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Supporter of Swiss integration in Europe dies

Foreign Minister Felber speaking in parliament in 1992 during a debate about government plans for Switzerland to join the European Economic Area. Keystone / Rolf Schertenleib

The former Swiss foreign minister, René Felber, a keen supporter of Swiss membership of the European Union, has died at the age of 87.

This content was published on October 19, 2020 - 12:30
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Felber, a representative of the left-wing Social Democratic Party from the French-speaking part of the country, acted as foreign minister from 1988 to 1993 when he retired for health reasons.

In 1992 he also held the largely ceremonial post as Swiss President.

Felber, a trained teacher, was known for his pro-European stance. The refusal of voters in 1992 to join the European Economic Area - a half-way house to EU membership - was a major setback for his ambitions and the government’s foreign policy.

In an interview with swissinfo.ch in 2002, Felber said he was still disappointed by the outcome of the vote and that Switzerland thereby lost some of its political freedom and its influence.

“The government and parliament spend their time amending Swiss laws to bring them in line with EU legislation. We’re not formally obliged to do so, but we can’t afford to do otherwise,” he said.

Solidarity

Trained as a teacher, Felber began his political career as mayor of the town of Le Locle in the 1960s. He served as a parliamentarian and a member of the executive in his home canton of Neuchâtel.

He also sat in the Swiss parliament as a member of the House of Representatives for 14 years.

In a statement published on Monday, the Social Democratic Party honoured Felber as a “passionate fighter for an open Switzerland” and a promoter of values including solidarity and public spiritedness.

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