Events - 21.02.2013 - 00:00 

Political discussion at the HSG

On 19 February, the chairmen of all the political parties represented in the Swiss government met for a political discussion at the HSG. In the run-up to the ballots of early March, the topics of the dispute did not need defining.


20 February 2013. On the occasion of the panel discussion of the so-called “Elephant’s Round”, the party chairmen Toni Brunner (Swiss People’s Party, SVP), Christoph Darbellay (Christian Democratic People’s Party, CVP), Philipp Müller (FDP.Die Liberalen), Martin Landolt (Bourgeois Democratic Party, BDP) und Christian Levrat (Social Democratic Party, SP) met at the HSG for a political exchange of blows. The fact that party chairmen need to be thick-skinned, particularly in the run-up to national ballots, was demonstrated right at the start. The moderator and national editor of the Aargauer Zeitung, Stefan Schmid, quickly guided the panel to the contentious points. The focus was on ballot issues of domestic policy: the popular initiative against fat-cat pay-outs, the partial revision of the Spatial Planning Act and the federal resolution on family policy. The top politicians also talked about migration and about the future of Switzerland’s relationship with the EU. The audience experienced an entertaining political sweeping swipe by all party chairmen.

Fat-cat debate the centre of attention
It did not come as much of a surprise that the fat-cat initiative was the first issue to be debated. There was a vehement discussion about the amount of Daniel Vasella’s golden handshake. Philipp Müller of the FDP, who is an opponent of the fat-cat initiative, said: “Vasella has done us a great deal of harm. It is as if he had taken the wheels off the car during a pit stop – wearing a mechanic’s overalls, of course.” All the party chairmen agreed that the amount of the pay-off for the departing Novartis CEO could not be justified and that there was a need for political action.

What remained open was the question whether the fat-cat initiative or the counterproposal would be effective against excessive golden handshakes. What was surprising was that SVP, FDP and SP all stated that the initiative and the counterproposal were basically “not substantially different with regard to content”. A bone of contention is the implementation of the initiative or the counterproposal. Whereas the right-wing and middle-ground parties favoured a liberal regulatory solution in the form of the counterproposal, the SP wanted to put a statutory stop to fat-cat pay-offs as is sought by the Minder initiative. Christian Levrat, who emphasised several times that “we shall win!”, pointed out that the fat-cat initiative was only the beginning of the discussion about distribution justice.

Sideswipes on the political floor
The party chairmen did not refrain from personal verbal attacks. These were humorous sideswipes among colleagues, but they were not devoid of substance. Toni Brunner, who in the spatial planning debate described himself as a “liberal thinker”, received a tit-for-tat response to his image of himself during the debate on family policy. There was an impression that the party chairmen were used to tough talking. They remained eloquent and authentic throughout the discussion. Depending on the degree of heatedness, the politicians addressed each other by the informal “you”, the formal “you” or just by their plain surnames. This was also the case in the debate about the Spatial Planning Act, the family article, as well as in the debates about migration and Switzerland’s relationship with the EU.

The Elephants’ Round offered a spectacular platform with prominent politicians. In contrast to SRF’s television programme, Arena, not one but several political issues were raised and discussed.

Elephants’ Round organised by Alt-Zofingia
The event was organised by the Old Boys’ Association of the St.Gallen branch of the Zofingia fraternity. Alt-Zofingia St.Gallen is a section of the Schweizerische Alt-Zofingerverein and unites the formerly active members of Zofingia in the Canton of St.Gallen and associated cantons.

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