Swiss politician under fire for not admitting she is British
A candidate to fill the soon-vacant post on the Federal Council, Michèle Blöchliger first denied being a dual Swiss / UK national, and then admitted it.
With the imminent retirement of Finance Minister Ueli Maurer, several candidates have stepped forward to fill this position.
One, Michèle Blöchliger, who sits on the Nidwalden governing council, was asked during a press conference earlier this week about her dual nationality, as her Wikipedia profile, which she herself created, listed her citizenship as “CH / GB”.
But Blöchliger vehemently denied being a British national, though she admitted her mum comes from the UK and English is her second language.
On Wednesday, however, Blöchliger retracted her denial, acknowledging that she does indeed hold both Swiss and British citizenships, having received the latter one through her mother.
in a light-hearted twist on the current situation involving Liz Truss' resignation, one twitter user asked whether Blöchliger will "use her British citizenship to become the next UK Prime Minister?"
She also admitted that in publicly refuting her UK nationality, she "expressed herself in an imprecise way". Even though her British passport expired more than ten years ago, she never formally renounced it, Blöchliger said.
While she didn’t explain why she chose to obscure her British origins in the first place, one social media commentator said it was likely because it could be held against her.
Blöchliger is a member of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), and “not being 100 percent Swiss is detrimental to its reputation”.
Conflicts of loyalty?
Holding another nationality besides the Swiss one is not illegal for an elected official: in fact, a number of current MPs have two passports.
One of them, Green deputy Lisa Mazzone, who is Swiss and Italian, came to Blöchliger’s defence.
"From the moment we take an oath on the Constitution, we commit ourselves completely and with all our loyalty to this country", she said, adding that "the question of dual nationality is absolutely irrelevant."
“Switzerland was built by people who came from elsewhere. Our wealth is also our diversity», said Geneva’s state councillor Mauro Poggia, who also has Swiss and Italian citizenshps.
"That does not mean that this diversity is a sign of potential disloyalty".
For Blöchliger's party, however, which has long been a critic of immigration, such duality is not acceptable.
In 2017, the current party president Marco Chiesa proposed a parliamentary initiative demanding that only "100 percent Swiss" people could sit on the Federal Council to avoid potential conflicts of loyalty.
The motion was not approved, with only SVP deputies voting in its favour.
While there is no law specifically forbidding federal councillors — each of whom is a potential candidate for Swiss presidency — to be bi-national, to date none of them were at the time they took office.
The current president, Ignazio Cassis, who was born in Ticino of Italian parents and naturalised at the age of 15, renounced his Italian nationality in 2017.
As for Blöchliger, she said she would give up her British passport, regardless of whether she is elected to the Federal Council or not.
This will be a smart move, according to MP Yves Nidegger, himself a dual Swiss and French citizen.
Otherwise, "there may be the impression of a conflict of interest and that's enough to create problems”, he said.