Quotas for Swiss diplomats causes outcry

Calmy-Rey addressing Swiss diplomats at a conference in 2004 Keystone Archive

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey's recruitment policy for young diplomats has prompted protests among experts and politicians.

This content was published on February 5, 2006 - 14:42 and agencies

Calmy-Rey turned a blind eye to recommendations by an expert panel and insisted on an equal number of male and female diplomatic novices.

Three of the 19 members of the panel handed in their resignations in protest at the decision of the foreign minister.

Calmy-Rey rejected six male candidates even though they had all passed the tests. She only accepted four men along with four women.

As a result Senator Dick Marty – who has been in the international spotlight as chief investigator for the Council of Europe into alleged secret CIA prison camps – handed in his resignation.

Marty said the foreign ministry's policy was arbitrary and went against constitutional rights.

"Calmy-Rey punishes men, only because they are men," Marty was quoted in the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper.

Slap in the face

Two professors, Pierre de Senarclens from Lausanne University and François Hainard from Neuchâtel University, also stepped down from the assessment panel.

De Senarclens described Calmy-Rey's decision as disastrous.

He said it was a slap in the face not only for the experts who were overruled but also for the young women diplomats because their selection was compromised by the quota system.

Other panel members reportedly said it was a mistake to introduce quotas for women after the experts had put forward their list of future diplomats.

Several parliamentarians announced they would launch debate about equal representation of women and men in public office.

Normal procedure

Calmy-Rey dismissed allegations of an unfair assessment procedure.

"I chose the best four women and the best four men. I don't see any discrimination," she said.

Calmy-Rey added that increased efforts were necessary to encourage more women to join the diplomatic service.

A ministry spokesman said the six rejected male diplomats were offered special conditions if they wanted to apply again at a later stage.

Women currently account for 20 per cent of Switzerland's diplomatic staff. There are only ten women ambassadors compared with 106 men who bear the title.

Swiss voters in 2000 rejected a proposal aimed at introducing quotas to boost the number of women in parliament, the federal administration and universities.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

71 women and 305 men are in Switzerland's diplomatic service.
Ten women and 106 men have the title of ambassador.
Ten men and four women were picked as future diplomats by a panel of experts this year.
150 candidates had applied for training in the diplomatic service.
Four men and four women were eventually chosen by the foreign minister.

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In brief

The assessment panel was set up in 1956 in a bid to open up the recruitment of candidates for the diplomatic service and make it more professional.

The committee is made up of 19 people from the federal administration and experts on international politics.

The panel tests and then recommends the best candidates for diplomatic service. The final decision is with the foreign minister.

In 2000 Swiss voters overwhelmingly threw out a proposal aimed at an equal representation of women and men in parliament, the federal administration and universities.

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