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Leuthard sets out her economic priorities

Leuthard was visibly relaxed before explaining her goals in Laax

(Keystone)

Switzerland's new economics minister, Doris Leuthard, says that her main aim will be to promote economic growth in the country.

But she warned at a news conference in the Graubünden resort of Laax on Wednesday that to achieve that goal reforms were essential.

Leuthard, who has been in office for 58 days, said she wanted to bring prices down and liberate the economy from unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles.

She broke tradition by not waiting for the usual 100 days in office to give her first impressions and set her priorities.

Leuthard, a member of the centre-right Christian Democratic Party, said this was not because she did not "have her feet on the ground" or "out of arrogance" but because her views were expected on a number of topical issues.

These included future agricultural policy, Europe and Switzerland's planned SFr1 billion ($800 million) contribution to the ten states which became members of the European Union in 2004.

Open climate

After five meetings of the government since taking office, Leuthard said she had found an open climate and in-depth discussion in which arguments took place trying to find solutions.

She said she could imagine more involvement with other ministries – not to give any lessons but to remind them of the importance of the economy in many decisions they took.

Leuthard emphasised that if a small country wanted to remain strong, its only chance was to be open to reforms, adding that citizens had to be told openly about them.

She said reforms were needed to assure sufficient economic growth, which was a prerequisite for financing social insurances and education.

The minister said the three per cent GDP growth forecast for this year was not a reason "to drop our guard". She argued that growth of at least 2.5 per cent was needed next year, whereas growth of between 1.5 and two per cent was foreseen.

Increased competition

Her ideas to achieve that growth included reducing prices, mainly by increased competition on the domestic market, improving foreign ties and making the labour market more flexible with a quality education.

Leuthard said she would call on business leaders to keep older workers in employment longer by offering them continual training and was also hoping that companies would offer more apprenticeships.

She explained that she wanted to promote women in the workplace and had called on the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs to compile a guide for companies containing structures that were more friendly to families.

Leuthard also said she wanted to try to eliminate administrative hurdles that now cost the economy an annual SFr6 billion, a process started by her predecessor Joseph Deiss.

Another priority was the introduction in Switzerland of the so-called "Cassis de Dijon" principle taken from EU law – under which a product legally manufactured in one EU state may circulate freely in another.

The minister commented on the importance of breathing new life into the stalled Doha Round of liberalisation talks at the World Trade Organization. But she added this should not prevent Switzerland pursuing its bilateral ties with the EU.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Leuthard is only the fifth woman to be elected to the Swiss government.
She succeeded her party colleague Joseph Deiss.
She won 133 of the 242 votes in the House of Represenatives and the Senate.
The 43-year-old lawyer became a Christian Democratic Party parliamentarian in 1999.
She was party president from 2004 to 2006.

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