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Blocher says he’s no rabble-rouser

Christoph Blocher is looking for a seat on the cabinet Keystone

The Swiss People’s Party's Christoph Blocher is no stranger to controversy - in fact it is one of the factors that have made him such a successful politician.

This content was published on November 9, 2003 - 12:04

The ministerial candidate told swissinfo that, if elected, he would continue to lobby for less state intervention in Switzerland.

Blocher is bidding for a seat in the seven-member Swiss cabinet, following the rightwing People's Party's success in last month’s parliamentary elections in which they gained 26.6 per cent of the popular vote.

As well as heading the party’s Zurich branch, Blocher is also a billionaire industrialist who heads the chemical company, Ems Chemie.

swissinfo was invited to interview Blocher at Ems Chemie’s conference room in Herrliberg, which features works by famous Swiss painters such as Ferdinand Hodler and Giovanni Giacometti, and an impressive view of Lake Zurich.

Blocher, who is vehemently opposed to closer integration with the European Union, was keen to stress that he is a cosmopolitan person.

He says he is globally aware, has companies abroad and does not see himself as narrow minded.

swissinfo: How important are the Swiss abroad to you?

Christoph Blocher: The Swiss abroad are extremely important ambassadors for our country. Very many of them feel very attached to their homeland. What I regret is that we have too little contact with them.

swissinfo: A clear majority of the Swiss abroad would like Switzerland to join the European Union by 2007. In their opinion, this is the most urgent problem in Swiss politics today. What would you say to that?

C.B.: I can understand their point of view, because it would make things easier for them in many ways. But here we’re mostly talking about administrative advantages, for example, in the area of work permits. However, these benefits to the individual cannot obscure the fact that there would be grave disadvantages if Switzerland were to join the EU.

Most of the time people understand our point of view after they have been told about the drastic consequences of surrendering our neutrality and sovereignty, and about the loss of direct democracy. All in all, Switzerland would lose out on a political, economic and cultural level.

swissinfo: Did the development of the EU over the last few years strengthen the position of those who are against it?

C.B.: Of course. In 1992, when we had a referendum on joining the European Economic Area, there was no European Union, just a loose European Community - without a common currency and with no intention of creating a unified foreign and defence policy.

I’ve always said that the question is not whether we should join the European Union. The question is which one we should join. If it had been a loose community of states, we would probably be part of it because we are, by definition, a part of Europe.

swissinfo: You are always being compared to far-right figures such as France's Jean-Marie Le Pen and Austria's Jörg Haider. Do you mind?

C.B.: Yes, these are nonsensical comparisons. I don’t know those people personally; I’ve only read about them in the newspapers. Also, I’m not interested in their kind of politics. Haider is an opportunist and Le Pen a one-issue bruiser.

swissinfo: But aren’t you a populist, a demagogue?

C.B.: A demagogue is a rabble-rouser. That’s not me. I try to convince people; sometimes they agree with me and sometimes they don’t. This is how democracy works. And I fight for my causes whether they are popular or not.

swissinfo: You created the concept of "Scheininvalide" [a bogus disability benefit claimant].

C.B.: I couldn’t find a more suitable word. We have many disabled pensioners who are not really disabled. This is common knowledge. How can you tackle a problem if you cannot even call it by its name?

swissinfo: But this might give the impression that all the disabled are cheats.

C.B.: There is this danger. But you can’t just accept this abuse, which costs us billions, and continue to finance it with taxpayers money, simply because it is deemed not nice to talk about it. Every honest working person must feel cheated. At least this campaign has got the ball rolling. Finally, we are starting to fight this abuse of the system.

swissinfo: You are in favour of a reduction of financial benefits and subsidies, with the exception of farmers. Why don’t you apply the same rules to everyone?

C.B.: We want to abolish subsidies in those areas which would benefit from the free market economy. Consequently, there should be no financial support for house building, tourism, the film industry, the export industry etc. In this context, the government’s efforts to save the [collapsed] national airline [Swissair] was a big mistake.

It has to be said that agricultural subsidies exist in all industrial countries. Farmers fulfil a mission: working the fields so that they don’t go to waste. Furthermore, they guarantee, to a certain extent, the well-being of the nation. The state has to make sure that this kind of work, which is for the benefit of all, is paid for.

You could, however, do things better than they are done today. I, personally, would give a certain subsidy for each square metre or hectare. This subsidy would have to be just big enough to serve as an incentive for the farmer to cultivate this piece of land. What the farmer grows and produces is his business. I would stop paying any product-related subsidies.

swissinfo: Your party is very popular and you are always re-elected with a big majority. However, a survey shows that 56 per cent of the population would reject you as a cabinet minister. Is there not a certain discrepancy here?

C.B.: No. No party ever has the majority of the people behind it. But 32 per cent of them are in favour of me as a cabinet minister and this is more than our share of the vote. That 32 per cent would be enough in a general election, as only a seventh of the vote is needed.

swissinfo: Recently you said that you were too old to be a dictator. What if you were 20 or 30 years younger?

C.B.: This quote is from [a former French president Charles] De Gaulle. Just before he took over the government, his political opponents asked him if he could listen to the opinions of others or whether he wanted to do everything his way.

This was exactly the question that was put to me as well. You’d have to be very malicious to not hear the irony in my answer. I am a democrat by conviction. This is why I am fighting for freedom of expression in this country, and this is also why I am taking the liberty to speak out when others prefer to remain silent.

swissinfo-interview: Ariane Gigon Bormann and Etienne Strebel

In brief

Christoph Blocher was born on October 11, 1940.

He is married and the father of three daughters and one son.

He studied law at the universities of Zurich, Montpellier and Paris.

In business, he rapidly rose through the ranks to become majority shareholder and president of the board of Ems-Chemie.

In politics, he has been president of Zurich branch of the People's Party since 1977 and a parliamentarian since 1979.

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