cabinet and the lack of representation of Switzerland’s large cities, Rösti said that when one is elected to serve as a Federal Councillor they are elected for all of Switzerland.
In another interview, Rösti explains that his family name does not come from a menu (an allusion to the well known Swiss fried potato dish) but from an old Oberland Bernese word that means suspended or hanging, which refers to the high altitude mountainous region of the Berner Oberland.