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Diplomacy Cassis to take over foreign ministry

The multi-party Swiss government is made up of seven ministers. The new foreign minister,  Ignazio Cassis, is the second on the right, between the defence minister Parmelin and the cabinet chief-of-staff Thurnherr  

(Keystone)

The newly-elected member of the Swiss cabinet, Ignazio Cassis, will take over the foreign ministry. 

The decision came after a special cabinet meeting on Friday. 

The seven cabinet ministers decided that Cassis will succeed outgoing foreign minister, Didier Burkhalter, who will step down at the end of October. The other six cabinet members will retain their portfolios, according to the Federal Chancellery. 

“It is an honour to represent Switzerland and its institutions, its democratic system and its different cultures at an international level,” Cassis said in a statement. 

Elected to the government on Wednesday, Cassis will take office at the beginning of November. 

He will join Interior Minister Alain Berset, Johann Schneider-Ammann and Ueli Maurer in the economics ministry and finance ministry respectively, as well as Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga, Guy Parmelin who holds the defence portfolio and Doris Leuthard as transport, environment, energy, communications minister.

Challenges 

One of the main challenges for the new foreign minister 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. 

Planned spending cuts to development aid are another potential issue the new foreign minister will face. 

The Swiss cabinet is made up of two representatives each of the centre-right Radical Party, the rightwing People’s Party, the leftwing Social Democrats and one member of the centrist Christian Democrats. 

Under the consensus system, government decisions are taken collectively, while the office of Swiss president is mainly ceremonial. It is rotated among the seven members on a yearly basis.

swissinfo.ch/urs

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