Mr Vatter, who will be the new social democratic Federal Councillor?

On Wed­nes­day, 13 Decem­ber 2023, the Federal Assem­bly of Switz­er­land will elect the Federal Coun­cil for the next four years. The six cur­rent mem­bers of the Federal Coun­cil are likely to be re-elec­ted. More inte­res­ting is which SP poli­ti­ci­an will be elec­ted as Alain Ber­set’s suc­ces­sor. Adri­an Vat­ter ans­wers the most important questions.

What is the most important requi­re­ment to be elec­ted to the Federal Council?

Adri­an Vat­ter: Apart from the right par­ty affi­lia­ti­on, the most important requi­re­ment is acti­ve mem­bers­hip of the elec­to­ral body. Natio­nal Coun­cil­lors and Coun­cil­lors of Sta­tes almost only elect their own kind to the government. It is very dif­fi­cult for out­si­ders to be elec­ted as they lack the net­work and per­so­nal con­ta­cts in the Federal Assembly.

Which can­di­da­tes are most likely to be elec­ted to the Federal Coun­cil by par­lia­ment — the most com­pe­tent, the most popu­lar or the most sociable?

With regard to the most important cha­rac­ter trait, which is decisi­ve for the mem­bers of par­lia­ment when elec­ting a new mem­ber of the Federal Coun­cil, the­re is a clear empi­ri­cal­ly sup­por­ted ans­wer: socia­bi­li­ty not only incre­a­ses the chan­ces of nomi­na­ti­on, but also the chan­ces of being elec­ted. On elec­tion day, the kind and nice peop­le get the most votes. The recent suc­ces­ses of the cheer­ful Eli­sa­beth Bau­me-Schnei­der at the expen­se of the see­min­gly reser­ved Eva Her­zog and the always friend­ly Albert Rös­ti once again con­fir­med the agree­ab­leness hypothesis.

What qua­li­ties does a mem­ber of the Federal Coun­cil need to have?

Becau­se of the way our government is orga­nis­ed, the­re are four important qua­li­ties for a mem­ber of the Federal Coun­cil. First­ly, you need a cer­tain degree of com­pa­ti­bi­li­ty and socia­bi­li­ty, other­wi­se the princip­le of col­le­gia­li­ty won’t work. Second­ly, asser­ti­ve­ness is important becau­se you also head a depart­ment with some­ti­mes thousands of employees. Third­ly, you have to have com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on skills and empa­thy, becau­se you have to con­vin­ce the peop­le and the can­tons on com­plex issu­es. What you also need, perhaps the most important thing of all: “a thick skin”. One uni­fy­ing cha­rac­te­ris­tic of Swiss sta­te lea­ders­hip con­ti­nues to stand out: mem­bers of the Federal Coun­cil dis­play a strikin­gly strong cha­rac­ter trait that cor­re­sponds to the cha­rac­te­ris­tics of the so-cal­led “resi­li­ent per­so­na­li­ty type”: a very high level of robust­ness. Federal Coun­cil­lors have a very high level of psy­cho­lo­gi­cal resi­li­en­ce, which allows the­se peop­le, who are under con­stant pres­su­re, to get up again quick­ly and car­ry on even after set­backs, attacks and defeats. Final­ly, a col­le­ge of seven equal mem­bers also requi­res qua­li­ties such as the abi­li­ty to work in a team, a wil­ling­ness to com­pro­mi­se and con­ci­lia­to­ry beha­viour, while the­re is hard­ly any room for head­strong and domi­nant loners.

What are the dif­fe­ren­ces bet­ween the two can­di­da­tes nomi­na­ted by the Social Demo­crats? Whe­re do you see advan­ta­ges and dis­ad­van­ta­ges for the two?

The Social Demo­cra­tic Par­ty is put­ting for­ward two strong can­di­da­tes with dif­fe­rent pro­files. This means that it is actual­ly offe­ring the Federal Assem­bly a choice. Not so much in terms of their poli­ti­cal stance, but more in terms of their back­ground and expe­ri­ence. Beat Jans brings can­to­nal exe­cu­ti­ve lea­ders­hip and many years of expe­ri­ence in the Natio­nal Coun­cil. He is a safe bet. He also comes from a regi­on that has not been repre­sen­ted in the Federal Coun­cil for deca­des. Jon Pult is a talen­ted com­mu­ni­ca­tor and would ensu­re that the Federal Coun­cil is visi­b­ly reju­ve­na­ted and thus repre­sent the inte­rests of the youn­ger genera­ti­on. The dis­ad­van­ta­ge for both: they are both a red flag with the power­ful far­mers’ lobby.

