Swiss government can learn from coronavirus, says Chancellor  

Federal Chancellor Walter Thurnherr prefers to call himself the “most senior civil servant” rather than the eighth minister. Keystone

The Swiss federal administration can learn some lessons from the coronavirus crisis, including looking at the way it procures medicines, says Chancellor Walter Thurnherr.  

This content was published on May 27, 2020 - 12:12

In an interview with Blick newspaperExternal link published on Wednesday, he said the federal authorities should also re-examine planning and prevention measures for pandemics. “We should also ask if the law on epidemicsExternal link needs to be changed,” said Thurnherr, who is the country’s top civil servant.  

Thurnherr praised the way the government has handled this crisis, saying a certain amount of improvisation was inevitable.   

“In a collegial system mistakes are also possible, but I would say they are generally less likely,” he told Blick.   

While agreeing that things happen more quickly if only one person is taking the decisions in a crisis, he added that “quick decisions can always be taken – but at the risk of getting it completely wrong”.   

‘Working round the clock’  

Switzerland’s collegial system of government means that problems usually have to be carefully analysed from different perspectives, but time pressure meant this was hardly possible in the Covid-19 crisis.   

“We had to draw up and check, sometimes within a very short time, some 170 coronavirus-related dossiers, some of which were extensive or involved billions of francs,” Thurnherr recounted. He said civil servants were often working on the files until midnight for a decision to be taken early the next morning.   

Normally there is only one cabinet meeting per week, but “in March we had up to five meetings in eight days”, Thurnherr told the paper, and some civil servants had to work around the clock.   

The Federal Chancellor heads the Federal ChancelleryExternal link, which plans and coordinates government business. Chancellors also take part in the weekly government meetings, where they have an advisory role. As the government’s chief of staff, they can mediate, coordinate, co-author reports, make proposals and even submit motions. Voting, however, is not possible.  

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