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Schmid announces resignation

Samuel Schmid announced he would leave his post as defence minister at the end of the year

(Keystone)

Weakened by controversy and under attack from adversaries, Defence Minister Samuel Schmid on Wednesday announced he would step down at the end of this year.

His resignation had been long expected and followed months of mounting pressure on him to go.

"I am resigning for health and family reasons, and out of love of my country and the army," an emotional Schmid told a media conference.

The 61-year-old cabinet minister had just returned to work this week after a successful gallstone operation.

In a statement on Wednesday, the cabinet said it had taken note of his decision to step down on December 31, which it regretted.

"The government regrets the resignation of Samuel Schmid, who as a loyal colleague always was and is seeking balanced solutions to problems."

It thanked him for his "great engagement in the service of the country and its people".

Schmid had been under considerable pressure over the past few months over his handling of army affairs. His appointee as head of the armed forces, Roland Nef, was forced to resign in August in after being implicated in a case of sexual harassment.

He has also been criticised over two fatal accidents. In July 2007 six recruits died in an avalanche on the Jungfrau, and in June 2008 five were drowned in a rafting accident.

Despite the pressure, Schmid had resisted calls to step down and at the beginning of November, broke ranks with the rightwing Swiss People's Party to join the newly-formed Conservative Democratic Party.

Mixed feelings

Schmid has served as minister of defence, sport and protection of the population since 2001. He held the rotating post of president in 2005.

Reserved and slow as a speaker, the Bernese never showed the enthusiastic flamboyance of his predecessor, Adolf Ogi.

He did not interfere in the affairs of fellow cabinet colleagues and was loath to get into polemics. Often portrayed as a man without charisma, he was sometimes described as an "official from the country" who made it to the top.

But those who know him well speak of someone who is easy to approach and easy to talk to. He was known for taking the time to stop in the corridors of parliament to say hello to the cleaners.

He was also capable of causing a few surprises. On January 1, 2005 – his first day as president for the year – he paid a visit to a group of border guards in a symbolic gesture that was highly appreciated.

And many remember his "outburst" at the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis when he publicly criticised censorship practised by the Tunisian government.

Counterweight

Schmid always acted as a counterweight to the dominance of the hardliners within his rightwing Swiss People's Party. This was apparent when he was elected to the government on December 6, 2000, as parliamentarians preferred him to the official party candidate, Rita Fuhrer.

This awkward position within his own party meant that Schmid had to swallow a lot. The most memorable affront was when the People's Party's ideologist, Christoph Mörgeli described him as "half a cabinet minister".

Schmid had to stoically put up with criticism although he did enjoy support from politicians opposed to the People's Party hardliners. This situation helped the Bernese create an image as a politician who knew how to take punches.

But he also knew how to give them. Pushed to the limit, Schmid recently slammed the door on his party and joined the ranks of the new Conservative Democratic Party.

Schmid was head of the defence ministry throughout his cabinet career. During the eight years he was there, he never showed any inclination to change ministry, although the departure of five of his colleagues in that time gave him the possibility.

Lack of ambition?

Some believed that was a sign of a lack of ambition and a more ambitious politician would have probably aimed for the more prestigious and important position as head of the interior, finance or economic ministry.

Schmid always said he did not want to leave the defence ministry until army reforms had been completed.

He chalked up some successes, for example the nationwide vote in favour of the Army XXI reform package and the deployment of Swiss armed troops on peace missions abroad.

But the recent refusal to accept the armament programme by the House of Representatives was perceived by some as a sign of his rejection.

swissinfo

Samuel Schmid

Born in 1947, Schmid is married and has three children.

After law studies at Bern University, he practised as a lawyer.

He began a political career in his commune of Rüti bei Büren and was later a member of the Bernese cantonal parliament (1982-1993)

He was a member of the Swiss House of Representatives from 1994 to 1999 before becoming a member of the Senate (1999-2000). He was also head of the People's Party parliamentary group (1998-1999).

Elected to the government on December 6, 2000, he took office the following January. He was president of Switzerland in 2005.

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