Why is Dani­el Jositsch and not Evi Alle­mann or Roger Nord­mann con­si­de­red much more qua­li­fied by the media?

Phil­ip Loser gave a very reve­aling ans­wer to this ques­ti­on in the Tages Anzei­ger: “Jositsch is a prime examp­le of mutu­al pro­jec­tion: for years, the (Zurich) media have attri­bu­t­ed an almost super­hu­man com­pe­tence to the Zurich Coun­cil­lor of Sta­tes and law pro­fes­sor. But have the­se super­hu­man abi­li­ties of Dani­el Jositsch actual­ly been pro­ven?” In other words: if Jositsch did not come from the city of Zurich, whe­re Switz­er­lan­d’s most important lea­ding media are based, he would not have been so idealised.

Were you sur­pri­sed that Evi Alle­mann did­n’t make it onto the ticket?

Yes, becau­se the Social Demo­crat par­lia­men­ta­ry group of the self-decla­red equa­li­ty par­ty con­sists of a majo­ri­ty of women.

Could a third per­son stand a chan­ce of win­ning the seat on the Federal Council?


The Greens want to attack the cur­rent FDP Federal Coun­cil­lor Igna­zio Cas­sis. Do they have a chan­ce with this plan?

To be elec­ted as a Federal Coun­cil­lor, you need 124 votes. So it won’t work without alli­an­ce part­ners. It is not enough for the Greens to have only the Social Demo­crats at their side. As long as the poli­ti­cal cent­re is not pre­pa­red to sup­port the Greens’ attack, the cal­cu­la­ti­on is simp­le: the votes will not come tog­e­ther. With this can­di­da­tu­re, howe­ver, the Greens are sta­king their claim and poin­ting out that an important socie­tal for­ce is not repre­sen­ted in the Federal Council.

The his­to­ri­an Urs Alter­matt has put for­ward the idea of a rota­ting Federal Coun­cil seat bet­ween the Cent­re Par­ty and the FDP. What do you think of this idea?

The par­ties are simi­lar­ly strong, which speaks in favour of this opti­on. Howe­ver, I see two objec­tions: first­ly, it is not so easy to imple­ment in prac­ti­ce. Second­ly, if the aim is to repre­sent the poli­ti­cal for­ces as fair­ly and equi­ta­b­ly as pos­si­ble, then the seventh seat should not go to one of the­se par­ties, which with less than around 15 per cent of the elec­to­ra­te are actual­ly enti­t­led to just one seat — but rather to the par­ty that has just under 10 per cent, name­ly the Greens.

How important is a can­di­da­te’s regio­nal affi­lia­ti­on for elec­tion to the Federal Council?

In recent years, the regio­nal aspect has ten­ded to beco­me less important. Other fac­tors such as per­so­na­li­ty pro­fi­le, gen­der and poli­ti­cal posi­ti­on have beco­me more important. After the sur­pri­sing non-elec­tion of Eva Her­zog, the fact that Basel was dis­avo­wed last time and that Switz­er­lan­d’s second stron­gest eco­no­mic regi­on should perhaps also be given a chan­ce will play into the minds of some. But I would­n’t say that this will be the decisi­ve fac­tor. In Beat Jans’ case, the­re are other fac­tors that speak in his favour, abo­ve all his exe­cu­ti­ve expe­ri­ence and his many years of expe­ri­ence as a Natio­nal Councillor.

Beat Jans or Jon Pult: who has the bet­ter chan­ce of being elected?

In con­trast to pre­vious elec­tions, I don’t see a clear favou­rite. At the moment, I see a slight advan­ta­ge for Beat Jans, but I belie­ve Jon Pult can score points at the hearings.

Adri­an Vatter

Adri­an Vat­ter stu­di­ed and com­ple­ted his doc­to­ra­te at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Bern. After hol­ding posi­ti­ons at various uni­ver­si­ties, inclu­ding in the USA and Ger­ma­ny, he has been Pro­fes­sor of Swiss Poli­tics sin­ce 2009 and Dean of the Facul­ty of Eco­no­mic and Social Sci­en­ces at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Bern sin­ce 2022. His rese­arch focu­ses on Swiss poli­ti­cal insti­tu­ti­ons with an empha­sis on federa­lism, direct demo­cra­cy and con­so­cia­tio­nal demo­cra­cy. He is the aut­hor of the book „Der Bun­des­rat. Die Schwei­zer Regie­rung“, NZZ Libro (2020).



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