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Language fight erupts in federal government

Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin is a staunch defender of Switzerland's minority languages Keystone

Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin has strongly criticised the election of a new government speaker on Wednesday.

Couchepin, a native French-speaker, said Swiss Germans and the centre-left Social Democrats had formed a pact to exclude candidates from the minority language regions.

On Wednesday Oswald Sigg was elected to the post of spokesman and vice-chancellor. Corina Casanova was elected joint vice-chancellor. Both are native German speakers, although Casanova comes originally from Romansh-speaking eastern Switzerland.

Sigg replaces Achille Casanova who comes from the Italian-speaking south of the country and who had resigned from the post. There are now no representatives of the southern canton of Ticino at a senior level in the government administration.

“I am perturbed by the way this procedure was carried out, and the result that was obtained,” Couchepin told Le Matin Dimanche newspaper.

“There was an alliance between German speakers and Social Democrats which resulted in the exclusion of the minorities,” said the centre-right politician.


Couchepin stressed that democracy was not just about numbers, it also meant respect for minorities and certain values.

He said that although 50 candidates had applied for the post of government spokesman, the Federal Chancellery had decided against them all and had finally chosen Sigg without making him go through the same application procedure. Moreover, the man chosen as spokesman did not speak Italian – one of the three official languages.

“If one had wanted to find French- or Italian-speaking candidates as well qualified as the German-speakers to fill positions of responsibility it would have been possible,” he added.

Couchepin said that because the Social Democrat Sigg was a German speaker, the Chancellery had tried to achieve a linguistic balance by appointing Corina Casanova to the second vice-chancellor’s post. But although she came from the Romansh part of the country she was in fact a German speaker.

“One of the essential tasks of the Chancellery is to ensure that there is equality in the treatment of the different official languages,” the interior minister said. “That is difficult to achieve if the senior figures in the Chancellery all have German as their mother tongue.”

“We have to say to the German majority, and those who sided with them for party-political reasons, that they are playing a dangerous game.”

swissinfo with agencies

The vice-chancellor and government spokesman Achille Casanova is leaving his job at the end of July after 24 years.
The government has named his replacement as Oswald Sigg, currently chief of staff at the environment, transport and communication ministry.
The other vice-chancellor position, which was vacated by Hanna Muralt-Müller, is to be filled by Corina Casanova, who currently works for the foreign ministry.
They will take up their posts on August 1.

Tasks of the Federal Chancellery:

advice and assistance to the government in planning and coordinating business;

drafting work schedules and business plans and monitoring their implementation;

preparing reports for parliament on government policy directives;

advising the government on all matters relating to the federal administration.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR