Swiss Finance Ministry Goes to Anti-Immigrant Party Member

  • Ueli Maurer will take over as Finance Minister as of Jan. 1
  • Maurer succceeded in Defense Ministry by Guy Parmelin

Switzerland’s Finance Ministry will be headed by Ueli Maurer, a member of the fiscally-conservative Swiss People’s Party whose priority is to crack down on immigration.

Maurer, 65, will switch from the Defense Ministry, which will be taken over by party colleague Guy Parmelin, 56, who was voted into the 7-member executive body on Dec. 9.

The cabinet reshuffle, which comes into effect as of Jan. 1, follows general elections in October that saw the SVP -- as the party is known in German -- win its best result ever and allowed it to claim a second minister. That process was simplified because Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, who split from the SVP almost a decade ago, announced she was stepping down in late October.

The other five members of cabinet members -- Interior Minister Alain Berset, Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga, Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, Transport Minister Doris Leuthard and Economy Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann -- remained in their posts, according to a statement from the Federal Chancellery on Friday.

“One shouldn’t overestimate the role of the government in Switzerland,” said Thomas Schaeubli, a political risk analyst at Wellershoff & Partners Ltd. in Zurich. “Switzerland has an extraordinarily strong civil service -- this ensures a lot of continuity. Decisions are made on a consensual basis, which is why the composition of the government is as important as the distribution of departments.”

The SVP, which has spearheaded measures to restrict immigration from the European Union and ban the construction of new mosque minarets, had been pushing for the Justice Ministry, which is in charge of immigration.

Since the government is consensus based, a new finance minister minister won’t necessarily mean a new course of action. The body meets behind closed doors and dissenters don’t voice their views in public. Additionally, the country’s system of popular initiatives, which allows voters to have a direct say on topics from taxation to immigration to executive pay, means that the government’s stance regularly is determined by plebiscites.

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