Outgoing Swiss Foreign Affairs Minister Didier Burkhalter has handed the key to the office over to his successor, Ignazio Cassis.
Parliament elected Cassis to the seven-member Federal Council in September, after Burkhalter handed in his notice for personal reasons in June. Cassis is the first minister from the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino since 1999.
“It is an honour to represent Switzerland and its institutions, its democratic system and its different cultures at an international level,” said Cassis when his colleagues decided he should take on the foreign affairs dossier.
One of the main challenges for Cassis will be to consolidate relations with the European Union. Switzerland’s ties with Brussels were strained following voters’ approval in 2014 of immigration restrictions. The decision blocked negotiations between the two sides on several issues, notably a Swiss payment for EU countries in eastern Europe and an energy deal.
In the run-up to his election, Cassis said he would like to re-focus negotiations, notably on an overarching agreement for the more than 120 bilateral accords between the 28-nation bloc and non-EU member Switzerland.
He also said it might be an asset to have a foreign minister of Italian mother tongue for talks over cross-border issues with neighbouring Italy.
The Federal Council is made up of two representatives each of the centre-right Radical Party, the rightwing Swiss People’s Party, the leftwing Social Democratic Party and one member of the centrist Christian Democratic Party.
Under the consensus system, council decisions are taken collectively, while the office of Swiss president is mainly ceremonial. It is rotated among the seven members on a yearly basis.