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New cabinet minister has politics in her blood

Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf lays great weight on respect and tolerance

(Keystone)

Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, currently at the centre of the biggest storm to hit Swiss politics for 50 years, has been exposed to political machinations all her life.

The 51-year-old's father, Leon Schlumpf, was a cabinet minister for the rightwing People's Party between 1979 and 1987 and served as Swiss president, a largely ceremonial post, in 1984.

"Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf is a very valuable candidate, one of the country's most competent politicians," said Swiss People's Party President Ueli Maurer in 2003, when his party was pushing for a second seat in the cabinet.

The People's Party was less complimentary on Thursday when it announced it would no longer recognise Widmer-Schlumpf or fellow People's Party minister Samuel Schmid.

Widmer-Schlumpf's 2003 flirt with the cabinet wasn't the first time she had been considered minister material.

In 2000 she had been touted as a possible successor to Adolf Ogi, but she eventually ruled herself out.

Career path

Widmer-Schlumpf's political career took a conventional route: having grown up near the eastern city of Chur, she demonstrated for women's rights as a teenager and studied law at Zurich University.

She became a member of Graubünden's government in 1998, the first woman to hold office. A lawyer by profession, she is head of the cantonal finance department and president of the cantonal finance ministers' conference.

She is seen as ambitious and hard working, and has a generally good reputation in political circles. She is also very popular in her home canton of Graubünden, in eastern Switzerland.

She is considered a quick thinker, a good listener and an experienced speaker, qualities that have stood her in good stead when persuading colleagues – and opponents – to vote for unpopular measures.

One of her greatest successes was convincing the Graubünden parliament to accept the largest package of budget cuts in the canton's history in 2003. She also helped lead Graubünden out of the red.

At the national level, she played a leading role in successfully fighting a fiscal reform programme, which was then rejected in a popular vote.

Widmer-Schlumpf, who is married to a structural engineer and has three children, is vice-president of the board of directors of the Swiss National Bank.

"Issue politician"

On Thursday, after accepting the nomination to the Swiss cabinet, Widmer-Schlumpf said that as an "issue politician" she would look for allies, but these would vary depending on the issue at stake.

She said the decision hadn't been easy, but since making her mind up during the early hours, she felt fine – "the only way now is forwards".

She explained that her main criteria for saying yes were respect and tolerance, adding that people should tolerate the fact that sometimes other people could be right.

Widmer-Schlumpf joins existing women ministers Micheline Calmy-Rey and Doris Leuthard – a prospect that she said she was really looking forward to. It is the first time that three women have sat together in the seven-member cabinet.

swissinfo with agencies


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