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Women in Politics: The Swiss Government

by Fran Sat May 17th, 2008 at 01:40:25 PM EST

The other day there was an article about the Diverging paths on gender equality in Italy and Spain. In other countries like France and the UK, this has been a topic of discussion too. Thus, I thought it would be interesting to look at the situation in Switzerland. Most people seem to remember that Swiss women got the voting rights only in 1972, but few seem to know what has happened to women equality in Switzerland since then. This diary will focus on Swiss women in politics, especially the counsillors in government.

First, just a short overview: since 1972 the women in the Federal Council went from 0 to 3 of 7. Of all the female councillors since 1972, 2 also held the position of Swiss President, 4 were Vice Presidents, and currently an other women holds an equally important position - that of Federal Chancellor.

Following is a short overview of the women who served in the Swiss executive since 1972. But first some information on the Federal Council itself.

Executive power in Switzerland is held by the seven-member cabinet. - swissinfo

The Swiss government, known since 1848 as the Federal Council, consists of a cabinet made up of seven members.

Cabinet members are nominated by their parties, and are elected at a joint session of parliament.

Since 1943 cabinet posts have been shared out among the four main parties, the Social Democratic Party, the Radical Party, the Swiss People's Party and the Christian Democratic Party.

A fundamental tenet of the four-party cabinet is the need to reach consensus.

There is no prime minister. The position of president rotates among cabinet ministers every year.

It took a while until the first woman was elected into the Bundesrat, the Swiss Federal Council.

Elisabeth Kopp, FDP, was elected in 1984 and served until 1989. She was responsible for the Justice and Police Department. In 1989 she was Vice President and would have become the first female President of Switzerland, if she wouldn't have had to step down. Her husband was a board member of a company (see details in the wiki) that was involved with international crime. When she became aware of an investigation she called him, to warn him and tell him to step down from that position. Swiss women were very disappointed and many opinionated that if the same situation would have happened to a male councillor, he would not have had to step down.

Ruth Dreifuss, SP, was the next woman to be elected into the Federal Council in 1993. Before she could be elected some shenanigans were going on inside Parliament (see the wiki), so in the end there was the peculiar situation at that time that they had to choose between two women, of which Ruth Dreifuss was elected in the end. She held the Federal Department of Home Affairs. In 1998 she became Vice President and the following year the first female President of Switzerland. She was also the only Jew being President of Switzerland so far. But her religion was never a topic, nor is it a topic in elections here. See resigned after almost 10 years in 2002.

Ruth Metzler-Arnold, CVP, followed in 1999. Her election was unspectacular compared to the other female councillors' elections and she held the Federal Department of Justice and Police. In 2003 she became Vice President and would have held the Presidency if... if it wouldn't have been for Christoph Blocher of the SVP. In 2003 she was not reelected, due to power games behind the scene, as most women believed. Because if one looks at her record as councillor, her non-election to keep the Magic Formula intact, was not justified.

Now to the current female members of the Federal Council:

A position that is considered equivalent to one in the Federal Council is the

Federal Chancellery - Federal Chancellery

The Federal Chancellery with its staff of some 250 people has been headed by Federal Chancellor Corina Casanova since January 2008.

The Federal Council's staff office
The Federal Chancellery provides services to the Federal Council and the Federal Assembly as well as to the population. It periodically adjusts its service portfolio to the new challenges and needs.

Micheline Calmy-Rey , SP, was elected in 2002 and holds the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. In 2006 she was Vice President and held the Presidency in 2007. So far her tenure has been unspectacular, except for the criticism she received for signing a gas contract with Iran.

Doris Leuthard, CVP, joined in 2006 and holds the Federal Department of Economic Affairs. Not much I can think of to write about her. She seems to be well liked. If nothing unforeseen happens she will be the next female President of Switzerland.

Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, SVP, was elected in December 2007, sort of as a slap at Christoph Blocher (initiator of the black sheep ad). (See the Salon thread on the elections and the diary Yipeee!!!! Swiss Bundesrat Blocher ousted!.) Women rejoiced, as they have not forgotten what has been done to Ruth Metzler. Not much can yet be said about Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf as member of the Federal Council, except, that she holds the Federal Department of Justice and Police. Currently the SVP, Party of Blocher, is trying to expel her from the party. However, that is a topic for a separate diary.

Thus out of the 8 top positions in the Swiss government, 4 are held by women - you could say, divided equally between women and men.

According to a poll, the Swiss people seem to like their female councillors.

