You don’t always leave the Federal Council voluntarily

The first Federal Council of 1848 with Ulrich Ochsenbein, Jonas Furrer, Daniel-Henri Druey (background left to right), Friedrich Frei-Herose, Wilhelm Matthias Naeff, Stefano Franccini and Martin Muenzinger (foreground left to right) Keystone

Political pressure on the current president of the Confederation is increasing. It is too early to see the outcome of the leak case against Alain Berset. But he would not be a prime minister who would have to leave the Federal Council against his will, even if such cases were rare.

This content was published on January 25, 2023 – 4:45 pm

Marco Markacci

Switzerland does not know the vote of no confidence. Parliament is elected every four years according to a fixed calendar. One of the first things the new Parliament does is elect the Federal Council. Only after that, government members cannot be re-elected for a new term. The next time will be in December 2023.

External content

In the 19th, two replays were not selectede century

The failure of one or more members of the Federal Council to be re-elected is not in itself a tragedy: it is a perfectly legitimate process in a liberal democracy, as it has existed in Switzerland since the Federal Constitution of 1848. For decades after its establishment, federal councilors dismissed from office in the federal state were part of the logic of the political system: the radicals had an absolute majority in parliament and determined who would sit in the government.

Two federal councilors not re-elected in the 19th century: Ulrich Ochsenbein (1854) and Jean-Jacques Challet-Venel (1872) Keystone

Radical Party exerting such pressure on the parliament did not prevent its two members from being re-elected as ministers. Ulrich Ochsenbein of Bern, elected in 1848 and a member of the first Federal Council, was not re-elected in 1854, his comrades condemning him for being too close to the conservatives for opportunism.

The second time he was not elected happened in 1872. Jean-Jacques Challet-Venelle of Geneva was not reappointed because he opposed the reform of the federal Constitution at the time.

80 years of peace

Since 1919, the National Council has been elected proportionally. Since then, no party has had an absolute majority in the Federal Assembly. Not reappointing a federal council member therefore became more difficult and risky.

It would take eight decades to witness the first attempt to avoid re-election. In 1999, the Democratic Union of the center (UDC / conservative right) proposed the candidacy of its leader Christoph Blocher to the Federal Council. This is an attack on the two socialist seats in the government. But the attempt failed, although mathematically speaking, the SVP would have qualified for second place in the Federal Council after its excellent results in the 1999 federal elections.

The change finally happened four years later, after the federal elections of 2003. The SVP, now the country’s largest political party, re-nominated Christoph Blocker, this time to the detriment of the Christian Democratic Party (formerly PDC, now Center). ), became the smallest of the four ruling parties. Christian Democrat Federal Councilor Ruth Metzler, who came to the Federal Council four years ago, was not re-elected to her position by the Federal Assembly.

Members of the UDC group watch Federal Councilor Ruth Metzler leave the chamber of the National Council after she was not re-elected on 10 December 2003. Keystone

But four years later, Christoph Blocher, little appreciated by the other parties, suffered the same fate as Ruth Metzler: the Federal Assembly did not re-appoint him and elected his party colleague Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf instead. Government of the canton of Graubünden.

Federal Councilor Christoph Blocher (2nd from right) shortly before the December 12, 2007 election cost him his ministerial post. Peter Klaunzer/Keystone

It had already happened that the Parliament did not elect the official candidate of any party, but never when that candidate was already a member of the Federal Council.

Difficult times for the UDC group after the failure of Minister Christoph Blocher to be re-elected Peter Klaunzer/Keystone

Members of the federal council were forced to resign

However, Christoph Blocher and Ruth Metzler are not the only ones who left the Federal Council against their will. on the 20the During the century, two members of the federal council were forced to resign. In 1917, a member of the Federal Council, Arthur Hofmann, took a personal initiative to make peace between Germany and Russia separately. This initiative had to be withdrawn because it undermined the neutrality of Switzerland.

Foreign policy reasons also led to the resignation of Vaudois Marcel Pilet-Golas in 1944. He went too far as a friend of the Axis powers and thereby became an obstacle to the normalization of relations with the Soviet Union.

Two more members of the federal council had to end their political careers due to political scandals. In 1966, the Radical Democratic Party decided not to nominate its defense minister, Paul Schaudt, for the vice presidency of the Confederation. The party fears negative results in next year’s federal election because its minister is embroiled in the so-called Mirage case, which involved overstating the cost of the purchase of the French fighter jet. Denied, Paul Chaudet resigns.

Twenty years later, another scandal forced another radical minister to resign. In 1989, Elisabeth Kopp, a resident of Zurich – the first woman to become a member of the Federal Council – threw in the towel. In December 1988, the Minister of Justice and Police admitted that she had informed her husband of a criminal investigation against the company of which he was vice president.

The result of political defeats

Defeat in popular vote can also push ministers to resign. Socialist Max Weber resigned in 1953 after the rejection of financial reform. The radical Heinrich Haberlin, in turn, left office in 1934 after the national security law failed in a popular vote.

Following this “lex Häberlin”, the Catholic-conservative minister Jean-Musy offered a collective resignation to his colleagues in the Federal Council. Faced with their rejection, he sells his alimony against the adoption of his financial and economic program. Due to the lack of support from his colleagues, he resigns in turn.

Translated from the German by Olivier Pauchard

According to JTI standards

According to JTI standards

More: SWI is certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *