Switzerland appoints the next Federal Council: All you need to know
On December 13, members of the Swiss parliament met to elect the next Federal Council - the executive branch of Switzerland. Here’s what happened on the day, who is newly elected and who will fill the role of president.
Swiss Federal Council: What happened on December 13?
Shortly after 9am on Wednesday, lawmakers began (re-)electing the Swiss Federal Council which will be in power for the next four years. Each member needs an absolute majority of votes in order to be elected to the seven-member council, with sitting councillors traditionally re-elected to their position if they do not choose to step down.
However, unlike previous Federal Council elections, the results of the latest federal election called the current composition of the executive into question. At the moment, the council is beholden to the so-called “Magic Formula” which sees two seats given to the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), Social Democratic Party (SP) and FDP. The Liberals, while one seat is given to the Centre Party.
After the votes were counted back in October, there were some debates as to whether this formula should change. For example, after the Centre overtook the FDP in winning the third-largest number of seats in parliament, some within the party were thinking about running a candidate against one of the incumbent FDP members.
At the same time, while its vote share suffered in the poll, the Green and Green Liberal Parties also took aim at the FDP, as together their vote share just outstripped the centre-right party. This led Greens National Councillor Gerhard Andrey to announce that he would be running for the seat held by FDP Councillor Ignazio Cassis.
Federal Council election results explained
This year, six members of the seven-member council were up for re-election, while one seat saw a new candidate elected after Health Minister and current President Alain Berset announced that he would be resigning at the end of the year.
Were all the current Federal Councillors re-elected?
First, the clearest results: as expected, Guy Parmelin (SVP, 215 votes to 18), Viola Amherd (Centre, 201 to 27), Karin Keller-Suter (FDP, 167 to 48), Albert Rösti (SVP, 189 to 28) and Elisabeth Baume-Schneider (SP, 151 to 65) were all comfortably re-elected to the Federal Council
When it came to the election of Ignazio Cassis, parliament chose to keep the course instead of change tack. Despite their best efforts, the Greens' Gerhard Andrey only garnered 59 votes to Cassis’ 167, meaning the FDP man from Ticino was re-elected at the first time of asking.
Green Party fails in attempt to get seat on Federal Council
Speaking to 20 Minuten, political commentator Cloé Jans said that the Greens had “failed resoundingly” in their attempt to unseat Cassis, with the party performing well below expectations. This is the ninth time the Green Party has tried to win a seat on the council, without success.
Green National Councillor Katharina Prelicz-Huber said that she was disappointed that other parties, like the SP, didn’t “show more courage and take the voters’ will into account” by choosing Andrey. Her colleague Sibel Arslan added that they “knew it would be difficult” to take the seat - the last time a sitting Federal Councillor was unseated was Christoph Blocher in 2007.
Who replaces Alain Berset on the council?
At the later vote, the public soon got to learn who would be taking Alain Berset’s SP seat on the council. Unlike the previous votes, the election was taken to a third round of voting after the two SP-approved candidates - Jon Pult and Beat Jans - faced a challenge from Zurich SP State Councillor Daniel Jositsch.
While he did not actively ask for support, after not being selected as one of the two "official candidates" in the internal SP primary, others in parliament defied party instructions to back him with enough votes to block Beat Jans from winning in the first and second rounds. In the end, Beat Jans of Basel won out with 134 votes, with Jositsch in second with 68 and Jon Pult in third with 43.
Who will be the President of Switzerland in 2024?
Finally, parliament also did its (largely ceremonial) duty in electing Viola Amherd of Valais as the President of Switzerland for 2024. By informal agreement, the annually changing position is typically filled by the person who has been on the council for the longest time without being the president, which in this case means the position goes to Amherd.
Born in Brig-Gils in 1962, Amherd originally trained at the University of Fribourg as a lawyer, before becoming a city council member and eventual president of her home town. She served as a National Councillor for Valais until 2018 and was elected to the Federal Council on her second attempt in December 2018.
In January 2019, she became the first woman to head the Swiss Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport, and has been most vocal in her bid to increase the funding of the armed forces and oppose Switzerland joining NATO.
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