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Leuenberger appeals for collegiality

(Keystone Archive)

Swiss President Moritz Leuenberger has warned that without clear boundaries during election campaigns, the cabinet could lose its ability to function efficiently.

Leuenberger, who holds the largely ceremonial post of Swiss president until the end of the year, said he believes in unity and collegiality – but also in compromise.

"For example, the modernisation of the pension scheme will probably succeed only with a broad political compromise," he told the SonntagsZeitung newspaper in an interview. "That could mean discussing not only the retirement age but also new levels of income."

These comments address a taboo for his party, the centre-left Social Democrats, which has always come out strongly against raising the retirement age.

Leuenberger said that in order to forge majorities and wins referendums, it was necessary to present a unified cabinet.

The Swiss cabinet is a consensus-led body, with its seven members from four parties expected to take collective responsibility for government policy.

"This can on occasions lead to one taking a position against one's own party – for ministers on the right regarding income and ministers on the left regarding retirement age," admitted Leuenberger, who is leading the government's committee in charge of modernising the social insurance scheme.

Earlier in the month the cabinet rejected the idea of a flexible pension age, arguing that the initiative would entail an unbearable economic burden and would mainly benefit those who have financial means. It has yet to come up with a counter proposal.

Elections

"In an election campaign against one's own committee, everything is blocked," Leuenberger maintained.

He said that he was not a grassroots member of his party but a cabinet member and "as such I don't wage election campaigns against other members".

There has been speculation that the 60-year-old Leuenberger, the most senior cabinet member, would hand in his resignation in order to attract additional media attention to his centre-left Social Democratic Party ahead of general elections in the second half of 2007.

Elections are elections, he added, and pointed out that he too, like his successor Micheline Calmy-Rey, was elected president despite resistance from the rightwing Swiss People's Party.

But Leuenberger accepts this: "You can't reproach a party for not choosing someone."

Looking back at his year in office recently, Leuenberger said he had invested a lot of effort into keeping the multi-party cabinet together despite a series of provocations.

He did not elaborate, but several members, notably Justice Minister Christoph Blocher from the Swiss People's Party, on occasion violated the system of collective responsibility when they spoke out against joint cabinet decisions.

swissinfo with agencies

Collective responsibility

The principle of collective responsibility is enshrined in law. The seven members of the government are obliged to take decisions collectively and ...

In brief

Moritz Leuenberger, 60, studied law before going into politics.

He has been a cabinet minister since 1995. Prior to that he had been a member of the cantonal government of Zurich. He was also representative for the centre-left Social Democratic Party in the federal parliament.

Leuenberger heads the environment, transport, energy and communications ministry.

He was Swiss president in 2001 and 2006.

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Key facts

Swiss government ministers:
Moritz Leuenberger: environment, transport, energy and communications minister
Pascal Couchepin: interior minister
Samuel Schmid: defence and sport minister
Micheline Calmy-Rey: foreign minister
Christoph Blocher: justice and police minister
Hans-Rudolf Merz: finance minister
Doris Leuthard: economics minister

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