Young Green bares all for his political cause

Girod (number 4) and his party colleagues protesting against strip searches by Zurich police jungegrü

Bastien Girod, one of the youngest Swiss parliamentarians, has a high profile as a result of a series of spectacular and successful campaigns.

This content was published on December 3, 2007 - 07:57

The Green Party member says he will fight for a more just society and non-violence as well as placing environmental issue high on his agenda. But he says he has no plans to surprise the new parliament with any stunts during the first three-week session, which opens on Monday.

He made the headlines by launching a controversial proposal to ban highly pollutant off-road vehicles. Pictures of his nude protest in front of the Zurich police headquarters cemented his reputation as a young politician with a taste for the extravagant.

There are two things about the 26-year-old from Zurich that are striking. He looks even younger and taller than expected and he speaks with a baffling ease and conviction.

Girod is not easily lost for words. He seems to be a natural with a touch of juvenile shyness, at least for the interview in a cafeteria in Zurich on a grey November morning.

His answers and the way he looks up from his cappuccino make you wonder whether he's fully aware of his talent. Surely Girod knows about the role of the media in today's politics.

"I came to appreciate the cooperation with the media as an active member of Greenpeace. Later on with the youth wing of the Green Party, we soon found out what kind of event was necessary to attract media attention," Girod says.

Young generation

Girod wants to be representative of the young generation and help translate scientific knowledge, in particular about global warming and nuclear power, into political action in a parliament of part-time politicians.

"There are two newly-elected parliamentarians who are younger than me. But they are from conservative parties that are not very forward-looking. It is therefore my responsibility to speak on behalf the generation that will still be alive in 50 years."

He considers himself open-minded and pragmatic enough to seek the dialogue across party lines to forge alliances among younger politicians.

"I don't find it difficult to sit at a table with other people of different political backgrounds to discuss their ideas. I'm optimistic that the younger generation in general is more environmentally conscious."

Some doubts remain for him whether it will be easy to cooperate with members of the rightwing Swiss People's Party which he describes as "copies of old war horses with a more presentable appearance."

Asked about his political agenda Girod, - a climate researcher working on his doctoral thesis at the Federal Institute for Technology in Zurich - unsurprisingly lists environmental issues top.

Injustice and violence

His other main concerns are the growing gap between the rich and poor in Switzerland and around the world, and violence, in particular among young people in this country.

"I'm a pacifist but I don't pretend we live in a peaceful world. Just consider the threat of terrorism."

However, the Swiss army in its current form is outdated and repressive measures cannot be the only way of combating violence in society, he says.

Judging from his answers Girod has obviously had many previous opportunities to explain his views on various issues.

He occasionally slips into jargon, yet there is nothing pretentious about him when he speaks about his personal career ambitions.

"Everything is open at this stage. I still have to find out what I can achieve in parliament, which way the country develops and how I advance in my job. But why not a post in a government on a local or cantonal level? It allows you to shape politics and introduce changes."

Girod also has an idea what he will do if work in parliament gets too frustrating. "I won't hesitate to take my concerns to the street."

swissinfo, Urs Geiser

Key facts

Girod is one of 20 members of the Green party in the House of Representatives.
The Greens are the biggest opposition group in the 200-member chamber.
They also hold two seats in the Senate.

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In brief

Bastien Girod is the third youngest of the newly elected parliamentarians.

The 26-year-old helped set up the youth wing of the Green Party nearly seven years ago and sat in Zurich City's local parliament from 2006 to 2007.

He is a climate researcher and is currently working on his Ph.D. at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

Girod, who hails from the bilingual German-French town of Biel/Bienne, made a name for himself with spectacular campaigns, notably against petrol-guzzling four-wheel drives and a protest against strip searches by Zurich police.

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Parliament winter session

One of the highlights of the three-week session will be the cabinet election on December 12.

Parliament will also name next year's Swiss president, as well as the speakers of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Health issues, including hospital funding and insurance premiums, are high on the agenda as well as proposals to shore up the invalidity pension scheme.

Parliamentarians will launch a new debate about a proposal to decriminalise the use of cannabis.

Other major issues are plans to improve the railway network, including infrastructure and security, as well as proposals to ease rules on Sunday shopping.

Traditionally the winter session also discusses next year's federal budget.

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