Maintaining bilateral contracts with the European Union and developing and implementing an orderly energy transition. These are two of the priorities for the Conservative Democratic Party in the next legislative period. swissinfo.ch spoke to Martin Landolt, president of the party.
“We started this election year badly,” the Glarus representative and Conservative Democrat party member frankly admits, referring to losses in cantonal elections. But he is confident that voters will apply different standards in the national elections and that the party and the political centre will grow stronger.
swissinfo.ch: What are the two most important priorities for the party in the next parliamentary term?
Martin Landolt: First, maintaining and defending the bilateral treaties, clarifying our position towards Europe and ensuring that the period of insecurity surrounding this issue, as well as the question of implementing the mass immigration initiative, is as short as possible.
The second point is developing and implementing an orderly energy transition, for which we absolutely want to take advantage of the economic opportunities. The first part is now being developed in parliament. The second part, that deals with ecological tax reform with a steering system, will be a very hot topic in which we will engage energetically.
swissinfo.ch: You want to defend the bilateral agreements with the EU. How far will the Conservative Democrats go to save them?
M. L.: For us, the bilaterals are key. There are three possible options with regard to our relationship with Europe. One would be isolation and another would be joining the European Union. We don’t want either.
So, a bilateral relationship is what remains and is something that we would like to anchor in the constitution to ensure that this question is resolved. We also think this reflects the will of the electorate, even after the vote of February 2014 on the mass immigration initiative.
Then the people primarily expressed a wish for a reduction in immigration. So far, we are the only party that has come up with ways and means to put into practice by supporting the domestic workforce without damaging bilateral relations.
swissinfo.ch: What formulas does the party envisage to cushion the effects of the strong franc?
M.L.: The most honest answer would be - none. The strong franc is currently an exacerbated phenomenon and poses some very tough challenges. But by itself it is nothing new, as we have had a strong currency for decades and our export industries are successful in spite of that.
What we won’t do is resort to political opportunism and try to use the strong franc as a reason to drop unpopular political projects. If we see specific measures - and we are working on them - that could help in the short term in the right areas, then we are willing to do that. But we won’t simply add our voice to this general cry for deregulation and reduction in bureaucracy, which is not very concrete and has featured in all party manifestos for decades.
swissinfo.ch: In the last few years, Islam has been the subject of much discussion. The debate over the headscarf, radicalisation and terrorism. What place should Islam have in Swiss society?
M.L.: If we try to separate state and religion as clearly as possible, then Islam must have a place in Switzerland, but not in the sense that it should become a religion here on a level with Protestantism or Catholicism, which are also anchored in our school syllabus.
I am in favour of broad social liberalism and the Conservative Democratic Party is too. We have to give Islam its place, give people the possibility to live their faith, as long as this doesn’t violate the generally accepted rules about how we live together, how our society is built.
swissinfo.ch: The party has had to sustain losses in some cantonal elections. How do you respond to that in the light of the national elections?
M.L.: It was two cantonal elections but there is no point in trying to sugarcoat it. We experienced two painful defeats in Bern and Basel Country. We have analysed them and in each case identified different reasons which have no direct relevance for the national elections.
But nonetheless it is of course difficult to communicate that a defeat has no bearing on the national elections.
swissinfo.ch: At the moment it seems that the Conservative Democratic Party is only standing firm in cantons where it has a long-established base (Graubünden, Glarus, Bern.) How will you make gains on a national level, particularly in western Switzerland?
M.L.: We have three categories of cantons. First the three founding cantons, Glarus, Bern, Graubünden, where we are a part of the state, where we are working in the government.
Then we have cantons where we have no representatives in official authorities. In those it is difficult to raise our political profile, even though we have very many committed people there.
And then there is a middle section where we are represented in cantonal parliaments.
Because of that we believe that we have only now really bolstered our national election campaigning, and are addressing issues that the Conservative Democratic Party has embraced successfully in the last years and would like to actively embrace in the future.
swissinfo.ch: Some people call the Conservative Democrats “a tiny party which can afford a seat on the cabinet.” How do you rate the chances for your party’s seat in government after the elections? Will it be possible to keep it after the elections, given the current outlook for a vote percentage of slightly over 5%?
M.L.: We are the smallest party in the government, we don’t deny it, and we don’t want to make ourselves bigger than we are. It wasn’t us who chose that path back then. The origins of the party are quite unusual, as it is a party that has grown from the top down rather from the bottom up.
Despite this we want to engage and establish ourselves as a solution-oriented force, together with our representative in government, but also independently of it. We are convinced that the solution-focused forces - to which we belong - will grow stronger in the parliamentary elections and that through this majorities can be mapped out in parliament and in the cabinet.
Our government representative is an important person in the cabinet. Besides her excellent work she is also capable of securing the right majorities to ensure the continuation of important long-term projects like the energy transition, corporate tax reform, reform of Switzerland as a financial centre, the maintenance of bilateral agreements and so on.
swissinfo.ch: So you anticipate that your party will once again have a seat in government in 2016?
M.L.: I expect we will have a Conservative Democratic cabinet representative in 2016, and that they will be supported by a reinforced political centre and a reinforced Conservative Democratic Party.
Translated from German by Catherine Hickley, swissinfo.ch