Habemus Bundesrat! A new Swiss government.

December 15, 2011, 1 Comment

In Britain we say that the first sign of old age is the policemen start to look young. In Switzerland I’m sure the same goes for the Bundesrat. Yesterday the Swiss parliament elected 39-year old Alain Berset into the Federal Council, and for the first time a member of the Bundesrat is younger than me. But if I’m feeling old today, that’s nothing compared to how the leadership of the SVP must feel: like dinosaurs slowly watching their world crumble. After losing votes and seats in the general election then losing the Ständerat run-offs, yesterday they lost the government election, and a fair part of their dignity in the process. It’s been an annus horribilis for the B-Team (Blocher, Brunner, Baader), but a great one for Mr B, the new SP Bundesrat from Canton Fribourg.

After the dramas of 2003 and 2007, perhaps it wasn’t so surprising that this Bundesrat election didn’t produce any big shocks. Three times in a row would be too much for most Swiss to handle. The contest came down to two crucial questions: would Eveline Widmer Schlumpf be re-elected? And would the SVP get a second seat? The answers: yes and no. All six sitting members – Leuthard, Widmer Schlumpf, Maurer, Burkhalter, Sommeruga, Schneider Amman – were re-elected without a second round of voting, giving the SVP no chance of reaching its goal; they are missing more than the Swiss national football team these days.

There was a lot of talk about ‘Konkordanz’ (the agreed system of power-sharing between the main parties) but it seemed to mean different things to different people. Antonio Hodgers of the Greens summed it up by saying that there was no agreement on what the agreement meant. Like many political parties, the SVP indulged in selective amnesia by choosing to forget that it had broken the Konkordanz in 2007 by refusing to accept an SVP member as its Bundesrat. Frau Widmer Schlumpf reaped the benefit yesterday at the expense of her erstwhile colleagues. Now the SVP has to decide if it will sulk about the result (as it did in 2007) or be grown-ups and play their part in government. The system has worked for the past four years, so it should carry on as before. Continuity and stability are two of the favourites words in Switzerland.

As for the new boy, Alain Berset is the fourth Bundesrat from Fribourg, following on from Jean-Marie Musy (1919), Jean Bourgknecht (1959) and Joseph Deiss (1999), so managing to break that cycle of a J-man being elected every 40 years. Quite an achievement. He plays the piano, speaks five languages (including English) and has a best time of 1 min 54 sec in the 800m. As for his age, he’s the youngest Bundesrat since 1928 and the 11th youngest overall, assuming you count Ruth Metzler-Arnold (age 34 when elected in 1999) even though she is a Bundesrätin. But what troubles me most about him is that all his children have the same initials: Alain has three children called Antoine, Achille and Apolline. Surely that’s not normal?

Amid all the political hoopla were some lighter moments. My favourite was the joke going round at the end: what’s the difference between the SVP and a Smart car? A Smart car has two seats. And people say the Swiss have no sense of humour.

One Comment on "Habemus Bundesrat! A new Swiss government."

  1. John Sivell Monday December 19th, 2011 at 06:10 PM · Reply

    I have a friend who has three children with the same initial: Alexis, Adrian and Anja, same initial as Berset’s children. A rather charming idea, I’ve always thought, and perhaps less “abnormal” than you think. Of course, you have to go to the bother of having three children in the first place, and maybe that’s a bit abnormal….

Leave a Comment