1 August speeches by the members of the Federal Council – in their words ye shall know them

by Dr iur Marianne Wüthrich

When we learn, time and again, from the media how some members of our Federal Council bow and scrape to the “great and mighty” of this world, a few doubts may start to arise whether their zealous focus on EU, NATO, OECD and other elite groups is accompanied now and then by an affectionate look at their own country and its population. In reading this year’s 1 August speeches, we can at least note that today’s members of the Federal Council have, in their youth, all been made aware of the foundations of Swiss history and the pillars of our state model. Some of them have obviously also personally experienced and internalised these, so that they succeed in an impressive way in reminding us, their fellow citizens, that and why the Swiss model is unique and worthy of preservation. From the speeches of other members of the Federal Council, on the other hand, it becomes clear that they do not see themselves in the first place as “servants of the people” but have other priorities.
Why is it that some of these ladies and gentlemen are so keen to get hold of a place for Switzerland in the EU structure or, more specifically, for themselves as well as their party colleagues? They must be aware of the fact that in this way, they abet the ruin of Switzerland as a sovereign, direct-democratic and neutral state.

The Swiss National Day is celebrated on 1 August, in recognition of the alliance which the three original cantons Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden entered into at the beginning of August 1291. Each borough organises this celebration in its own way and usually invites an important personage from politics or culture to give a festive address. Therefore also the members of the Federal Council are invited to municipalities all over the country. This year, for example, Federal President Doris Leuthard spoke in Lucerne on the eve of 1 August, and in Lugano (Ticino) on the national day itself, and the members of the Federal Council Alain Berset on the Julier Pass (Bivio, Graubünden) and in Rorschach (St. Gallen), Didier Burkhalter in Aigle-Les Diablerets, Guy Parmelin in Wimmis and Yvorne, Simonetta Sommaruga in Môtiers, Johann Schneider-Ammann in Eschenz, Riddes, Mendrisio (Ticino ) and Pizol (St. Gallen) and Ueli Maurer in Gluringen (Valais), Moosseedorf (Berne), Weiningen (Thurgau) and in the three Canton Zurich communities of Seegräben, Elgg and Regensdorf.1

Cosmopolitanism and commitment to humanitarian aid: yes – dissolution of the Swiss model through integration into the EU: no

Federal President Doris Leuthard (CVP) revealingly gave her speeches on the Europaplatz in Lucerne and on the Piazza della Riforma in Lugano, probably to confirm her intention of bringing to completion – in a raw form – the institutional framework agreement with the EU until the end of her presidential year, until 31 December 2017. This agreement is very questionable for constitutional reasons and because it touches our sovereign rights.
In her speech, Ms Leuthard underlined that our privilege to live in a stable country with a high quality of life, in the midst of world full of serious conflicts and uncertainties obliged us to “shoulder responsibility, show our solidarity, to help”. Here should be added: … insofar as this takes place on the ground of neutrality. So all this should be managed notably by the ICRC, the SDC (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation), by means of the offer of good services, the granting of asylum for those who are persecuted politically, the collection campaigns in favour of people in need, or by integration assistance for migrants.
Then Doris Leuthard wags a finger to remind us of what we citizens may not or must do. For example, we should “not criticise change simply because it changes things”. (Mrs Federal President should perhaps listen more closely and take note of the factual arguments put forward by the respective critics.) Or: we should “allow discussions and reason about questions in all openness.” (Now is that not droll, since it is exactly what many citizens have been demanding of our politicians for years!)
On the other hand, surely every Swiss citizen can agree with Mrs Leuthard that history has taught us “that it is possible to shape […] the future and preserve our values”. Then would you not please allow us citizens to shape the future in the way history has taught us: by dealing together with the issues at hand through directly democratic decisions and with peaceful economic and cultural exchanges with other peoples and countries of this our world – and certainly not by the ever closer integration of Switzerland into an undemocratic and centrally controlled colossus.
Member of the Federal Council Simonetta Sommaruga (SP) uses quite similar words to those of Mrs Leuthard, although in the French language, in the watchmaker’s village of Môtiers, in the Neuchâtel Jura. Under the title “Val de Travers, val ouvert”, she links the geographic “openness” of the Val de Travers with the idea that Switzerland has to keep its gates open for the people who take refuge from war and persecution with us. Of course Switzerland does this, as it has always done. And yet it is imperative for our small and well ordered state in the middle of Europe, with the lowest unemployment- and the highest foreigners’ rate (about 25 percent) as well as the highest annual immigration, that there be someone standing at our “open gates” who examines who it is that wants to enter (i.e. whether he is really politically persecuted) and how many migrants (also from the EU countries) looking for a job we can and want to let in.
Mrs Sommaruga, head of the FDJP (Swiss Federal Department of Justice and Police), has always shown great magnamity in respect of the migration from non-EU countries: unlike many EU member states which understandably refuse to accept migrants allocated to them by Brussels, she has long said that Switzerland will be able to accept 3,000 Syrian refugees – notabene in addition to those who come directly across our borders. As head of the EJPD, she repeatedly warned the members of the National and State Councils during last year’s debate on the implementation of the “management of immigration” decided by the people in February 2014: Any form of priority for nationals in the Federal Act on Foreign Nationals, be it ever so slight, which concerns the allocation of posts would mean a breach of the agreements on the free movement of persons with the EU… Member of the Federal Council Alain Berset, in his 1 August speech on the Julier Pass, calls the new theater which is being built “a successful metaphor for our country”: “This tower on the Julier Pass not least points to the very special place of Switzerland on the borders of large cultural and linguistic areas in Europe. The Julier is a metaphor for the diversity of Switzerland, for cultural exchange, for identity and opening up. And also for the fact that opening up and exchange do not have to endanger identities – but can even strengthen them.
This can be experienced impressively in Bivio, where no less than seven languages and dialects are spoken, ie written German and Engadine German, Italian and Bargaiot, Surmiran, Putér and Bivio-Romansh.”
It is a good thing for Mr Berset to describe the cultural diversity and the coexistence of different ethnic groups grown over centuries, as well as the cosmopolitanism of Switzerland. But informed citizens are wondering what, at all events, he may also intend by this. Everyone knows that cosmopolitanism and exchange with the peoples of this world does not endanger our identity. But the much-promoted “opening”, a euphemism for the integration of Switzerland into the EU, would not only endanger our identity as a direct-democratic, federalist and neutral country, but downright destroy it.

“Un voyage à travers nos valeurs communes” – A journey through our common values

This journey was presented by member of the Federal Council Didier Burkhalter (FDP) to the festive gathering in Aigle-Les Diablerets. When you read his touching speech, you almost regret his sudden retirement from the Federal Council and as Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), despite his long-standing adherence to an institutional framework agreement with the EU and his secretiveness concerning its contents, which did not win him any laurels. (On the other hand, he deserves all the more credit for his commitment to a dialogue between the warring parties in Ukraine during the OSCE presidency of Switzerland). But – this is the anxious question – who will be his successor? It remains open whether on 20 September, the Federal Assembly will elect a person who wishes to vigorously defend the sovereignty of Switzerland and the interests of its population in Brussels, whatever the setbacks and difficulties.
While other people, who also call themselves Swiss, are trying to figure out whether Switzerland as a voluntary nation indeed exists, or if it only came into being randomly, Didier Burkhalter notes at the very beginning of his speech: «And this country exists – and it makes the echo of the mountains resound – thanks to our common will.” (Here he is referring to the French text of the National Anthem of Switzerland; mw.) He observes that the celebration to commemorate the emergence of the Swiss Confederation is an expression of this our common will and of our gratitude for living here.
As one of our common values, Burk­halter first cites the stability of Switzerland [“la Suisse est championne du monde de la stabilité”], which is unique in the world, because it is based on the will of the population that the institutional foundations should be stronger than the power of any individual. Next, he raises the question of the secret of Swiss success; the answer to this lies in each one of us, because Switzerland is an idea that we must all share in order to maintain justice, security and well-being for all. Then he speaks of federalism, direct democracy, diversity and neutrality, and our four language cultures, which correspond to the four arms of the white cross in our flag. He describes each of these pillars in a homely way, as only a person who loves his country can do. Finally, member of the Federal Council Didier Burkhalter’s journey leads to the pulsating heart of the country, to freedom.
From there, he goes on to speak about the role that Switzerland can and must take in this restless world in which we live: the role of a bridge builder reaching out to others with its capability of dialogue and compromise and its ability to contribute to security and prosperity in the world. And we can also use our savoir-faire as regards peace, federalism or the division of powers to defend freedom and protect men, women and children. Burkhalter speaks of the moving and deeply human experiences he had in areas of unrest and war when he was the head of the FDFA and as an OSCE representative, and of the Swiss Cross which, as a sign of peace on the ICRC vehicles, became a symbol of humanity and of our special task (see box on page 10). He ends by touching on the bilateral treaties with the EU and the unfortunate framework agreement – well, of course …

“The concept of the militia is the fresh-air supply for our system”

Member of the Federal Council Johann N. Schneider-Ammann (FDP) imparted some refreshing thoughts to his listeners at the federal celebration in Eschenz. Talking about Swiss history, he mentioned, among other things, that Switzerland evolved far away from the great centers of power: “This also explains why the Swiss are so skeptical about power in one hand. They do not want kings or omnipotent rulers.” This should make everything clear: we do not want a power center in Brussels either!
Schneider-Ammann comes up with three assumptions.

