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Business supports People’s Party demand

Blocher, a billionaire industrialist, has the support of Switzerland's business community Keystone

The Swiss business community has come out in support of demands by the rightwing Swiss People’s Party for a second seat in cabinet.

This content was published on December 3, 2003 - 15:58

The country’s business leaders say the Christian Democrats should pay for their poor showing in October’s election by forfeiting one of their two seats.

Head of the Zurich wing of the People’s Party Christoph Blocher - a billionaire industrialist who runs the chemical company, Ems Chemie – will stand for election to the seven-member cabinet on December 10.

But Rudolf Ramsauer, director of the Swiss Business Federation, ruled out any official endorsement of Blocher’s candidature.

“There are no official candidates for the business community, “ he told swissinfo.

“But Mr Blocher obviously has lots of qualities to offer. He’s a very successful businessman, is highly respected in the business community and has been the driving force behind the party for decades.”

No names

The People’s Party candidate does not have the official backing of the Swiss Employers’ Association either, but its president, Rudolf Stämpfli, also had words of praise for Blocher.

“He has some very clear views and is never afraid to communicate them,” he said.

“When I look at the success of his company, I guess that he’s a very capable man and maybe a little bit of entrepreneurship in government could do Switzerland a lot of good.”

The question is whether Blocher the minister would be as successful as Blocher the businessman.

“Obviously, he’s run his company with very great success. Running a ministry is something different but Mr Blocher has many talents,” commented Ramsauer.

Ramsauer also felt that if Blocher were to be elected, he would play by the unwritten rules of collegiality within the seven-member cabinet. That means speaking with one voice after decisions have been taken.

“Strongest personalities”

“It’s important that the strongest personalities with very strong views have their seat inside the government. Obviously, once a decision is made, since this is a collegiate executive, all the members have to abide by the decision,” he said.

“In my view Mr Blocher would be perfectly able and willing to do that. He’s been on many bodies, be it in the private sector or elsewhere, where he has been willing to accept decisions,” he added.

Neither the Employers’ Association nor the Business Federation would want to see the Radical Party, which is close to business, lose a seat in the cabinet vote.

“The Radical Party has shown itself to be the third-strongest party and they have now formed a group with the Liberals, so I think they are absolutely entitled to maintain two seats in the government,” Ramsauer said.

Worst case

He told swissinfo that the worst-case scenario would be if one of the two major forces to the right (People’s Party) or to the left (Social Democratic Party) decided not to participate in the government any more.

“The absolute worst case would be a centre-left government because that would mean that the political forces that are close to us and the business community itself would basically have to be in opposition,” he said.

“That would not be helpful, particularly given the really serious problems that have to be attacked over the next few years.”

Among the issues that the Business Federation considers require urgent action from the next government are bringing the “explosion” of state expenditures under control and liberalising markets, which are still closed to competition.

Dialogue with Brussels

Another priority area is Switzerland’s future relationship with the European Union and continuing dialogue with Brussels over the second set of bilateral accords.

“There is no other way. It’s clear that membership of the EU is not a possibility in the foreseeable future, so we must deal with mutual problems by separate negotiations,” Ramsauer said.

Blocher, a clear opponent of Swiss EU membership, has also warned of the risks in extending its agreements with EU member states on the free movement of people to the ten new members.

He has argued that opening Switzerland’s borders would put further pressure on the social security system and could lead to rising unemployment.

While conceding that the People’s Party is very “sceptical” on the subject of Europe, Ramsauer recalls that it did not fight against the first set of bilaterals entering into force.

“There is of course a big debate about extending the free movement of persons to the new member states and there are lots of fears around, but it’s not only a Swiss phenomenon. It’s exactly the same fears you find in countries like Austria or Germany,” he said.

“My personal feeling is that from the point of view of the People’s Party, there’s a bit of posturing there and that the last word has really not been spoken. I hope so at least.”

swissinfo, Robert Brookes

Key facts

The Swiss Business Federation is the largest umbrella organisation covering the Swiss economy.
It has the support of 30,000 businesses of all sizes.
The Swiss Employers’ Association, founded in 1908, works in close cooperation with the Business Federation and is housed in the same building in Zurich.

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In brief

The Swiss business community is in favour of the Swiss People’s Party having a second cabinet seat in the seven-member government.

Neither the Swiss Business Federation nor the Swiss Employers’ Association is giving official backing to a candidate.

But both have lauded populist politician Christoph Blocher as a successful businessman.

Both organisations are against a government without the present consensus system, the so-called “magic formula” of major parties being adequately and fairly represented in the cabinet.

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