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Ueli Maurer
Ueli Maurer

Ulrich "Ueli" Maurer (born 1 December 1950)[1] is a Swiss politician serving as President of the Swiss Confederation since 1 January 2019. A member of the Swiss People's Party, he has been a member of the Swiss Federal Council since 2009. Formerly head of the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sports (2009–2015), Maurer has served as head of the Federal Department of Finance since 2016.

An accountant by occupation, he chaired the Swiss People's Party from 1996 to 2008.[2] He was elected by the Swiss Federal Assembly to succeed Federal Councillor Samuel Schmid in the 2008 election and took office on 1 January 2009. Maurer served as Vice-President of the Swiss Confederation in 2012 and 2018[3] and President of the Swiss Confederation for the years 2013 and 2019.[4] He was reelected Federal Councillor in the 2015 election.

Personal background and professional career

Maurer grew up as the son of a poor farmer in the Zürcher Oberland.[5][6] After a commercial apprenticeship, Maurer received a federal accountant's diploma. He was director of the Zürich Farmers' Association from 1994 to 2008 and president of the Swiss Vegetable Farmers' Association and the Farmers' Machinery Association (Maschinenring) until his election to the Federal Council.

Currently resident in Hinwil in the canton of Zürich, Maurer is married and has six children. He has served in the Swiss Army with the rank of major,[7] commanding a bicycle infantry battalion.[8]

Political career

From 1978 to 1986, Maurer was a member of the municipal government of Hinwil. He was elected to the cantonal parliament of Zürich in 1983, which he presided over in 1991. In that year, he lost an election to the cantonal government against Moritz Leuenberger, as his opponents derided Maurer's campaign as inept and himself as a naïve devotee of party strongman Christoph Blocher.[6] In the same year's national election, though, Maurer was elected to the National Council.

In 1996, at Blocher's behest,[6] Maurer was elected president of the Swiss People's Party. Not taken seriously at first[6][9] and parodied by TV comedian Viktor Giacobbo as Blocher's servile sycophant[6][10] so memorably that his taunted children regularly returned from school in tears,[10] his presidency saw the party double its voter base, establish itself in the French-speaking part of Switzerland and become the country's strongest political party.[5] These successes have been largely credited to Maurer's leadership, who was able to make up a lack of charisma with astonishingly hard work,[10] the imposition of strict party discipline, a keen sense for promising populist issues (such as opposition to European integration, foreigners and political correctness)[6] as well as a penchant for headline-grabbing soundbites, as attested by an often-cited statement of his: "As long as I talk of negroes, the camera stays on me".[11][12]

As president of the People's Party, Maurer was a leading force behind the party's aggressive and successful populist campaigns – campaigns that drew the ire of the Swiss political mainstream and the concern of foreign observers[13] – signing off on cartoonish posters attacking leftists, foreigners and other undesirables.[11] In a breach with Swiss political etiquette, he did not shy away from direct personal attacks on fellow politicians, labeling the center-right Free Democrats as "softies", Social Democratic voters as deranged, and renegade Federal Councillors Schmid and Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf as "appendices" requiring excision.[10] Nonetheless, Maurer was able to keep his public persona separate from the way his colleagues in Parliament perceived him. In the National Council, his personal stature grew during his service and even political opponents credited his personal integrity, collegial demeanour and solid grasp of political issues.[11] His good professional relations with Social Democratic women representatives were particularly noted by puzzled political observers.[10]

Even as his and his party's star rose, however, relations between Maurer and his longtime mentor Blocher slowly cooled,[10] even though the two men remained strong allies in public. Blocher, used to exercising authoritarian leadership as the party's undisputed leading figure, did not approve of Maurer questioning some of his strategic approaches, and increasingly exercised power through a close-knit circle of followers instead of through Maurer and the party secretariat.[10] In October 2007, after the People's Party won its greatest electoral victory in history, Maurer resigned as party president[5] and was succeeded against his wishes[10] by Toni Brunner, one of Blocher's close confidants, on 1 March 2008.[14] After losing a run-off election for a Council of States seat against Verena Diener,[15] Maurer contented himself with the presidency of the Zürich section of the People's Party.[16]

On 27 November 2008, the party's parliamentary group unanimously nominated both Maurer and Blocher as candidates to succeed Schmid as Federal Councillor.[2] With Blocher – who was ousted from the Council in 2007 – considered unelectable by all other parties,[2] the Neue Zürcher Zeitung and other Swiss media called Maurer the clear frontrunner for the Council seat even before his nomination.[10] On 10 December 2008 Maurer was elected to the Federal Council in the third round of voting with 122 votes, a margin of a single vote.[17]

Maurer was elected Vice President of the Confederation for 2012, alongside President Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf.[3] On 5 December 2012 he was elected President of the Confederation for 2013.[3][18]

Maurer was reelected as Federal Councillor on 8 December 2015, and on 11 December 2015 he was selected to become head of the Federal Department of Finance, with newly elected Guy Parmelin, a fellow member of the SVP, replacing his position as head of the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sports.[19][20]

As Finance Minister, Maurer attended the 2017 G20 Hamburg summit, becoming the first federal councillor to attend a G20 summit.[21][22][23]

Maurer became President of the Confederation for a second time for 2019.[24]

On 29 April 2019, during his visit in China, Maurer signed a Memorandum of Understanding under the Belt and Road Initiative.[25][26]

On 16 May 2019, Maurer met U.S. President Donald Trump in the White House, becoming the first Swiss president to meet a U.S. president in that location.[27][28] The two discussed several issues, including Iran and a potential free trade agreement.[29][30][31]

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