Anti-immigrant party secures a second seat in Swiss cabinet

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 09, 2015 6:17 AM

By John Miller

ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland's main anti-immigration party secured a second seat in the federal government on Wednesday in a boost for isolationist forces as the country seeks to redraft treaties with the European Union to include curbs on immigration.

The Swiss parliament elected Guy Parmelin, a lawmaker for the Swiss People's Party (SVP), the biggest party in parliament, to serve in the seven-member governing council, or cabinet.

In Switzerland parliament elects cabinet members in a system that aims to share out power fairly among all major parties and promote consensus-building.

Parmelin, 56, a wine grape grower from near Lausanne in French-speaking western Switzerland, becomes the second SVP member on the council along with Defence Minister Ueli Maurer, helping to increase the voice of their eurosceptic party which won nearly 30 percent of the vote in October elections.

However, experts said he would be just another voice in the Swiss negotiations with Brussels that aim to limit the number of EU workers allowed into Switzerland, while preserving bilateral accords that now guarantee freedom of movement.

"While isolationist forces within the government have been strengthened, all of the other parties in the Swiss Federal Council want to preserve the bilaterals," said Daniel Kuebler, a University of Zurich professor specializing in Swiss politics.

The council also includes two members each from the second biggest party, the left-leaning Social Democrats, and from the pro-business Liberal Democrats, while the Christian Democrats have on representative.

The SVP - which previously held two seats on the governing council in 2007 - spearheaded a successful voter initiative in 2014 to enact immigration quotas for EU workers amid fears that the country was being engulfed by foreigners, who make up almost a quarter of the 8.2 million population.

So far, however, the talks with the EU, Switzerland's largest trading partner, over how to reconcile quotas with the bilateral agreements have failed to yield a solution.

A second SVP seat on the council is a triumph for Christoph Blocher, the party's billionaire ideological architect. Under his guidance, the party has lured voters with pledges to protect the country from waves of asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa as well as from immigrants from the 28-nation EU.

(Editing by Michael Shields and Gareth Jones)