  1. Assumption: “Success is a fragile good. We are well-off because we are accustomed to doing our homework ourselves, because no one does it for us, because all the others have to deal with even bigger problems of their own, or because they want to overtake us as competitors on the world market. [...]”
  2. Assumption: “Democracy means co-responsibility of everyone for the whole thing. Co-responsibility for the whole thing is more than just going to vote from time to time. It also means getting involved. Many important services are provided on a voluntary basis in Switzerland. The concept of the militia is the fresh air supply for our system. [...]”
  3. Assumption: “Switzerland has always been open to new developments. The success of Switzerland has always been linked to its ability to recognise, accept and adapt to major changes at an early stage. Otherwise we would not be the world champion of innovation. […]”

All three of Mr Schneider-Ammann’s theses focus on the fact that we, the Swiss citizens, are very well able to steer our little boat ourselves – in an intensive dialogue, of course, with our neighbours and the other peoples of the world. As has been said, we do not want an omnipotent ruler …     •

1    All seven speeches can be found on https://www.admin.ch/gov/en/start/documentation/reden/ansprachen-zum-nationalfeiertag/reden-2017.html. I particularly recommend that you read the speeches given by members of the Federal Council Didier Burkhalter (“Le 1er août est un voyage à travers la Suisse, ses champs amoureusement cultivés et les rivières de la vie”), Ueli Maurer (“freedom as a legacy”), and Guy Parmelin (“A country that is proud of its traditions and respects its myths”)

Neutral foreign policy – a great opportunity for Switzerland and for the world

“During the past few years, I have travelled the world, as well as my country. I have seen mountains and valleys very different from ours. A lot of houses of all sorts have been opened to me, some of them so poor that they did not even have a door and hardly a roof, sometimes so scanty that they threatened to disappear with every new landslide or with the next explosion. I have felt strong emotions in the face of people’s suffering and expectations, especially where children were affected. If you are Swiss, if you come from this country, which is so peaceful, you do not understand why war is often stronger than peace; you do not understand why the senseless noise from down there in the plains drowns out everything else; you do not understand why in other regions the sun – too often – does not proclaim a radiant awakening or equality of opportunity for many of these children.
You do not unterstand all this, even though our national anthem, if we listen carefully, warns us of “thunder and horror.”1 In a kind of twilight, it lets us see the privilege of living in Switzerland: a country so poor in mineral resources, which nevertheless proves itself to be an Eldorado for young people – which gives them prospects, training, work ...
Finally neutrality: a word in which all the letters of the word nature are found. Neutrality is in our nature. It shapes the tone of life in our country. Switzerland does not want conflicts. And if we find the way to be a constant peace force for humanity, as our Constitution demands, this shows our courage. In an unstable and multipolar world, it is certainly not easy to implement an external policy that is at the same time independent, specific and impartial. But this is also a great opportunity, both for Switzerland and for the world.”
Excerpt from the address of member of the Federal Council Didier Burkhalter
on 1 August 2017

1    In the French text it says, “la foudre peut éclater avec bruit dans la sombre nuit”, meaning “lightning can crack and strike in the dark of the night.”
(Translation Current Concerns)

A country that is proud of its traditions and respects its myths

“[...] Switzerland, as stated in the pre­face to its Federal Constitution, has entered into an alliance in order to strengthen freedom and democracy, independence and peace in solidarity and candour towards the world.
It is a great blessing to live in a country that not only celebrates these values, but also respects them. We become aware of this in our everyday activities and by looking at what is happening in the world. In essence, the memory of Niklaus von Flüe and other historical personalities is valuable in showing us our responsibilities as citizens: to be there for others, to be an example, to be candid, decide freely, be curious about everything, according to the model of Brother Klaus. [...]”

Excerpt from the address of member of the Federal Council Guy Parmelin on 1 August 2017

(Translation Current Concerns)

Freedom as a legacy

“[…] When we compare our state system with that of other countries it becomes clearly evident how important freedom is for us.
Our Constitution says, “In the name of Almighty God! The Swiss People and the Cantons […] adopt the following Constitution […].”
Now go ahead and read the start of the EU’s most important treaty, the Treaty of Lisbon. This sounds rather different; the preamble runs as follows: “His Majesty the king of the Belgians, the president of the Republic of Bulgaria, the president of the Czech Republic, her Majesty the queen of Denmark […].
And the most important thing: we, that is, the citizens, have given ourselves our own constitution. In the majority of countries voting on the Treaty of Lisbon, only the parliaments were given the vote, and not the people. The Irish, on the other hand, had to vote twice, because their first result did not please those in power […].”

Excerpt from the address of member of the Federal Council Ueli Maurer on 1 August 2017

(Translation Current Concerns)