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Calmy-Rey prepares for new presidential role

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Following her election on December 13, Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey takes over as the new Swiss president for 2007 on January 1.

This content was published on January 1, 2007 - 08:07

In an interview with swissinfo, she praises the role of the Swiss abroad, who she hopes to meet during her travels this year, and calls on the Swiss people to reflect on what binds them together as a nation.

Calmy-Rey, who assumes the ceremonial one-year post from Moritz Leuenberger, becomes only the second woman to hold the office in the country's history.

swissinfo: One of the president's roles is to meet the Swiss people. Do you have any particular plans or messages for the Swiss abroad?

Micheline Calmy-Rey: I would very much like to extend my thanks to the Swiss people living abroad. They are our best ambassadors and send the best-possible image of our country.

This is why it is crucial to meet them and to listen closely to what they have to say. This is already part of my function as foreign minister and, of course, I will continue to do so when travelling abroad in 2007.

swissinfo: Discussions within the United Nations Human Rights Council clearly show that the north-south divide has a major influence on international relations. What role can Switzerland play in this context?

M. C-R.: Switzerland plays an active mediation role. The council should not be a court that competes with the UN Security Council but rather a body that fosters partnerships ensuring better respect for human rights.

By denouncing violations of human rights and not practising political double standards, Switzerland is in a position to build bridges, something that is relatively normal for a neutral country without any hidden agendas.

In international politics, Switzerland's priority is to ensure the respect for the rule of law. We work closely with the UN to make sure there are rules that are adhered to. At the same time, we wish to maintain good bilateral relations with all states, including those in conflict.

But we are not the only mediators. Other countries, with far greater resources than ours, as well as international organisations also play this role.

swissinfo: A few years ago you launched an international network of woman ministers. Do you plan to build it up?

M. C-R.: The network of woman foreign affairs ministers was initiated by a number of people who wanted to meet up, exchange experiences and advance certain women's issues. We meet twice a year during the Human Rights Council and UN General Assembly sessions. In 2005, for example, we helped establish the Office for the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women in Geneva on a permanent basis.

swissinfo: Have you had contact with the new UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and what's your impression of collaborating with him?

M. C-R.: I don't see why the very good relations developed with Kofi Annan shouldn't continue with his successor Ban Ki-moon.

Geneva is home to the UN's European headquarters. There is, therefore, a strong link with the UN secretary-general. And Switzerland has invested a great deal in the UN reform process, whether it's the Security Council's working methods or the creation of the Human Rights Council.

swissinfo: Does your low election result (147 out of 192 valid votes) mean that you might have a difficult time politically as president?

M. C-R.: Apparently I got a very bad score. But I see this rather as a compliment. What it really means is that Switzerland has a proper foreign policy, as certain parliamentarians wanted to use this occasion to show their disapproval of this policy.

swissinfo: Last week Christoph Blocher confirmed himself as figurehead of the Swiss People's Party. What will you do as president to defend the principle of collegiality and search for consensus ahead of general elections in the second half of 2007?

M. C-R.: An electoral campaign always has special consequences. Whatever happens, the president's job is to lead the cabinet and to ensure that it makes the right decisions in a proper collective manner.

However, my other priority as president is to go out and meet the Swiss people. I hope to make full use of this opportunity to listen to what people have to say and to pass on their hopes and concerns to the other government members.

From my side, I would like the Swiss to think about exactly what it is that holds them together as a nation. As Denis de Rougemont once said, Switzerland is a nation based on a desire to live together. With our federal system and direct democracy, our country has managed to hold together its different components. It's an extremely modern quality that many other states are trying to achieve.

Today many Swiss are experiencing serious financial difficulties, uncertainty and unemployment. And the divide between the haves and have-nots is widening. Under such circumstances, peace and social equality are two essential elements of Swiss national cohesion.

swissinfo-interview: Frédéric Burnand in Geneva

Key facts

Micheline Calmy-Rey was born in Chermignon in Canton Valais on July 8, 1945.
She is married with two children and has a degree in political science from the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva.
Calmy-Rey who is a member of the centre-left Social Democratic Party, will keep her foreign ministry portfolio when she takes over the ceremonial one-year post from Moritz Leuenberger, on January 1.
She is only the second woman president in Swiss history after Ruth Dreifuss who served a one-year term in 1999.
Women have had the right to vote in national elections in Switzerland only since 1971.

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Calmy-Rey's career

1981-1997: Member of the Geneva cantonal parliament, chair of the finance commission, later speaker of the parliament.

1997: elected to the Geneva cantonal government.

2001: president of the Geneva cantonal government.

December 2002: elected to the cabinet, heading the foreign ministry. She is the fourth woman to be elected to the cabinet.

December 2006: elected Swiss president for 2007.

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