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Blocher praises his achievements in cabinet

Outgoing Justice Minister Christoph Blocher packs his things after Friday's media conference

(Keystone)

Outgoing Swiss Justice Minister Christoph Blocher says he has left his mark on the government, having broken taboos and carried out "more realistic" politics.

Blocher was making his farewell statements on Friday after being spectacularly ousted earlier this month from the post, which he had held for four years.

The controversial billionaire industrialist and rightwing Swiss People's Party's figurehead is leaving the justice ministry at the end of the year after parliament refused to re-elect him.

He has been replaced in the cabinet by his more moderate party colleague, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, to whom he has now handed over the keys to his ministry. The People's Party says it will now go into opposition in protest at the move.

Looking back at his time in office, Blocher said that the cabinet had "carried out a more realistic style of politics in the interests of the country", according to a justice ministry statement.

The minister said that for him the biggest progress made since his arrival in 2004 was that the cabinet could discuss real issues openly.

"Abuses in asylum matters, social security and disability insurance are no longer taboo subjects," said Blocher. Youth and foreigners' crime could also be debated, he added.

He pointed to one of the main projects of his ministry, tougher asylum and foreigners' laws which are due to come into force on January 1.

Swiss values

Blocher said that there had been a resurgence in the Swiss values of independence and self-determination, adding that freedom of action was essential for a small country such as Switzerland.

Also high on his list of achievements were being able to limit government spending and interference.

In this way it was possible to stop taxpayers' money from being funnelled into telecoms giant Swisscom, as it had previously been into the national airline Swiss.

Switzerland has been defending its interests with the European Union but EU membership is no longer a "strategic objective", added Blocher, whose party is anti-EU.

Turning to the economy, Blocher said companies now had more favourable conditions in which to operate.

Future role?

But at a media conference in the capital Bern, Blocher remained tight-lipped about his plans for the future, particularly on what role he would be playing within his own party.

Ueli Maurer has stepped down as party president, leaving the post open. The process to find Maurer's successor will start in January.

Observers say Blocher is a pugnacious, charismatic personality provoking admiration or dislike. His controversial statements – he once said the anti-racism law gave him "stomach ache" while on a trip to Turkey – did not endear him to parliament.

He has also been accused of endangering the principle of collegiality in the four-party cabinet.

But some observers see a possible period of political uncertainty ahead now that Blocher has been ousted and with the People's set to go into opposition.

swissinfo with agencies

BLOCHER BIOGRAPHY

Christoph Blocher was born in October 1940 in Schaffhausen in northern Switzerland.

He made his fortune in the chemical industry with the EMS-Chemie company.

As a member of the rightwing Swiss People's Party – the strongest at October's parliamentary elections with almost 30% of the vote - he has campaigned against Swiss membership of the European Union and for tighter immigration controls.

He represented the canton of Zurich in the Swiss House of Representatives from 1980-2003.
With his election to the cabinet in 2003, Blocher won a second seat for his party at the expense of the centre-right Christian Democrats.

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Cabinet elections

Christoph Blocher is only the fourth cabinet minister in Swiss history to fail to win re-election.

Usually it's up to a cabinet minister to choose the moment to step down. Ministers are elected for a four-year term by parliament.

Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf is the third woman in the cabinet, joining Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey and Economics Minister Doris Leuthard. She takes over Blocher's justice ministry portfolio.

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