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Viola Amherd

Viola Amherd is a member of the centre-left Christian Democrats.

(Keystone)

Viola Amherd has become Switzerland’s first female defence minister just a few days after being elected to the seven-member Federal Council.

The Swiss government also announced on Monday that Simonetta Sommaruga is taking over the energy, environment, transport and communications ministry; Guy Parmelin over the economics ministry; and Karin Keller-Sutter the justice ministry. 

Ueli Maurer remains at the helm of the finance ministry, Ignazio Cassis of the foreign ministry, and Alain Berset of the home affairs ministry.

The most pressing issue on the agenda for Switzerland is bilateral talks with the European Union on an institutional framework agreement. Bern announced on Friday that it will not approve a new institutional framework with the bloc until a public consultation has been conducted. More than 120 bilateral agreements ratified since a first free trade agreement was struck in 1972 govern relations ties between the Alpine country and the EU.

The EU is Switzerland's main trading partner, whereas Switzerland is the bloc's third trading partner, after the US and China.

+ How are cabinet ministers chosen in Switzerland?

Sommaruga, who previously held the justice ministry, will now have to complete the liberalisation of the electricty market, deal with the consequences of the scandal over abusive subsidies received by CarPostal, and finalise the contours of the future audiovisual landscape under the new law on electronic media.

Parmelin, who gave up the defence portfolio, has an opportunity to start afresh with Swiss farmers, who were not alway convinced by his predecessor, Johann Schneider-Ammann, notes Keystone-SDA. He will also have to advance the negotiations of several free trade agreements, in particular with the South American Mercosur countries and the United States.

Amherd of the centre-right Christian Democratic Party along with Keller-Sutter of the centre-right Radical-Liberals were chosen by parliament to join the Federal Council on December 5, replacing Schneider-Ammann and Doris Leuthard, both who decided to step down after several years in the executive body.

The distribution of seats in the Federal Council has not changed: the Radical-Liberals have two, as do both the conservative-right Swiss People's Party and leftwing Social Democrats. Amherd is the sole Christian Democrat. 

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