Deiss legacy divides press

With his surprise resignation, Deiss opened the way for Doris Leuthard to enter cabinet

One day after the surprise resignation of Swiss Economics Minister Joseph Deiss, the press had mixed views about his political legacy.

This content was published on April 28, 2006 - 08:24

But most editorialists agreed that his departure could give his centre-right Christian Democratic Party a boost and open the door to its president, Doris Leuthard.

Usually when a government minister chooses to step down, the Swiss media are not very critical. The French-speaking press was no exception.

For the Tribune de Genève, the centre-right Christian Democrat Deiss certainly deserved a better reputation than the "grey ectoplasm" label many journalists had given him.

It admitted that his resignation was probably his biggest success, an indictment of the ever increasing sniping between cabinet members on the left and the right of the political spectrum.

Deiss's local newspaper, Fribourg's La Liberté, said the economics minister was too much of a goody two-shoes in an unruly government.

For the editorialist, Deiss was an old-fashioned politician looking for consensus, caught in the crossfire between the rival centre-left Social Democrats and rightwing People's Party representatives in cabinet.

La Liberté also pointed out that although Deiss had trouble making his voice heard, especially when calling for economic reform, he had chalked up a few successes.

These included helping Switzerland finally join the United Nations and pushing through a series of bilateral accords with the European Union despite ferocious opposition in some quarters.

Forgettable Deiss

The German-speaking media were more critical of Deiss.

The Basler Zeitung said that the economics minister would not leave indelible memories, pointing out that during his rotating cabinet presidency last year he left the impression he was out of his depth as he was caught between cabinet's more boisterous members.

Bern's Bund added that Deiss was both unskilful and unlucky when he tried to play the hard man. The economics minister just lacked the political skills to compete with the cabinet's "alpha males" the People's Party's Christoph Blocher and the Radicals' Pascal Couchepin.

For the Bund, Deiss had been beaten too often in cabinet and probably felt a sense of futility, enough at least to tender his resignation.

Zurich's Tages-Anzeiger said that Deiss's political style was not adapted to the new government that came out of the 2003 elections, with the arrival of a second People's Party representative in Blocher and the loss of a seat for the Christian Democrats.

Successor race

As to Deiss's successor, the race seems all but sewn up if the press is to be believed. The president of Deiss's party, Doris Leuthard, is everyone's number one favourite to take up the empty cabinet position.

Even the French-speaking media, who might have given more support to a candidate from their part of the country to replace Deiss, are backing Leuthard.

Geneva's Le Temps said that she was a "strong and competent personality, with plenty of backing and the right profile".

For Lausanne's Le Matin, it was more of the same, calling the parliamentarian a "charismatic" personality who embodies both "charm and efficiency".

The Tages-Anzeiger can't see anyone else who could replace Deiss either, adding that Leuthard only has to declare her interest to get the job.

Bad timing

The St Galler Tagblatt also backed Leuthard, but admitted that the timing wasn't ideal as she still wanted to continue shoring up her party after years of political setbacks.

Le Temps warned that if Leuthard seemed a shoe-in for the job, she wouldn't escape the difficulties faced by Deiss in the past. The Christian Democrats have been unable to play the central role they hoped to fulfil between the right and the left in cabinet.

The Tages-Anzeiger warned that Deiss's successor would be dipping into a "shark tank".

Any benefit from a successful cabinet campaign could be blunted in the 2007 elections, with the Christian Democrats slugging it out with centre-right Radicals in a fight for political survival and credibility that will probably benefit neither party.

For the Le Temps editorialist, the real beneficiaries of Deiss's surprise departure could finally be the Greens, the Social Democrats and the People's Party, so long as the Radicals and Christian Democrats fail to agree.

swissinfo, Scott Capper

In brief

Executive power in Switzerland is vested in the seven-member cabinet. Members are elected, re-elected or – extremely rarely – dismissed by parliament.

Elections for a new legislature are held every four years, and it is not uncommon for cabinet members or ministers to stay in office for ten years or more, although most change portfolios during that time.

The 2003 parliamentary elections upset the so-called "Magic Formula" which dictated the cabinet makeup for more than 40 years.

The success of the Swiss People's Party at the polls allowed them to claim a second cabinet seat, taking one of the two seats traditionally held by the Christian Democrats.

The Radicals and Social Democrats each hold two of the other four seats.

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Key facts

Joseph Deiss was born in Fribourg in 1946.
The professor of economics was a member of canton Fribourg's parliament from 1981-1991.
He also served as mayor of his village, Barberêche, from 1982-1996.
He was elected to Switzerland's House of Representatives in 1991, and was the Swiss price regulator from 1993-1996.
He joined the cabinet in 1999 as foreign minister, and took over the economics portfolio in 2003.

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