Corina Casanova holds currently the position of Federal Chancellor since January 2008. It is not a very visible positions and not much is heard about the people holding it.
Beliebteste Bundesratsmitglieder sind die Bundesrätinnen - Newsticker - Tages-AnzeigerThe Most Popular Federal Council members are the female Federal Councillors - News - Tages-Anzeiger
Doris Leuthard, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf und Micheline Calmy-Rey sind die beim Wahlvolk beliebtesten Mitglieder der Landesregierung. Vier von fünf Wahlberechtigten (79 Prozent) wünschen Doris Leuthard eine wichtige politische Rolle.Doris Leuthard, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf and Micheline Calmy-Rey are the members of the Federal Government most popular with the public. Four out of five voters (79 percent) wish Doris Leuthard an important political role.
Der im Dezember neu gewählten Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf wünschen dies 68 Prozent von 1010 im Auftrag der "SonntagsZeitung" befragten Wahlberechtigten. Mit ihr gleichauf liegt Micheline Calmy-Rey. Beliebtester Mann im Bundesrat ist Samuel Schmid mit 67 Prozent.68 percent of 1010 voters surveyed on behalf of the "SamstagsZeitung" newspaper wish the same for Eveline Widmer Schlumpf, who was newly elected in December. On par with her is Micheline Calmy-Rey. The most popular man on the Federal Council was Samuel Schmid, with 67 percent.
Hans-Rudolf Merz kommt auf 61 und Moritz Leuenberger auf 59 Prozent. Abgeschlagen auf dem letzten Platz liegt Pascal Couchepin mit einem Wert von 34 Prozent. 60 Prozent der Befragten wünschen dem derzeitigen Bundespräsidenten keine wichtige Rolle.Hans-Rudolf Merz received 61 and Moritz Leuenberger 59 percent. Lagging behind on the last place is Pascal Couchepin with a value of 34 percent. 60 percent of respondents do not want the current federal president to hold an important role.

So at the executive level, in Switzerland, after only 36 years, women's equality looks good. Of course I picked the rosiest example to start with. Even though the situation seems to be slowly improving in Parliament, it is not quite as advanced as it is at the highest level. However, that is a topic for another diary.

I put out a tip jar, because just the coding has been a big achievement. :-)
by Fran on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 01:42:02 PM EST
An interesting diary, I learned a lot!
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 01:50:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, Metatone. I actually learned a lot too, writing it. :-)
by Fran on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 01:56:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And many well deserved recs and 4s for you Fran!  I'm really glad you put this diary together and thanks for the information.  It's good to see what kind of progress is being made on gender equality elsewhere in Europe.  I'll take a closer read through when I get a chance.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 06:00:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, In Wales. Women equality is a interesing topic and if I can make the time, I want to try and write more about it.
by Fran on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 10:25:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'll copy here a recent comment I made on that topic:

he Sarkozy cabinet is a strnage beast in that respect. It has women n powerful positions (Alliot-Marie at the Interior, Lagarde at the Economy, Dati at Justice), but we hear more about the symbolic ones that the powerful ones.
Dati is universally seen as incompetent and yet she is more protected by Sarkozy than any other given the symbol she represents (female and Arab).

Lagarde embarrasses Sarkozy with her unashamed neoliberalism, so she is kept hidden as much as possible, but at least her competence and legitimacy are contested by no one, even if her policies are fought tooth and nail.

Alliot-Marie is hated by Sarkozy, and is seen as an unavoidalbe leftover from the Chirac/Villepin years, so she is also kept in isolation as much as possible. Again, neither her legitimacy nor her qability to do the job are contested.

So these two are treated as male politicians in the same position would be, which is in a way a lot more important than the Dati show.

French politicians are generally still very machist and sexist, but laws have been put in place to force a bigger proportion of women to be elected. For instance, elections that are based on lists (for municipal councils, or the European Parliament, or regional councils) have to have a strict male-female-male-female alternance, which ensures that close  to half of those elected are female (and male). For parliament, political parties have to have at least 40% of candidates from each gender, or pay fines, but so far they have (i) either paid the fines, or (ii) put female candidates in unwinnable contests. Still, numbers have improved.

And of course, we had Ségolène Royal as candidate for President last year. The least that can be said was that she was not helped by her male colleagues in the socialist party (such as Laurent "but who will take care of the kids?" Fabius)

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 02:44:32 PM EST
The other day, I think I read that Royal is running for chairperson of the SP. Do you think she has any chance to win?
by Fran on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 02:51:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, but she has a great deal of determined opposition. Like before.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 05:25:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So, it will be another uphill fight vor Royal.
by Fran on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 10:26:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I heard this morning that Dominique Strauss-Kahn had made known, from Washington, his firm intention to get in her way (though, tied up as head of the IMF, he can't be candidate).

