Swiss Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann has confirmed that he will leave the Federal Council (executive body) by the end of the year.
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“This morning I informed the president of the House of Representatives that after eight years in government I will resign on December 31,” the minister told reporters on Tuesday in Bern.
The 66-year-old centre-right Radical, who has been a member of the government since November 1, 2010, had announced in spring that this would be his last term in office in the seven-person cabinet. In recent weeks rumours had been circulating in the Swiss capital about his possible retirement and there had been concerns over his health.
“If you ask me how I feel, I’ll tell you that I’m well; I feel alert,” a smiling Schneider-Ammann told journalists.
The former businessman had succeeded Hans-Rudolf Merz in 2010. Instead of managing the finance portfolio, Schneider-Ammann took over the economics ministry from Doris Leuthard, who in turn took over the reins of the Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (DETEC).
Looking back, he said it had been hard to give up his family business position for politics. But after four years into the job, he “realised that I had so much pleasure in the Federal Council that I couldn’t help renewing the four-year mandate”.
However, at the age of 66, “it is normal to reduce your activities” and “to become an active grandfather”, he declared. He told Swiss public radio, RTS, that he was looking forward to spending time with his grand children, as well as activities such as skiing, golf and carpentry.
The minister said the timing for his retirement announcement was right. He said he leaves with a light heart, knowing that Switzerland is in good shape, “strong, dynamic and recognised as one of the world’s most innovative nations with almost non-existent unemployment”.
House of Representatives President Dominique De Buman and Senate President Karin Keller-Sutter both thanked Schneider-Ammann for his "tireless" commitment. Senators gave the minister, who was present on Tuesday morning, a standing ovation.
Centre-right parties thanked Schneider-Ammann for his work defending Swiss businesses. The Radical Party said he had helped raise Switzerland's profile as an innovative nation and had fought to preserve Swiss jobs and the social partnership between employers, staff and unions.
The Christian Democratic Party also expressed its thanks to the outgoing cabinet minister for his commitment to the economy, and to training and research, and in particular to the conclusion of several free trade agreements during his time in office. The Social Democrat Roger Nordmann also underlined the minister's contributions towards vocational training and numerous trips abroad to support the export industry.
World Trade Organisation (WTO) Director-General Roberto Azevedo described Schneider-Ammann as a "bridge builder" who had fought to make the multilateral system and WTO "more efficient" and "more equitable".
It was not all praise, however. Regula Rytz, president of the Green Party, said: "He was a Federal Councillor who remained what he was before: the company boss. I often had the feeling that he had some trouble with the political processes here, which didn't run quite as well as in the private sector."
Social Democrat Carlo Sommaruga concurred: "The number one lobbyist of industry and the economy is leaving office... he is a supporter of free trade and bilateral agreements with a rather archaic vision, namely to promote only the economy without taking into account the issue of human and social rights."
Jacques Bourgeois, the director of the Swiss Farmers' Union, admitted "it's no secret, we weren't always on the same page", but added that the outgoing minister was "open to dialogue".
Schneider-Ammann's exit will set off jockeying within his Liberal Democratic Party over who will replace him in the seven-person cabinet. Early candidate names being talked about in the Swiss press include Petra Goessi, Karin Keller-Sutter and Daniela Schneeberger.
The election to replace him is likely to take place on December 5.
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