Gerold Bührer, who is set to become the new president of the Swiss Business Federation, economiesuisse, is going into the job with a lot of "positive motivation".
Bührer, a member of the centre-right Radical Party in the House of Representatives, told swissinfo he wants to continue to be a bridge-builder between business and politics.
The 58-year-old politician from the northern canton of Schaffhausen, explains how he also wants to change strategy, after threats by some economiesuisse members to pull out, notably the umbrella organisation of the engineering industry, Swissmem.
He's also hoping for improvements within the Radical Party in time for a better showing at next year's parliamentary elections.
swissinfo: How are you looking forward to your new post at economiesuisse?
Gerold Bührer: With a lot of positive motivation because I have been in politics now for 25 years, 15 years here in Bern, and have to a large extent played the role of a bridge-builder between business and politics. I regard this new challenge as a continuation of what I have done so far in the political arena.
swissinfo: One of the big challenges you're going to face as president of economiesuisse is to try to steer the organisation back into calmer waters. What do you think will be your first moves?
G.B.: We've already fulfilled one goal of reintegrating the Swiss Master Builders' Association. Politically and psychologically it was a very important step forward.
One target certainly will also be to convince Swissmem that the new strategy we have prepared, which will be presented on November 21, and significant budget-saving measures are in the interests of the economy as a whole. It's important that we have a common message on key issues, which also means membership of Swissmem. How long this process will last and whether we will succeed in solving it by the year's end is another question.
swissinfo: You talked of strategy there. What is it going to be?
G.B.: We have to concentrate our work on some key economic policy issues which are of high importance for all branches of industry, for example fiscal policy, tax policy, foreign trade policy and competition policy. There we should really have and offer the core expertise. And then there are fields where we also have to offer some advice but where specific organisations should also play a large part. That means Swissmem and others should have sufficient leeway to formulate and try to implement the specific objectives they have.
A second element is that by concentration we save money, so we should be able to free up money for our campaigning. We should also get more proactive in formulating proposals before others do.
swissinfo: What role do you see for the organisation in the future? You've already mentioned a few things.
G.B.: economiesuisse has to be the prime provider of free market policies in the whole battlefield of formulating economic policy. I think if one organisation should be very solid - like the granite at the Gotthard - then it's economiesuisse. I think we have a very important job to influence politicians and public opinion on the basis of a free market system - of course with a social dimension.
swissinfo: And how do you see your role in all this as the new president?
G.B.: One certainly expects from my side good political networking... with my political experience that's certainly something in which I'll invest much time. I will also play a role in the process of formulating economic policy proposals because that's been one of my political fascinations for a long time.
I also have to make sure that the reforms can be implemented quickly enough to prove that the organisation has authority even with less money.
swissinfo: You'll be giving up your position as a member of the House of Representatives. What will you regret?
G.B.: It's like everything in life... you have to cope with it. I feel that the new challenge is so big and interesting that it is much easier to say goodbye.
swissinfo: What do you think about current the state of your party? The Radicals lost voters in the last general election in 2003 and the first opinion poll for next year's elections put you as one of the losers and even said you were losing credibility.
G.B.: Of course I don't feel good because in the time I was president [2001-2002] we always had 20 per cent or more [of the vote]. We dropped to below 17 per cent at the last election. I regret it and hope that at the federal level improvements can be put in place, especially on the policy marketing side...
If we remember the last three votes we were successful against the left. We have one year, and if we use it to better sell what we are doing, in communicating a better profile, I still hope we can come back and win some seats after the bad results in 2003.
swissinfo-interview: Robert Brookes
Gerold Bührer, who lives in Thayngen in canton Schaffhausen, held several positions at the Union Bank of Switzerland between 1973 and 1989.
Between 1990 and 2000 he worked at the Georg Fischer industrial group in Schaffhausen, taking over as chief finance officer in 1991.
Bührer was elected to the House of Representatives in 1991 and was president of the Radical Party from 2001-2002.
His nomination as president-elect of economiesuisse was announced on September 25.
He has decided to keep his mandates as vice-chairman of the Swiss Life insurance company and as a director of Georg Fischer.
The Swiss Business Federation made negative headlines in May when the umbrella organisation of the engineering industry, Swissmem, and the Swiss Master Builders' Association announced they would leave the lobby group.
Areas of conflict include the different interests of small and large members and the accusation that economiesuisse was bowing to the demands of the powerful pharmaceutical lobby at the expense of manufacturing. Membership fees are also an issue.
The federation was also hit when its president-elect Andreas Schmid, who was due to take over from incumbent Ueli Forster, stepped down. Schmid's decision followed his resignation in August as chairman of Swiss tour operator Kuoni after an internal power struggle.
Swiss Business Federation (economiesuisse)
The Swiss Business Federation was created through the merger in 2000 of the Swiss Trade and Industry Association (Vorort) and the economic promotion organisation.
At that time the Swiss Employers' Association decided to go it alone.
Since its founding, the federation has attracted more than 30 new members, including Microsoft, IBM and the SWX Swiss Exchange.
economiesuisse has an annual budget of SFr15 million ($12.24 million), with Swissmem and the Swiss Master Builders' Association paying just under a third of it.
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