The secret kingmakers of Federal Bern: the peasants become even more powerful

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Connected to nature: Farmers on October 14 at the livestock fair in Hausen am Albis ZH.
Reza RafiEditor-in-chief SonntagsBlick

The elections for the Federal Council say a lot about the balance of power in Swiss politics. When SP candidates Beat Jans (59) and Jon Pult (39) parade, it is almost never about their attitude towards the healthcare sector, the financial world or the cultural world. No, the most important question seems to be very different these days: which of the two do farmers like best?

Although agriculture in Bern does not have such a bulging war chest as international organizations, insurance companies or industry, it does have a much more important trump card: the oldest economic sector is deeply anchored in the federal self-image. The Alpine Republic is a banking and farming state, floating between money, spirit and manure.

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Farmers cleverly convert this into political capital. Federal Bern is their territory; when necessary, they easily plow politics to their advantage: sometimes entire government affairs are overturned, parliamentary resolutions are overturned – and members of the state government are elected.

First hearing with agricultural representatives

‘What the farmer doesn’t know, he doesn’t eat’, as the saying goes. It is therefore no coincidence that Jans and Pult will hold their first hearing with the agricultural representatives in parliament tomorrow, Monday.

The peculiar group is called the Conference of Rural Parliamentarians and is to be distinguished from the agricultural club of the Federal Assembly. This is the officially named parliamentary group that is open to everyone. The Conference of Rural Parliamentarians, on the other hand, is an association with a clandestine appearance: national and state councilors can only take their seats at the invitation of the Swiss Farmers’ Association. You will not find a public membership list.

The committee is chaired by Markus Ritter (56), the staunchly centrist national councilor and chairman of the Swiss Farmers’ Association. The association also provides the secretariat.


The conference was founded in 1897 with the aim of joining forces across party lines, initially between the Liberals and the Catholic Conservatives, now between the parties of the Federal Council.

Like a Supreme Court

Its influence has increased with the national elections in October: according to Ritter, about thirty people have participated in the past four years, and in the new legislature there will be “around forty.” You appear correspondingly confident; Some people talk about tomorrow’s round of interviews with as much reverence as they talk about a Supreme Court. In the magazine “St. Galler Bauer” on October 3, Ritter was asked: “So the conference has a lot of influence and power?” He didn’t argue at all, but replied dryly, “That’s the goal.”

SonntagsBlick wanted to know from him what awaits the two candidates for the Federal Council on Monday: everyone has 30 minutes. Ritter: “During the first ten minutes they can briefly introduce themselves and tell something about their relationship to agriculture.” The meeting should also be an opportunity “to make contact with our members”.

After a round of questions, we discuss matters among ourselves. However, those present would not make a collective decision like a council of wise men — “it’s not like we’re counting votes,” Ritter said. “But what is decisive for the match is the impression the applicants leave and how they are perceived.”


Baume-Schneider with blacknose sheep

The strength of the group is its breadth: there are people from four factions. The chairman himself explains how the influence works: “The members then go into the foyer and into the factions, where they describe their impressions. Because this is the first hearing outside the SP, the discussion will get underway among the council members.” It is therefore very important “how the candidates present themselves and whether they can create trust and whether they also match the tone of those present”.

How essential the presentation to farmers is became clear a year ago. Basel’s State Councilor Eva Herzog (61) was previously considered the favorite to succeed Federal Councilor Simonetta Sommaruga (63), but Elisabeth Baume-Schneider (59) from the Jura won the farmers’ duel with her black-nose sheep – and thus the race for the free man Seat Ritter isn’t even thinking about denying the weight of his unofficial primary authority. He emphasizes, not without pride, how important these hearings are, “as we also saw with Elisabeth Baume-Schneider.” Knight, the kingmaker. “I didn’t know her yet,” he says, “I only greeted her with ‘Bonjour’ a few times. If you sell well here, you have started a successful campaign.”

‘National parliamentarians’ can also become mandate collectors in patent leather shoes. A stable smell is not absolutely necessary; it is also possible with a top position in an agricultural organization. Examples are the Center Council of States and lawyer Daniel Fässler (63) as chairman of the Forestry Association, his party colleague Benedikt Würth (55) as chairman of the Swiss Association AOP-IGP, SVP Council of States and tax expert Werner Salzmann (61) as chairman of the Swiss agricultural technology or SVP national councilor and early childhood educator Nadja Pieren (43) as chairman of vegetable producers Bern Freiburg.

“Everything is open at the moment”

What does Ritter think about ‘his’ federal councilor Baume-Schneider today? “She met our expectations.” And she appears sympathetic to the population. “It also contributes to a good culture in the Federal Council.”


In the race between Jans and Pult, the Basel resident has a handicap because he has to express his support for initiatives that go against conventional agriculture. But Ritter says, “Right now, everything is open.”

When asked whether he heads the most powerful lobby in Bern, the mastermind remains modest: “That is an exaggeration. We are a small group.”




I am Liam Livingstone and I work in a news website. My main job is to write articles for the 24 Instant News. My specialty is covering politics and current affairs, which I'm passionate about. I have worked in this field for more than 5 years now and it's been an amazing journey. With each passing day, my knowledge increases as well as my experience of the world we live in today.

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