What we Swiss understand by liberty and democracy

Ueli Maurer takes his leave as Federal Councillor

by Dr. iur. Marianne Wüthrich

On 7 December 2022, Ueli Maurer receded after 13 years as a Federal Councillor. A Swiss, who came from the “common people” and remained modest even in his “high” office – a real servant of the people. From the very beginning of his political participation Ueli Maurer has been committed to the idea of the greatest possible independence of Switzerland and the power of ultimate decision of the Swiss sovereign, the people. Even as a National Councillor and Federal Councillor, he did not let himself be dissuaded from the Swiss way, far from having his eye on EU- and NATO-dignities.

Not a “college man” –
overestimated people we have enough

Admittedly, in Switzerland most Federal Councillors have a university degree, but the United Federal Assembly (National Council and Council of States) once again elects somebody to the federal executive who is not a “college man”. Legendary is Willi Ritschard, a social democrat (SP), Federal Councillor from 1974–1983, a heating installer by profession, or – in the time of the generation of active military service – the farmer Ruedi Minger from the Farmers’, Commercial and Citizens’ Party (BGB), today Swiss Peoples Party (SVP), head of the Federal Military Department from 1930-1940.
    Ueli Maurer is not an academic either. He completed a commercial apprenticeship and obtained the federal accountancy diploma. Professionally, from 1974 he was for twenty years the executive director of the agricultural cooperative Hinwil-Bauma in the Canton of Zurich, where he grew up, and from 1994 he was executive director of the Zurich Farmers’ Association. He therefore had ideal qualifications for his last appointment as head of the Finance Department in the Federal Council in Berne. Ueli Maurer is married and the father of six children. As was the rule in Switzerland in the past, and still makes sense and is often seen today, Ueli Maurer has, as a politician (of the SVP), passed through all three governmental levels of federal Switzerland: First he was elected to the municipal council (executive) of Hinwil, then to the Cantonal Council (parliament) and from 1991-2008 he was member of the National Council.1
    In 2008, Ueli Maurer was elected to the Federal Council where he initially for six years was head of the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS). As a member of the Swiss militia army, he knew his way around national defence: Ueli Maurer was a major and tried, against the resistance of some “NATO-Turbos” in the DDPS, to maintain a strong Swiss army – a difficult undertaking. As President of the Federal Council in 2019, he visited Donald Trump as well as Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, and as head of the Federal Department of Finance from 2016, he also visited numerous other heads of state and ministers of this world. As Federal Councillor of the SVP, Ueli Maurer was not, contrary to malicious gossip, in favour of an “isolation” of our country, but in his first years as defence minister with no affinity for NATO, however showed little motivation to scramble for the centres of power of the Great Powers.
    “Ueli has long been underestimated in Federal Bern, due to his lack of a university degree and language skills. [...] Now, at the end, they must admit they were wrong. His satisfaction is that they did not overestimate him. We have enough of those. He has shown it to all. He was one of the best. He deserves the country’s thanks, for passing this ‘footnote in history’ with flying colours.”2

Switzerland in the world: “Neutrality is Switzerland’s seal of quality”

In a newspaper interview at the turn of the year the outgoing Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer declared fundamental principles for Switzerland’s place in the world: We should not only be fixated on the European Union, “but should have the whole world in view”. The EU is of course also part of this. “But Switzerland has achieved prosperity above all because it has always traded with the whole world.”3 On the Switzerland-EU relationship in a nutshell: “There are issues where one must not give in, for example on the question of EU-membership.”
    With particular emphasis, Ueli Maurer reminds us of the great importance of neutrality as an indispensable part of the Swiss model. In response to the journalists’ question, how Switzerland is viewed abroad, he replies: “With great respect. Our greatest asset is our neutrality. In terms of domestic politics, we judge this completely wrong. [...] We can trade with everyone worldwide because we are seen as a reliable partner without political claims to power. Therefore, we would be well suited to play a role as a credible mediator in armed conflicts. Neutrality is Switzerland’s seal of quality.”

1Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz HLS (Historical Encyclopedia of Switzerland)
2Blocher, Christoph. “Ueli gebührt Lob” (Ueli deserves praise). In: Die Weltwoche of 23 December 2022
3Neuhaus, Christina/Biner, David. “Zwischendurch muss man es halt mal krachen lassen” (In between you just have to let it rip). Interview with Bundesrat Ueli Maurer. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung of 31 December 2022



Farewell address by Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer on 7 December 2022

“Mr President [of the National Council], ladies and gentlemen. Sometimes it almost sounds like an abdication! (Laughter) But it is not that far yet, although I am really looking forward to the time after that. Nevertheless, I would like to make a pit stop, so to speak, because today is important for Switzerland. Not because we are electing two new Federal Councillors or because two previous ones are stepping down, but because today, in the 174-year history of the Federal Constitution, Switzerland is electing Federal Councillors number 120 and number 121.
    If we consider what has happened all around us in these 174 years – wars, empires, countries that have come into being and disappeared again, hundreds of governments that have been replaced – and we, we elect number 120 and number 121 in joyful excitement. That speaks for Switzerland, for our system. And therefore,
I think it is really an important day for Switzerland: that we remember, as I said, how unique we are.
    Of course, I ask myself: why is Switzerland such a special case? For me, I find the answer in the Federal Constitution, in the article of purpose, the article 2 paragraph 1, which says: „The Swiss Confederation shall protect the liberty and rights of the people [...]“. I believe that the secret of our state lies in this concept of freedom. Without freedom there is no democracy, and without democracy, without the participation of all levels of the people, this stability cannot be achieved. We must take care of this freedom. It also accompanies us in the mythology of our history, here in this room. Behind me, the Rütli meadow, Gertrud Stauffacher, Wilhelm Tell – all symbols that we associate with our freedom, with our state. And this freedom is enormous, is enormously important.
    I also believe that we must always take care of this freedom. It has always been a little endangered, it is endangered and will probably always be endangered in the future. I mean the freedom of the country, but I also mean freedom of speech, freedom of opinion – these are all goods that contribute to stability in our democracy. We have to take care of that. Freedom, by the way, is also found in money, in my hobby, so to speak. A healthy financial budget also means freedom – freedom for you to decide what you can and want. After all, I have a bit of a reputation for being a money saver or a rapple splitter. I am proud of it! You know, there is nothing easier than spending other people’s money. I have always looked at this money carefully. For example, if you look at the five-centime coin, the ten-centime coin or the twenty-centime coin, you won’t see the image of Helvetia, but of the Roman goddess of freedom, Libertas. It is also written on her diadem: “Libertas”, freedom. So I was connected to freedom every day in my job. Besides, it doesn’t hurt to keep the cash. You then always have some freedom in your pocket. (Laughter)
    I really believe: 174 years, the numbers 121 and 120 – that says a lot about our state system. It’s just the way it is: Federal Councillors are not the main characters, but they are, so to speak, the footnotes of our history. If something were to be written about me, I would be footnote number 111. That’s how our system works. (in French:)
    And now, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank you for this excellent collaboration. It was always a great pleasure and an honour to work with you, to collaborate with you; all these discussions and emotions in this room will remain with me. And now, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, I am leaving, thank you.” (Standing ovation; the President presents a bouquet of flowers to Federal Councillor Maurer).
    Federal Councillor Maurer thanks him with a “whoop.”

Source:  https://par-pcache.simplex.tv/content/simvid_1.mp4?externalid=311415  of 7 December 2022”.

(Translation Current Concerns)

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