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Villiger's way. (Swiss Politics).

On January 1st, Kaspar Villiger, head of the Swiss federal department of finance, took the reins of presidency from Moritz Leuenberger. He inherits some controversies and faces new ones in 2002. What lies ahead for the new president of Switzerland?

United Nations Membership.

It was no accident that Villiger chose the Yverdon Expo 02 site as the backdrop for his New Year's inaugural address. When he spoke of all that the Expo meant for Switzerland, he had another message in mind. "The place where I now stand will be a place of exchange between people from within and outside of Switzerland, an exchange in which they will come into contact with our history, our future and our culture," he said. In the next breath, he announced his personal support for the upcoming March initiative calling for Swiss entry into the UN, which he described as the only way to "fight the injustice present in our world."

Villiger raised more than a few eyebrows when he endorsed Swiss entry into the UN, or at least an "unbiased, objective" discussion of the matter. Taking such a decisive stance at a time of geopolitical and internal national upheaval was a bold move for such a straight arrow politician.

But maybe he can pull it off. In a recent nation-wide survey conducted by the Zurich tabloid 20 Minuten Villiger was rated as the best Federal Councillor. Will he be able to use this popularity to his advantage in the March UN initiative?

Swiss Air

Last fall, against the national grain, Villiger demanded that Swissair have a solid financial plan and backing from the private sector. Later he capitulated and approved the billions of Swiss francs necessary to keep the new flag-bearer afloat.

As he enters his term, the Swissair debacle will continue to haunt him. The EU countries, Germany in particular, are furious over what they consider unfair competition between the Swiss carrier and their airlines, which do not receive such hefty subsidies. Meanwhile, Switzerland is still squabbling with the southern German region of Baden-Wurttemberg over flight routes. The stability of Swiss aviation seems to be up in the air for 2002. Fasten your seatbelt, Mr. Villiger.

National Debt

Between 1990 and 1998, the Swiss federal debt exploded from Sfr38.5 billion to Sfr105 billion. It has been stable ever since, however-thanks, in large part to the efforts of Villiger. who shaped the 1998 federal financial stability programme. Strong economic performance over the last few years helped matters as well. "We are on the road to recovery," Villiger says. Of course, the fruits of his plan won't be reaped until 2006 when the Swiss GNP is scheduled to outpace government spending.

Another of his department's fiscal initiatives-the debt obstacle-was approved in December 2001. This is a spending regulator that allows the government deficit spending during weak economic phases and surplus savings during strong ones. "Regardless of the economy's performance, the government's balance sheet shall remain the same, Balance is the key," says Villiger. In light of everything else he will be dealing with, taking care of the nation's debt will require quite a balancing act.

RELATED ARTICLE: Swiss President

Kaspar Villiger was born on 5th February 1941 in Pfeffikon (Canton Lucerne). After attending primary school at his birthplace and secondary school in the nearby town of Reinach, he graduated from the cantonal high school in Aarau. In 1966, he concluded his studies at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich with a degree in mechanical engineering.

On the death of his father, Kaspar Villiger, then aged just 25, had to take over the management of he family's cigar factory, Villiger Sohne AG, in Pfeffikon. He expanded the firm by buying a bicycle factory in Buttisholz. While in business he was vice-president of the Chamber of Commerce of Central Switzerland and for a few years a committee member of the Swiss Employers' Central Association and vice-president of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce of the Canton of Aargau.

Villiger began his political career in the cantonal parliament of Lucerne (legislative body) of which he was a member from 1972 until his election to the National Council in 1982. As National Councillor, he was a member of the defence committee from 1983 until 1987 In 1987, Villiger was elected to the Council of States where he became a member of the Control Committee and of the Transport and Traffic Committee.

On 1st February 1989, he was elected Federal Councillor and ceased his activities as a businessman.

He headed the Federal Military Department until the end of October 1995. Since November 1 1995, he has been the Head of the Federal Department of Finance. In 1995, he also held the rotating presidency of the Swiss Confederation.

Federal Councillor Villiger is married and is the father of two daughters. In the armed forces, he was commander of a transport company and subsequently served as captain in the headquarters of a town command.
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Title Annotation:International Pages; Government Activity; New head of federal department of finance in Switzerland
Comment:Villiger's way. (Swiss Politics).(New head of federal department of finance in Switzerland)(Government Activity)(International Pages)
Author:Maupin, Michael
Publication:Swiss News
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EXSI
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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