Bertrand Delanoë, Mayor of Paris, is probably the main other candidate, with the backing of Lionel Jospin.

The importance of the post is that the highway to the Elysée is to become head of one of the two major parties.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 10:46:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
When will the election be? And it looks like there will be again quite a bit of drama.
by Fran on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 11:09:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's not clear yet when the PS will vote for its General Secretary next.

Note that Delanoë is gay (and Parisian), so the choice is not completemy trivial...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 05:26:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In Hungary, there is no overt macho sexism in politics like displayed by Lang and Fabius. But the situation is just as bad, when one looks at the ratio of women in Parliament. Only the Socialists tried to apply quotas. Yet, there are women in some top positions: the (Socialist) Speaker of Parliament, the chairman of the smallest party, the foreign minister.

I posted this recent poll of politicians before:

Those I mentioned above are the third to fifth. The fourth powerful female politician, the Socialist faction leader, is less popular nowadays (seventh from behind).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 06:22:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I took the liberty to insert links to your earlier diary on the ouster of Blocher and the Salon thread on the elections.

For those less familiar with Swiss politics, the four parties in the Magic Formula coalition:

  • Social Democratic Party (German acronym SP): as the name implies, the main centre-left party

  • Radical Party (FDP): liberals; presently right-liberals

  • Swiss People's Party (SVP): former centrist party (a union of diverse small parties, most of which split off the liberals) more or less taken over by Swiss-German media tycoon Christoph Blocher, who took it towards a virulently xenophobic far-right direction

  • Christian Democratic [People's] Party (CVP): as the name implies, conservative party.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 03:36:27 PM EST
thanks, Dodo!!! I forgot that I am such a prolific writer. ;-D
by Fran on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 03:44:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
By the way, what's up with Widmer-Schlumpf's SVP membership?

The last I could find was in April: defying the threats of the federal party that they will expel the Graubünden party branch if it doesn't expel Widmer-Schlumpf, the local branch refused, and voted down the motion on expelling her without counter-votes.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 03:42:33 PM EST
The Graubünden section, where she is from, refuses to expel here. Now the mother party is trying to expel the entire cantonal section. They are crazy. The section of Berne is also refusing to go along. I guess they fear that after Widmer they are going to go after Schmid the other SVP member of the Federal Council. The party is eating their own. But nothing has yet been decided.
by Fran on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 03:49:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In such situations, two outcomes are possible. One is losing voters and disintegrating. The other is that the now uniformised rest-party is more focused than ever, and builds new local organisations that are 100% loyal.

In Austria, IIRC Haider did something similar with the Salzburg branch, which played out acording the second option, but later kicked his own party, which played out according to the first option.

Wat do the latest polls show, BTW?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 06:09:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Wat do the latest polls show, BTW?
The only poll on Widmer, I could find, was the one I shown in the dairy, seems also to be the most recent one. The only other poll, is just one by a newspaper - baz.ch - Basler Zeitung Online
Hat Bundesrätin Widmer-Schlumpf noch Platz in der SVP?
But I think, this is again a poll of the general public and was taken early April. I do not really know who decides inside the SVP. Are these the regular party members or are these the board-members of the cantonal section. And could not find an SVP internal poll.
by Fran on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 10:24:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, sorry, I did not mean such a specific poll! Just a party poll, i.e. if any damage to the SVP is visible now.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 12:40:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, I haven't seen any internal party polls and my guess is, if they made one, they probably not going to publish it, especially if it should be negative.
by Fran on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 03:51:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Still I failed to communicate it right. No, I mean is the simplest party choice poll, e.g. what is also called Sonntagsfrage in Germany at least.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 04:26:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I never heard of the Sonntagsfrage before. Maybe thats the inconvenience of not having a tv. But I think I found what you were asking for. At least I hope so. :-) Sonntagsfrage | Mitmachen | www.sonntagonline.ch
Hat die SVP recht mit ihrem Vorgehen gegen Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf?
44.8 No against 55.2 Yes.
by Fran on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 04:49:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Aargh, it 44.8 Yes and 55.2 No. :-(
by Fran on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 05:02:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, Sonntagsfrage for Germans is Sonntagsfrage because the question they ask is, "What party would you vote for would there be elections next Sunday?"

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 05:06:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, so it is always the same question?
by Fran on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 05:08:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I mean the simple party preference polls.

I tried to find a Swiss one on several occasions, but no luck. There was a series of polls called SRG-Wahlbarometer, but only before the elections.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 05:14:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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