Cabinet under fire over handling of Libya crisis

In the focus - Maurer, Merz and Calmy-Rey Reuters

A parliamentary control committee says the government failed to act as a collective body and did not cooperate closely enough in the handling of the Libya crisis.

This content was published on December 3, 2010

The flow of information between the different ministries was insufficient and individual ministers exceeded their authority, according to a report by a 13-member Senate committee in charge of overseeing the activities of the government and the federal administration.

“The parliamentary control committee believes that cabinet ministers must not only abide by the laws of the collegial system but also honour the spirit of collegiality,” the report said.

“There was a climate of distrust in the cabinet from August 2009,” it added.

The most glaring errors committed were the signing of an accord with Libya by then Swiss president, Hans-Rudolf Merz, in August 2009 and the planning of undercover operations aimed at bringing back two Swiss businessman who had been prevented from leaving Libya for over a year.

“It is inadmissible that Merz did not brief the entire cabinet ahead of his mission to the Libyan capital, Tripoli,” said Senator Peter Briner during a news conference on Friday.

Merz travelled to Libya to negotiate the return of the two Swiss hostages and signed an accord apologising to Libya over the temporary arrest of Hannibal Gaddafi – a son of the Libyan leader - in Geneva in 2008 over charges of mistreating his household staff.

Merz, who stepped down last November, also agreed during his trip to establish an international tribunal to examine the circumstances of Gaddafi’s detention.


The report highlights tensions between Merz and the foreign ministry led by Micheline Calmy-Rey and also urges an improvement in the cooperation between the federal and cantonal authorities over foreign policy issues.

The flow of information between the foreign ministry and the canton of Geneva [responsible for the police who detained Gaddafi] was inadequate, according to Senator Anne Seydoux.

The case was further complicated when a Geneva newspaper published mugshots of Gaddafi taken when he was in custody.

The control committee also noted the insufficient cooperation between the foreign and the defence ministries over planned so-called exfiltration operations to bring home the two Swiss hostages.

“Neither the foreign minister, nor the two defence ministers [Samuel Schmid, and his successor Ueli Maurer] thought it was necessary to brief the other cabinet members on the intelligence operations,” the report says.


However, the committee refused to reveal details about any operations which might have been planned.

Claude Janiak, speaker of the committee, criticised leaks and what he described as “misinformation” about such undertakings.

“It appears neither the cabinet nor the ministries are in a position to prevent the publication of crucial information,” he said.

“The seven-member cabinet has to act as a team and be able to keep secrets under wraps,” added Briner.

He said the cabinet must also define a clear mandate if it asks a single one of its members to act on behalf of the entire cabinet.


The committee spent more than a year investigating the management of the Libya crisis and published a list of 14 recommendations on Friday, asking the cabinet to respond by next April.

The cabinet said it had taken note of the report and would present its opinion within the timeframe set by the panel.

The main political parties welcomed the findings of the committee and called on the cabinet to learn its lesson.

The centre-left Social Democrats of Foreign Minister Calmy-Rey highlighted a lack of leadership and misjudgments by Merz and urged the government to draw the right conclusion from the Libya crisis.

Merz’s centre-right Radical Party said the report showed serious shortcomings of the Swiss system and the group reaffirmed its calls for a reform of the government.

The rightwing Swiss People’s Party said it was confirmed in its bad image of Calmy-Rey as she exceeded her mandate in the Libya crisis and was not a team player.


The crisis between Switzerland and Libya began in July 2008 and led to a serious diplomatic crisis as well as economic repercussions and visa restrictions.

The crisis was partially defused in June 2010 when the second of the two Swiss hostages was allowed to return to Switzerland following mediation by Spain and Italy and the involvement of the European Union.

However, the relations between Switzerland and Libya have not normalised.

An independent arbitration court is still to convene to rule on possible financial compensation for the publication of Hannibal Gaddafi’s mugshots.

Libya crisis

The row began after a son of the Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi was temporarily detained in Geneva in July 2008 suspected of mistreating his household staff.

Soon afterwards two Swiss businessmen were arrested in Tripoli as part of several retaliatory political and economic measures.

Despite a visit in August 2009 by then Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz to Tripoli the two Swiss hostages were still not allowed to leave Libya.

In February 2010 one hostage obtained an exit visa, while the other one had to serve a prison sentence for visa violations.

The second Swiss hostage returned home in June 2010 accompanied by Foreign Minister Calmy-Rey and following mediation efforts by the EU.

End of insertion

Collegial leadership

The Swiss cabinet decides as a collective body based on the principle of collegiality.

Each of the seven members, including the president, has a vote and shares responsibility for a cabinet decision.

The ministers are appointed by parliament for a four-year term. The next elections are due in December 2011, following parliamentary elections.

End of insertion
In compliance with the JTI standards

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

Contributions under this article have been turned off. You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

Change your password

Do you really want to delete your profile?

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Almost finished... We need to confirm your email address. To complete the subscription process, please click the link in the email we just sent you.

Discover our weekly must-reads for free!

Sign up to get our top stories straight into your mailbox.

The SBC Privacy Policy provides additional information on how your data is processed.