When Paul-André Roux entered the federal parliament nine months ago it was with a reputation as both a businessman and social campaigner.
The tax expert turns out to be an entertaining interview partner who talks with amazing ease about his passion for politics, business and sport as well as his love for his native Valais region of the Swiss Alps.
It’s not difficult to picture Roux biking and hiking in the mountains. His red cheeks give him an air of country life – not a common sight in the 19th century interior of a historical building in Switzerland’s capital, Bern.
Unfazed by the noise in the parliament lobby, 50-year-old Roux appears at ease answering questions from two journalists. And if he had a reason to be tired that morning during the first week of the winter session he certainly did not show it.
“You have to love people if you go into politics,” he says.
Not easily stuck for answers he says that for him politics is as much a pleasure as a commitment to society and the next generation.
There can be little doubt about Roux’s origins and convictions as he was born into a family which is deeply rooted in the Valais region and the dominant local party.
“It’s always been the Christian Democrats for us and that’s all the better because they call the shots,” he jokes.
Business and politics
He says the centre-right party represents a perfect mix of social issues and business interests. “Of course, it is my personal conviction. I aim for the same blend in my political activities,” he adds.
This translates into his commitment for lower corporate taxes and tax breaks for families as well as his refusal to approve spending cuts in the 2011 budget for Swiss development aid.
Still Roux’s reputation is primarily that of a representative of business interests in Bern, a label he wears patiently although he insists it is misleading.
He sits on 40 company boards, giving him the record in the current parliament. But he dismisses allegations that this could lead to a conflict of interest or that his independence as a parliamentarian could be compromised.
“They are mostly small firms in the property business and the mandates are not personal,” he says.
As partner in a fiduciary company it is his job as a tax expert to sit on company boards.
Roux is nevertheless labelled the “king of holding companies”.
Does the label bother him now that he has changed from the cantonal parliament in Sion to the national stage? Not really. “At least it helped my new colleagues in Bern so they knew what box to put me in,” he chuckles.
Roux is an ardent defender and promoter of the real estate sector and sees a great future for his native Valais region, particularly in the construction of hotel complexes rather than holiday apartment developments. “Property ownership gives people something to aim for in life,” he says.
As noteworthy as his commitment to his job is Roux’s pride in Grimisuat, a French-speaking commune of 3,000 residents in central Valais, situated above the banks of the River Rhone in a winegrowing region.
He is full of praise for the local quality of life, the mountains and countryside. It’s the best possible environment for him to find new energy after a busy week. “Ten minutes from home I am in the midst of beautiful mountain scenery.”
“We people from Valais keep our feet on the ground. Life was hard here in the old days and we are fighters. We can be stubborn and we do not give up easily,” he says.
There is no contradiction for Roux between a strong attachment to his geographical roots and the outside world. He delivers a brief history lesson about the Valais region as a transit area since the Middle Ages and its mentality of openness.
“We have a long tradition of living next to immigrants and foreigners.”
Listening to Roux talking at one of the long tables in the parliament lobby, you perhaps begin to understand why it is possible to come across as ambitious, but still have a sense of humour, not to get a lot of sleep, but still be in the office a 6.30am on weekdays.
Or to be a businessman and politician at the same time - as is still often the case in the Swiss political system – and to travel to the big cities of the world and remain attached to home.
A touch of eccentricity comes with it. Roux’s orange plastic wristwatch has attracted some media interest. A clever marketing idea for a well known brand of timepieces or the colours of his political party?
Neither. “There is no great mystery to it,” Roux chuckles again. “I bought the watch at Zurich airport before going on holiday. I needed something light and waterproof and liked the colour. Finally I got used to it and now keep it on even in bed.”
It is in striking contrast to his impeccable suit, which speaks of a man who could go far.
“Politics offers great possibilities,” he says. There was a window of opportunity 13 years ago when he joined the cantonal parliament.
“It was like a train that passes and stops. I jumped in and would not hesitate to jump on another train if it came round,” Roux explains. “But my first aim is to get elected again next year.”
Roux and Christian Democrats
Roux is among 31 parliamentarians of the centre-right Christian Democratic Party in the House of Representatives.
The Christian Democrats, which have their stronghold in traditionally Catholic regions, also occupy 13 seats in the Senate and are the fourth-largest political party in parliament.
Roux sat in the Valais cantonal parliament before he joined the federal parliament in March 2010.
The 50-year-old tax specialist is married and has two children. The former amateur football player loves mountain biking and off-piste skiing.end of infobox
Swiss abroad community
Roux says he is in favour of the Swiss expatriate community being represented in parliament.
However, he says there are many open questions about how to introduce it.
“It is an excellent idea, but it is not easy to implement,” he says. Roux admits he has no simple solution at hand.
There are about 700,000 Swiss expatriates, mostly in neighbouring European countries as well as in North America.end of infobox