The new leader of Switzerland’s centre-right Radical Party, Fulvio Pelli, has identified the economy and social security as the key issues of his mandate.
swissinfo asked Pelli whether - by focusing on these issues - he hoped to halt the decline of his party, which traditionally has strong ties to the business world.
In choosing Pelli just over a week ago, the Radicals voted for a more consensual approach to politics. Their new leader says that, on economic issues, it is essential to reach out to other parties at the centre of the political spectrum.
He plans to hold talks with the centre-right Christian Democrats and with the less intransigent members of the populist rightwing Swiss People’s Party.
But Pelli doesn’t plan to steer just to the Right. In some areas of social policy, he does not rule out cooperating with the Left.
swissinfo: Your election came as something of a surprise. What tipped the balance in your favour?
Fulvio Pelli: Simply the conviction that I can offer the party something new and different from what has been on the agenda in recent years.
swissinfo: The Radical Party has lost a great deal of electoral support in recent years. Where did your predecessors go wrong?
F.P.: In Switzerland, there has been growing disaffection with what are seen as the ruling parties – both the Christian Democrats and ourselves. We have been resting on our laurels, and have been more concerned with distributing wealth than with fostering the conditions for creating wealth.
Our traditional values are those of a freedom-loving country which puts the emphasis on personal initiative, individual responsibility, and internal political debate, as well as an economy which functions efficiently both at home and abroad. But recently, those values have been neglected.
swissinfo: You say you are prepared to cooperate with other political parties. On what issues and on what terms do you intend to collaborate, given the gulf between the Left and the Right?
F.P.: The most urgent problems Switzerland must address are to do with economic stagnation, resulting from the entrenchment of vested interests. To escape from this situation, we need to cooperate with the Christian Democrats and the People’s Party. In these areas of policy, the positions adopted by the Left are too distant from our own.
Concerning social issues, the People’s Party has shown itself too narrow-minded, making any discussion impossible. But other parties are more open to dialogue.
swissinfo: During the party leadership campaign, you pointed out that in Italian-speaking Switzerland the Radicals had been successful in countering the appeal of populists. What is the key to stemming the tide of populism?
F.P.: Populism developed because we have not been able to earn people’s trust. We have not been able to say: "Yes, we are facing difficult times, but we shall find ways of making the future better than the past."
In Switzerland, we have to pay attention to people’s concerns. But in a forward-looking country, I believe that we should be gauging public opinion in terms of opportunities and aspirations.
swissinfo: What issues will your party be focusing on between now and the 2007 federal elections?
F.P.: Some issues are fundamental to the nature of our party, such as economic development and fighting excessive state intervention. Everyone pays lip service to the need to bring order to the nation’s finances and relaunch the economy but, when it comes to taking concrete measures, confusion is the rule.
We also need to review the whole area of social policy, which has been neglected.
We need to address the problem of social security. Today, as a rule, it is not the elderly who are in trouble. It is young people, couples preparing to start a family, and single-parent families who are facing real problems. We must forge a new social solidarity pact that takes these changes into account.
swissinfo: Switzerland is divided on the issue of asylum policy. What role will your party play in this area?
F.P.: We need to recognise that we have lost control of the situation to a certain extent. I understand people’s desire for a tougher line, but this kind of approach would probably not achieve positive results. In any case, there are limits. In this field, our room for manoeuvring is set by Europe-wide agreements.
swissinfo: Another controversial issue is the extent to which Switzerland should integrate with the rest of Europe.
F.P.: I am a pro-European. Switzerland has made mistakes: we should have taken the European route, together with Italy, France, Germany and Austria. Instead, we entered into a free-trade arrangement with Sweden and Britain.
We are now in a situation where Swiss people find it hard to accept integration, beyond a few modest steps. I think it is right that we take these steps. But the development of a European framework and the progress of the ongoing debate within Switzerland will dictate the speed and extent of our integration.
swissinfo-interview: Mariano Masserini
Fulvio Pelli, aged 54, is the fourth president of Switzerland’s Radical Party in five years.
Recently, the party has lost support on the right to the Swiss People’s Party, which has taken advantage of popular discontent.
Traditionally close to business interests, the Radical Party has slipped from first to third place in electoral terms and, unless Pelli can reverse the trend, could be overtaken by the Christian Democrats.
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