Gieri Cavelty, Editor-in-Chief of SonntagsBlick.
Gieri CavetyEditor-in-Chief of the SonntagsBlick
Our state government is an attempt to form a circle out of a square – the representatives of the four largest parties. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that things don’t always run smoothly. Whereby: In view of this difficult starting position, conflicts are surprisingly rare overall. Last year, the committee of seven dealt with 2,893 transactions, most of which went smoothly and without discussion.
But it is all the more noticeable when this decision-making machine is under too much pressure and consequently gets out of step. Corona was a historic crisis that not only brought Health Minister Alain Berset and his entourage to the border and possibly allowed unconventional paths to be taken. However, individual Federal Councilors also found themselves challenged by an unusually tense environment beyond the pandemic: the success of the Greens in the last National Council elections meant that none of the four Federal Council members from the FDP and SP can really be sure of being re-elected in December 2023. Just as 20 years earlier a seat in the Federal Council of the CVP had gone to the SVP, the FDP and SP must expect to lose a seat to the Greens.
For the two liberals, the situation has recently defused: because general attention is focused on Alain Berset and the Social Democrats and because the FDP’s forecasts for the parliamentary elections have improved. Before that, however, the climate in the Federal Council had been shaped by barely concealed resentment between party friends Ignazio Cassis and Karin Keller-Sutter. At times, the two liberals worked against each other in a similarly decisive manner, as the CVP magistrates Joseph Deiss and Ruth Metzler once did.
A direct, serious consequence of this competition was the abrupt failure of the framework agreement. The then justice minister, Keller-Sutter, acted against Cassis’ negotiations with Brussels until the foreign minister lost his nerve and pulled the plug himself. To get an impression of the role that leaks and indiscretions played in this tough dispute, one only needs to consider how often “informed sources” from Berne in the federal government criticized the framework agreement in the first months of 2021 and predicted its imminent end .
Nevertheless, indiscretions are not the real problem of the state government. They are merely an indicator of their form. After all, they existed long before Covid and the EU. In the fall of 1945, the Swiss Federal Chancellor at the time, Oskar Leimgruber, informed the Federal President Eduard von Steiger of his measures “to prevent leaks from occurring and confidential matters from becoming public”. Half a century later, the then federal prosecutor Carla Del Ponte resorted to particularly crass means because she wanted to find out how the content of official documents from the Federal Palace had become public: she monitored the telephones and fax machines of several newspaper editorial offices (including the Bern office of SonntagsBlick ).
An equally avowed enemy of indiscretions is the current spokesman for the Federal Council, André Simonazzi. But his efforts to seal off the Federal Council room from the outside world also came to nothing. Because the fight against leaks is purely symptomatic and about as promising as the repressive drug policy of earlier days, which, as is well known, has not solved the drug problem, but only aggravated it.
Instead of being secretive like today and trying to keep the media on a short leash, Vice Chancellor Simonazzi, as the state government’s communications officer, would be well advised to explain its policies better. The Federal Council itself should reinterpret the principle of collegiality. In cases of particular importance, this included official transparency about how decisions were made.
The Parliament’s Business Commission now wants to investigate, among other things, the question of how information from the Berset department reached Ringier CEO Marc Walder during the pandemic. In 1982, a business commission of the National Council dealt with Federal Council communication and indiscretions. The then GPK came to the conclusion in its report: “In politics there will always be leaks. Timely information about anything that might interest the public is the best way to lessen their importance.”