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Swiss president makes surprise decision to quit government

Swiss president makes surprise decision to quit government
Source: Video Screenshot

Swiss President Alain Berset announced Wednesday that he will quit the government at the end of 2023, in a surprise move after more than a decade of ministerial service.

Berset, 51, said he would step down from Switzerland’s Federal Council government at the end of year, telling a hastily arranged press conference in the capital Bern that it was “the right time to leave”.

The wealthy Alpine country’s presidency rotates annually among the council’s seven members.

Berset is the youngest and also the longest-serving minister, having joined the government in 2012. He is in his second spell as president, having previously taken a turn in 2018.

“I have the feeling that I’ve accomplished what is possible. I have given everything,” he said.

He told the Federal Council that he planned to leave the government “at the end of the year”.

Berset was a critical player in arranging the emergency takeover of the stricken bank Credit Suisse by its larger rival UBS over a weekend in March this year.

He feared Switzerland’s second-biggest bank would otherwise have imploded within days, triggering domestic chaos and potentially a global banking crisis.

Berset is Switzerland’s interior minister and as the minister in charge of health, he played a key role in the country’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He admitted in December 2020 that the government blundered in easing restrictions too far, resulting in some of Europe’s fiercest infection rates during the pandemic’s second wave.

At the height of the crisis, he faced death threats and was put under police protection — an extremely rare move in Switzerland.

“We were under enormous pressure. I would never have imagined such violence,” he said.

He is facing a parliamentary investigation, opened in January, into alleged systematic media leaks from his office of confidential government plans for handling the pandemic, such as vaccination and reopening businesses.

Berset insisted it played “no role” in his decision to step down.

– Neutrality question –

Berset has played a role on the international stage, notably in handling Switzerland’s strict military neutrality in the face of war on the European continent following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Switzerland has so far refused to allow countries that hold Swiss-made weaponry to re-export it to Ukraine.

He chaired meetings of the UN Security Council in New York during Switzerland’s presidency in May.

Among his achievements in government was raising the retirement age for women to 65.

Berset said he had no plans for what he might do next after leaving the government.

Seats on the Federal Council rarely come up for grabs.

They are shared among the main political parties under a decades-old tacit agreement, known as “the magic formula”, which generally remains unaffected by power shifts in parliament but reflects the spirit of compromise that characterises Swiss democracy.

Berset is from the Socialist Party.

Vice-president Viola Amherd, the defence minister, will serve as president in 2024. She is from the centre-right Centre party.

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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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