Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Caterina Naegeli
Buergi Naegeli Rechtsanwaelte

Last week, Switzerland’s controversial right-wing leader Christoph Blocher was ejected from the government despite his party’s success in this year’s elections. This might lead to a more liberal policy on foreigners, but the implications of this surprising result are far from clear.

The members of the Federal Council are elected for a term of four years by both chambers of the federal parliament sitting together as the Federal Assembly. Each Councillor is elected individually by secret ballot by an absolute majority of votes. Every adult Swiss citizen is eligible, but in practice, only Members of Parliament, or more rarely, members of Cantonal governments, are nominated by the political parties and receive a substantial amount of votes. Most usually members are re-elected or rather, confirmed, until they resign. Therefore it came as a big surprise, that the re-election of the seven members of the Swiss federal council on 12 December 2007 resulted in the ejection of justice minister Christoph Blocher, who was replaced by Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, another member of the Swiss People's Party (SVP). Following their earlier denouncements, the SVP has decided to leave the traditional system of concordance and form an opposition in parliament.

What seems quite common in other democratic systems, has unsettled the Swiss government, where all four major parties are represented in the federal council proportional to their magnitude in parliament. The re-election of Blocher, a billionaire and a controversial leading figure of his party, was set as a condition by the SVP for its continued support of this consensual system of government. Mr. Blocher, one of the most polarizing politicians ever, led the SVP's shift to the right. One of his most controversial acts in his first term was to criticise the country's anti-racism law, while his party tried to mobilise the masses with posters depicting white sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag. The poster drew criticism from the United Nations, which called it racist.

It is possible, that the Federal Council will now adopt a more liberal policy towards foreigners and immigration issues generally. Mrs. Widmer – Schlumpf is known to be a more tolerant and pragmatic politician, although she is a member of the SVP as well. However it is likely that the Swiss People’s Party, pushed into opposition, will try to block more liberal points of view by putting such decisions to a referendum.