The cabinet has agreed to consider changes to the government, including the creation of a security ministry and the merging of education matters into one ministry.This content was published on May 23, 2007 - 21:36
As part of a possible reform, the method of allocating the seven portfolios is also being reviewed. Final decisions are expected after the parliamentary and cabinet elections later this year.
President Micheline Calmy-Rey said the interior and the economics ministries had been mandated to examine options to bring higher education and research under one roof.
The defence, police and finance ministries were asked to consider ways of merging the armed forces, the federal police and border guard units into a security ministry.
"We had a first round of discussions. There will be two further rounds later this year and a final meeting when all the work is done," Calmy-Rey told a news conference on Wednesday.
The cabinet will meet again in autumn to assess progress, she added. Final decisions could be taken next February.
Calmy-Rey's foreign ministry is to draft plans to reform the ways of allocating the seven cabinet positions.
Currently the system is based on seniority – with the member who has been in the cabinet for the longest getting first pick – but there have been calls for lots to be drawn which would put newly elected cabinet members on a par with incumbent ministers.
"We are looking for a consensus on this issue, but this does not necessarily imply a solution with lots," she said. Calmy-Rey indicated that the interest of the country was best served if individual ministers compromised on their personal preferences or those of their political parties.
She described the discussions in a two-day cabinet session as "sometimes hard, not easy, but very constructive", adding that "it was a beginning and it's worth continuing efforts".
The four main political parties described the outcome as disappointing and not innovative.
The move by the cabinet came after parliament called for the creation of a separate education ministry. Several cabinet ministers, notably from the rightwing Swiss People's Party and the centre-right Radical Party also mooted reforms.
Ahead of the special cabinet meeting, Norbert Thom, professor of human resource management at Bern University, said reforms were necessary from time to time to adapt the structure to political needs.
However, the changes had to respect the delicate political balance between the ministries, as well as taking into account the minorities and political parties in Switzerland, he told the Basler Zeitung newspaper.
Thom said the structures had to follow long-term aims and strategies. He cautioned that a major overhaul was difficult under the current Swiss system, with seven ministers holding equal powers and a one-year rotating presidency which has a mainly ceremonial role.
Previous proposals for a major overhaul of the system have come to nothing. A plan to create a two-tier cabinet of ministers and state secretaries was thrown out at the ballot box in 1995.
However, some changes have been made to the civil service administration over the past few years.
In 1998 the portfolio for sport was transferred from the interior ministry to the defence ministry, and the energy and transport ministry added environment and communication to its official name.
swissinfo, Urs Geiser
The cabinet comprises seven ministers. One member takes the largely ceremonial role of president on a one-year rotating basis.
The four main political parties – the Radicals, the Christian Democrats (both centre-right), the rightwing Swiss People's Party and the centre-left Social Democrats – have been represented in the cabinet since 1943.
Between 1959 and 2003 the Radicals, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats had two seats in the cabinet, while the People's Party held one. Four years ago Christoph Blocher won an additional seat for his People's Party at the expense of the Christian Democrats.
The ministers have wide-ranging portfolios.
The interior minister is in charge of health, culture, education (partly) as well as social security.
The transport minister also has the title of energy, communications and environment minister.
The economics minister is responsible for foreign trade, labour and agriculture as well as vocational training and technical aid to developing countries.
The justice minister is also in charge of federal police matters, while the defence portfolio includes sport.
The finance minister is also head of the federal personnel office.
The foreign ministry includes diplomatic matters as well as development aid.
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