In this interview series, we reach out to some of our liberal party leaders to hear their thoughts on liberalism, Europe and beyond. In February, we spoke with Petra Gössi, leader of ALDE Party member FDP in Switzerland, to find out what she thinks of the Swiss direct democracy, involving young people in politics and cooperation with the European Union. We also learn what is her hope for 2021 and what she might work on, if not politics!
Petra Gössi, you have been leading FDP Switzerland for five years. How has the party evolved under your leadership, and what are the key challenges the party is facing now?
In terms of the structure of the party, we have invested a lot in digitalisation. We have professionalised our social media channels and have started door-to-door campaigns based on data.
Furthermore, we have strengthened our position when it comes to questions related to environment and climate change. The environmental aspect has been present in our party for many years, but it was neglected for some time. Since 2018, we have strengthened our position on environmental questions and are now fulfilling our promises step by step.
The environment and climate change are not ‘leftist concerns’ – they matter to us all. However, as a liberal party we focus on technology instead of bans. It is thus our duty to bring in the liberal aspects and perspective in environmental policies.
And in your view, is FDP Switzerland’s position as the third largest party in the National Council an advantage or an obstacle to implement the values and policies you defend?
Switzerland has a direct democratic system. This means that even the largest party cannot legislate by itself. In the end, Swiss citizens always have the last word. This means that politicians always have to find compromises, which need to be supported by the majority of the population, to successfully pass, for example, a new law.
What makes our party strong is that we have a high representation at all levels of Swiss politics. This strengthens our credibility and trustworthiness.
The Swiss model of direct democracy is indeed a special feature of the Swiss political system. Do you feel that this approach should or could be explored in other European countries as well?
I am proud of our direct democracy. To me, it is the best system in the world. If anyone is interested in learning more about direct democracy, we are happy to give insight in how it works and how you can organise campaigns regarding direct democratic votes.
Outside of politics, what is your hope for 2021?
I hope that we can overcome the COVID-19 crisis as soon as possible and everyone can lead a normal life again.
Did you always want to have a political career, even as a young woman, or did you have another ‘dream career’ in mind? And is there anything you have personally achieved that would surprise people?
Because I have always loved diving, I originally wanted to become a marine biologist – the underwater world just fascinates me! However, in the end I decided to stay in Switzerland and studied law. My political career then evolved from there step by step.
Many might not know that I climbed two 4,000 meter peaks last summer.
Speaking of young people, their political participation in Switzerland has been reported to be relatively low. What is your party doing to encourage the youth to use their vote?
That’s a good question. We try to develop different ways to reach each audience as best as we can. The younger generations have different media consumption habits than older generations, and all political parties have to adapt to that.
We are working hard to ensure that the younger generations learn about our liberal ideas and the importance of liberal values for their future life. Furthermore, we use every opportunity to visit schools and talk to students about our politics.
Unfortunately, the participation in elections in Switzerland is relatively low in general. However, a direct comparison with other countries is not entirely fair. Elections are not that important to the population in Switzerland as people additionally have the possibility to vote on important policies and can thus block or support the actions of the elected.
Looking at the European Union from an outsider’s perspective, what do you think are some of the challenges the bloc will face in the coming years and how do you see the future relationship between Switzerland and the EU?
To our party, strong relations with the European Union are very important. The bilateral path works and has brought prosperity to our country. It has also enabled hundreds of thousands of EU workers to work in Switzerland, and has therefore contributed to stabilising Europe during the times of economic crises. We also support the idea of strengthening the relationship with a framework agreement, and I hope our government and the EU will soon find a common solution.
What does being a member of the ALDE Party and the wider European liberal family mean for you and your party?
This is very important to us. The ALDE Party is a great platform to exchange ideas and learn from other liberal parties across Europe.
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