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Ex Vatican guard puts his faith in parliament

Segmüller considers himself a representative of the political centre Keystone

Security issues are close to the heart of Pius Segmüller, a former commander of the Swiss Guard at the Vatican, who has now entered the political arena.

This content was published on March 17, 2008 - 08:03

The member of the centre-right Christian Democratic Party is among some 50 parliamentarians who took up their seats just over three months ago following general elections.

Few newcomers to the political scene in the capital Bern have as impressive a professional track record as Segmüller, a former teacher and currently head of security at the world football governing body Fifa.

The 56 year old worked at the Vatican, as an army instructor, company manager and police commander, before deciding to join a political party in 2004. Now he sits in the House of Representatives - and at 194 centimetres tall he is hard to miss.

He brings to mind an overeager student as he sits with a straight back listening to the speakers on the podium while other parliamentarians read newspapers, use their mobile phones or walk around.

"It is hard to concentrate when there is so much going on around you. It does take some getting used to life as a parliamentarian," says Segmüller.

He says he had a massive headache at the end of the first day trying to follow a debate despite numerous interruptions and distractions.

Three months on he's learnt to cope with it. While answering journalists' questions in the lobby he is waiting for the signal to dash off for a vote. It's a debate about the presence of Swiss peacekeeping troops in Kosovo during the current spring session.

"The army contributes to peace in the region," says Segmüller. But he adds that policemen could do the job just as well.

Perceptions

It's hardly a surprise to see him defend the role of the army. But Segmüller doesn't consider himself a man of law and order in the strict sense, or as a hardliner as some of his political opponents do.

"I believe that security is one of the key tasks of the state. We were a bit too careless about security in various aspects over the past few years."

Segmüller says security includes not only repression, but also prevention and awareness campaigns.

"He believes in strong authorities – police, the state, the church – and guiding principles, and less in the virtues of doubts and reasoning, but he is a respectable political opponent," says Jo Lang of the Green Party.

Segmüller describes himself as a traditional Christian Democrat from the centre of the political spectrum, but he adds that from today's perspective he is on the rightwing of the party, certainly on economic and security matters.

"He knows what he is taking about and you can rely on his position unlike many of his party colleagues and he's nice to work with," says Roland Borer of the rightwing Swiss People's Party in a jibe at the Christian Democrats.

For his part, Walter Donzé of the Protestant Party says he shares with Segmüller a strong commitment to Christian values.

"Pius is somebody who considers things carefully before taking decisions. He is quiet and competent, and has a big network of contacts."

Values

Segmüller says it is important for him to base his life and his politics on Christian ethics as a member of the Christian Democratic Party.

"I'm absolutely convinced that faith is the basis of our state and of what we do and how we are," he says as he looks at you with his rimless glasses.

But he says there is no reason why there shouldn't be room in politics for emotions and people who speak their mind, as became apparent during the cabinet elections in December.

"It was a big hullabaloo. What counts is to focus on the subject matter and keeping respect for people with different opinions."

What are his aims for the next four years in parliament?

"We have to ensure Switzerland remains a safe country. It is not isolated from the rest of the world." Segmüller is also in favour of reducing the tax burden for families and wants to put the country's social security system on a sound financial basis.

"Individual responsibility should come first, the state steps in when needed," he says.

Roots

Segmüller and his family have moved around a lot within Switzerland and abroad. He says living as an expatriate gave him a better appreciation of the Swiss mentality.

It's a somewhat provincial way of thinking, a bit small-minded, and often people can't see beyond the borders, he says.

"The Swiss want everything to be perfect. We tend to be self-centred have and forget to take into account what is good for others." But back in Switzerland, he has come to like the homeliness and provincial character again. "You can not deny your roots," he says.

Still, Segmüller calls for a bigger role of Swiss expatriates in parliament.

"It would not be easy for a parliamentarian who lives abroad, but their input would be very valuable."

swissinfo, Urs Geiser

In brief

Pius Segmüller is one of more than 50 new members elected to parliament last October for a four-year term.

His centre-right Christian Democrats are among the top four political parties in the Swiss parliament and government.

The Christian Democrats, historically rooted in Catholic regions and considered a conservative, are have been promoting family-related issues in the past decade.

The House of Representatives is one of two parliamentary chambers and has 200 seats.

As a rule, parliament meets four times a year for three-week session.

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Pius Segmüller

Segmüller is head of security at the Zurich-based world football governing body Fifa.

He was commander of the Swiss guard at the Vatican from 1998 to 2002.

Segmüller is a former teacher and worked as army instructor, police commander and head of civil protection and disaster relief services as well as manager of a pharmaceutical company.

He joined the Christian Democratic Party nearly four years ago. The seat in the House of Representatives is his first political mandate.

The 56-year-old Segmüller and his wife have two children. They live in the central Swiss city of Lucerne.

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