2006 president seeks consensus in cabinet

Leuenberger was president in 2001

Moritz Leuenberger, who holds the post of Swiss president in 2006, tells swissinfo he will work closely with the key players in Swiss society, especially youth.

This content was published on December 31, 2005 - 18:28

Leuenberger – a Social Democrat - said he was happy that all seven members of the four-party cabinet stood by the principle of collegiality.

The cabinet includes two members of the rightwing Swiss People's Party, which opposed Leuenberger's appointment as president. The party has criticised the transport minister for the way he has handled his portfolio.

swissinfo: Are you looking forward to your presidential year, despite the People's Party's attempt to disrupt your election?

Moritz Leuenberger: I'm looking forward to it all the more. My election wasn't a matter of routine; it was a political power struggle. And I was elected with a good number of votes.

swissinfo: You have said you want young people to advise you, to increase the involvement of youth in politics. What do you have in mind?

M.L.: For example, we are working together on future energy policy. We are trying to shape the energy policy in our country until 2020 or 2030. I have young people working on this issue.

I have also commissioned photography students to take an official photo of the cabinet instead of having it taken by government photographers.

swissinfo: What trips do you have planned for 2006 and what image of Switzerland do you want to portray abroad?

M.L.: One important trip I will make is to Africa. I want to show that we consider it important to show solidarity with less economically developed areas of the world.

swissinfo: Recently we have heard and read a lot about squabbles and uncooperative behaviour in the cabinet. But Justice Minister Christoph Blocher says relations in the government are very good?

M.L.: It is some consolation that all the members of the cabinet say they want consensus and that they stand by the principle of collegiality.

It is not easy to achieve consensus in a body made up of people from different political backgrounds and of different political persuasions. Clearly there will be great debate, but that is also one of our tasks.

It is important we carry out that debate in a well-mannered, democratic way, and that once we have reached decisions we all stand by them.

swissinfo: So good manners are important?

M.L.: Perceptions of good manners are always liable to change. But when we look back over millennia we see manners have always been in decline and yet the world still functions.

swissinfo: As federal president you will be a kind of chairman of the cabinet. How do you intend to improve the atmosphere?

M.L.: It's my view that the 2005 president, Samuel Schmid, managed the job of cabinet chairman very well.

The president alone cannot achieve harmony within the cabinet; it takes all seven members. But the president has a great deal of influence over the conduct of the cabinet session and the tone.

swissinfo: Environmental issues have had a rough ride in the cabinet lately and it's doubtful whether Switzerland will be able to achieve its targets with respect to the Kyoto Protocol. Is Switzerland losing its leading edge in environmental protection?

M.L.: In the past environmental issues had a higher importance at all levels of society... When the [1986] Schweizerhalle [chemical leak] disaster and forest decay made the headlines everyone become environmentally aware and involved in these issues.

But it's important to recognise that everything we do is about making improvements. That doesn't prevent me from trying to pursue an environmental policy. But I have to contend with one defeat after another.

swissinfo: Two of your cabinet colleagues, Christoph Blocher and Hans-Rudolf Merz, became involved in the affairs of your department over the planned privatisation of Swisscom. Did they go too far?

M.L.: There are good reasons for privatising Swisscom. I said that right at the beginning. My reservations concerned whether parliament and the public would agree to this at a time when there are fears about Swiss institutions being sold abroad.

swissinfo: Your speeches are famous and have won awards. How do they come about?

M.L.: I imagine the public and enter a virtual dialogue with them. Then I make a first, second, third draft. I might dare to show the fifth or sixth draft to my colleagues. If there wasn't a deadline I would go on and on.

swissinfo: You've been in the cabinet ten years - longer than anyone else. After your election as president you said you had no plans to stand down. The People's Party wants you to go. Are you staying on out of spite?

M.L.: I wouldn't do anything to harm myself because of the People's Party – I enjoy life too much. I was elected to the cabinet for four years and when I see what older people can hope to achieve these days I don't know why people keep asking this question of me – the second youngest in cabinet.

swissinfo: What importance do the Swiss abroad have for you?

M.L.: For me it's very important to communicate with them as these people tend to have a nostalgic, Heidi-land image of our country.

For a long time their contacts with Switzerland have been reduced to a tape recording of the president's August 1 national day address and the bells of their native village. The last time I was president I used a mixture of jazz music and alphorns for my recording. I received letters of protest from around the world.

Now that, thanks to technological advances, they can follow our radio and television programmes we can hope to form more realistic bonds.

swissinfo: In your view is it right that the federal authorities and the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation should maintain swissinfo for the Swiss abroad?

M.L.: It is not just right but a pillar of our understanding of Switzerland. Whoever plays a role in this country, even if he lives abroad, has a right to be kept informed.

swissinfo-interview: Gaby Ochsenbein

Key facts

Moritz Leuenberger, 59, studied law before going into politics.
He has been a cabinet member since 1995.
The Social Democrat heads the environment, transport, energy and communications ministry.
He was previously president in 2001.

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In brief

The federal president is elected from the cabinet annually on a rotating basis.

In his presidential year, Leuenberger wants to involve more young people in politics.

He will travel to Africa, Austria and Finland – which will hold the EU presidency in the second half of the year – as well as the EU candidate countries Romania and Bulgaria.

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