Alain Berset’s former head of communications Peter Lauener (right) is said to have been in intensive email contact with Ringier CEO Marc Walder.
Peter AeschlimannFederal house editor Sunday view
The year has barely begun when the air in the Federal Council chambers is already thick. Right in the middle: Alain Berset (50, SP), newly elected Federal President. Team building would be appropriate, because the state government has long been considered a dysfunctional body. Thanks to the two newcomers, the opportunity even seemed good. But the hoped-for restart turned into a false start: “This is how Berset’s department fed the eye,” was just one of the headlines.
At the meeting on Wednesday, the Minister of the Interior now has to ask uncomfortable questions. Did he know of a “dedicated line” that his former head of communications Peter Lauener (53) is said to have maintained with Marc Walder (57), the CEO of Ringier Verlag? And: Was confidential information about Covid measures systematically passed on to the press in order to put pressure on the entire Federal Council? “We’ll probably talk about that in the Federal Council,” said Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis (61, FDP) at the WEF in Davos GR.
There is excitement in Bern
“Switzerland at the weekend” got the story rolling a week ago. The newspaper quoted from emails that Lauener had exchanged with Walder. These are excerpts from the correspondence that special investigator Peter Marti (70) is said to have made as “by-catch” in his investigation of the crypto affair. It is unclear and therefore the subject of a further investigation how the journalists came into possession of this evidence.
In any case, since then there has been a lot of excitement in Bern – and at the Ringier publishing house in Zurich, which also publishes the SonntagsBlick. Berset emphasized several times that he did not want to comment on the ongoing process. Ringier CEO Walder is also silent. Only Christian Dorer (47), Editor-in-Chief of the Blick Group, stated on Tuesday on the front page of the printed edition: “No one influences Blick!” The accusation that Berset’s interior department served the newspaper with internals and received benevolent reporting in return is false.
Center party declined to comment
The business audit committees of the two councils will deal with the matter next week. Until the further procedure is known, one should not draw hasty conclusions, so the tenor of most parties. Mitte boss Gerhard Pfister (60) wrote that he would not comment because there were simply too many questions completely open for him.
GLP President Jürg Grossen (53) said he had no desire to add fuel to the fire. Only the Young SVP announced in a media release: “Resign, Alain Berset!” The Zurich National Councilor Alfred Heer (61, SVP) and his Aargau council colleague Andreas Glarner (60) would also welcome a departure “with honor”. The latter tells SonntagsBlick: “Personally, I would advise Berset to go.”
Berset is suggested to resign
The first guard of the SVP, which repeatedly brought up heavy artillery against Berset at the height of the pandemic, is meanwhile strikingly diplomatic tones. There was apparently a pact between Berset’s department and Ringier, says SVP President Marco Chiesa (48). The SP Federal Council, which is responsible for an institutional crisis in the government, should draw the consequences itself. He has to ask himself: “What am I still doing in this body without trust, without credibility?”
Chiesa is therefore suggesting that the Federal President resign without using the term “resignation”. In 2021, at the peak of the pandemic, it sounded different from the SVP boardroom. Group leader Thomas Aeschi (44) said to the news portal nau.ch: “After countless mistakes, the Minister of Health is no longer acceptable.”
On February 17, 2021, Chiesa tweeted against Berset’s Corona course: “Now it needs resistance!” At the same time, Christoph Blocher (82) warned of a Corona autocrat Berset: “Democracy will be switched off. You are the dictator, you say it like it is.”
Election year could accommodate Berset
Last Tuesday, cabaret artist Patti Basler (46) tweeted: “If Berset were a woman, it would have cost her a long time ago.” Former Federal Councilor Elisabeth Kopp (86) had to resign in the late 1980s after she had passed on confidential information to her husband.
In the case of Berset, however, the lack of sharp demands for his resignation has less to do with gender than with timing, suspects political geographer Michael Hermann (51). Alain Berset is still extremely popular with the people. In an election year, the parties therefore thought twice about launching an attack on the incumbent Federal President. Hermann: «When the SVP called Berset a dictator, it backfired. That’s why you’re careful not to bring out the big guns.”
Does the SP management duo want to sit out the crisis?
Chiesa’s reluctance is an expression of the fact that you don’t dare to come out of cover. Hermann is convinced that if former Federal Councilor Simonetta Sommaruga (62, SP) was the focus, the SVP would be much more aggressive. Hermann sees another possible reason for the SVP’s reluctance to bite in the setting of priorities in the election year: “Even if the topic may continue to turn politically for a month or two, the population will soon no longer be particularly interested in it.”
Last week, the SP leadership duo Cédric Wermuth (36) and Mattea Meyer (35) gave the impression of wanting to sit out the crisis. Emails went unanswered, phones turned off. Only yesterday Wermuth commented on the “Samstagsrundschau” on SRF1. The Aargau National Council admitted that there had been indiscretions: “That’s a problem.” The judiciary must judge whether the current case involved violations of official secrecy.
Wermuth complained about the scandal of an individual case: “The state government is an absolute sieve.” Anyone who claims otherwise is a hypocrite. When asked whether Berset was still wearable, Wermuth replied: “I am neither a judge nor a prophet.” It is clear that the revelations at this point in time give the impression that it is a campaign in the election year against the popular SP Federal Council. “That doesn’t surprise me, though.”
Green President wants complete clarification
Green Party President Balthasar Glättli (50) expects a complete clarification of the affair. The current situation is a systematic violation of official secrecy: “If that’s true, it’s wrong and unacceptable.” The Zurich National Council is hoping for a quick decision by the GPK on how the incidents should be investigated in a targeted manner. In general, the Greens have criticized the recent accumulation of leaks in the Federal Council – including from other departments. “The Federal Council as an institution is in crisis, there is obviously a lack of mutual trust,” says Glättli. This is devastating for overcoming the major challenges ahead, namely the climate catastrophe, the uncertain energy supply and the unresolved European question.
FDP President Thierry Burkart (47) also believes that the matter must be thoroughly investigated. If the allegations of a systematic, long-term disclosure of confidential information from Bundesrat business are true, this behavior would undermine the functioning of the state government in general and the principle of collegiality in particular. “From today’s perspective, the previous statement by Federal President Berset, according to which he did not want to have known about this flow of information, is not very plausible.” Burkart demands not only a legal, but also a political reappraisal. “When the credibility of the institutions is undermined, there are only losers.”