Twenty-four days before the opening of the Gotthard base tunnel, former transport minister, Adolf Ogi, shared his views of the past, present and future with the newspaper Schweiz am Sonntag.
The Gotthard, the longest train tunnel in the world, is good publicity for Switzerland, says Ogi, who served as Swiss transport minister from 1988 to 1995. The building project was accepted by 64% of voters in September 1992.
It’s an important signal that on June 1st 1,000 Swiss residents will be among the passengers on the first train through the new Gotthard tunnel, he said. “As a direct democracy we’ve accomplished that together, without financial scandals, without major delays, without exploding costs. Where else can you say that?”
Relations with the EU
Switzerland has a superiority complex when it comes to the European Union, however. “Today, everything that comes out of Brussels is bad in the minds of the Swiss,” says Ogi. “The Swiss believe that they can do and make everything better – that they don’t need the EU.”
The free-trade agreement currently being negotiated between Europe and the United States is an important step for Europe, helping to turn attention away from the recent focus on mass immigration and problems with asylum, he says.
And for Switzerland, participating in the agreement is important because the EU and the US are Switzerland’s main trading partners. If the country is unable to take part in the agreement and companies start leaving Switzerland in great numbers, causing jobs to be lost, the Swiss people’s self-assured attitude could change quickly, says Ogi.
The Swiss People’s Party and its chief strategist Christoph Blocher have done much to convince the Swiss public of their superiority, says Ogi, who represented the conservative right People’s Party in the cabinet and was the party’s president from 1984 to 1987.
But Ogi believes his party is trying to show that it is ready to accept more responsibility, and to soften its image. When the party’s new expert on asylum and migration, Andreas Glarner, called for Switzerland to use barbed wire at its borders to keep out asylum seekers, new party president Albert Rösti “acted immediately” and senior parliamentarian Adrian Amstutz sent an email to all of the party’s members in parliament saying that “Switzerland cannot use a barbed wire fence to close her borders”.
“Those are clear signals”, Ogi says.
Ogi also spoke of the importance of good contacts with other heads of state. While he was vice president he spent an evening with President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary in the White House, Ogi said. “On that evening I was more or less drunk, for the good of the country.” After that, Bill Clinton came every year to participate in the World Economic Forum.
“Was Barack Obama ever in Switzerland?” Ogi asked. “No, last week he flew over Switzerland. And George W Bush never came either. Those are clear signals that we’ve lost importance.”