Ministers pack their bags for the Valais
Their official business may now be over, but Switzerland’s cabinet ministers still had one more important appointment to keep before they disappeared for their summer break.
On Thursday the seven-strong team set off on their annual trip, hosted this year in canton Valais by Pascal Couchepin.
Every year the incumbent president invites cabinet colleagues on a two-day break to his or her home region.
This year it was the turn of Couchepin, and the five wise men and two equally wise women spent a couple of days in the French-speaking part of canton Valais.
It was a chance for them to get to know one another better in a relaxed and informal atmosphere away from the glare of the media.
Political scientist Emanuel von Erlach insists the practice is not as curious as it might at first appear.
“Maybe in international respects it’s an unusual thing,” he told swissinfo. “But here in Switzerland it’s seen as a tradition – a kind of ritual.”
The annual get-together gives the government the chance to put aside any political differences and present a united front.
The Swiss cabinet, although not an official coalition in the real sense of the word, draws its members from the country’s four main political parties under the “magic formula” – a power-sharing agreement dating back to 1959.
Each member takes it in turn to hold the rotating presidential portfolio – adding largely ceremonial duties to his or her ministerial responsibilities.
This year it was the turn of the interior minister, Pascal Couchepin, who took over as president from the finance minister, Kaspar Villiger, on January 1.
“Of course all seven members get together and talk politics, discuss strategies and confer about what has to be done and how to solve problems,” said von Erlach. “But not on this occasion.”
“This a really much more of a social thing and a chance to meet local people and show how well they can get on with each other.”
Clash of personalities
This year was the first time the foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, took part.
She was only elected to the cabinet at the end of last year, but has already made a name for herself as being outspoken and controversial.
Calmy-Rey upset her cabinet colleagues earlier this year when she neglected to consult them before announcing an international humanitarian conference in Geneva prior to the outbreak of war in Iraq.
Couchepin has similarly been accused of ignoring his colleagues after he presented his own blueprint to the media for increasing the retirement age in Switzerland.
But political scientist Andreas Ladner does not think the more flamboyant style of the two politicians will sour the atmosphere over the two days – even in an election year.
“They have a different way of presenting their policies,” he told swissinfo. “They are more outgoing and naturally there are real [political] differences”
“But I don’t think there are any serious problems within the cabinet – it’s much more a case of how those differences appear to the public.”
swissinfo, Jonathan Summerton
Every year after the last cabinet meeting before the summer break, the government spends two days in the home canton of the president.
Each cabinet member takes it in turn to hold the rotating presidential portfolio – adding largely ceremonial duties to his or her ministerial responsibilities.
Although the break takes place away from the glare of the media, there were three pre-arranged opportunities for the ministers to meet the press.
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