René Felber

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René Felber (1990)

René Felber (born March 14, 1933 in Biel / Bienne ; † October 18, 2020 ; entitled to live in Kottwil and Le Locle ) was a Swiss politician ( SP ). After several years as a teacher , he was mayor of Le Locle from 1964 to 1980 and a member of the cantonal parliament of the Canton of Neuchâtel from 1965 to 1976 . From 1967 to 1981 he sat in the National Council , then he was Neuchâtel State Council. Although he was no longer a member of parliament at the time, he was elected to the Federal Council in 1988. During his tenure, which lasted until 1993, he was head of the Department of Foreign Affairs . As Foreign Minister, he strove for a stronger international presence for Switzerland. He also tried to integrate the country into European integration . However, his most important foreign policy concern, joining the European Economic Area, failed in 1992 .


Profession and local politics

Felber's family originally comes from the canton of Lucerne . His father Josef Jost Felber worked as a watchmaker , his mother's name was Maria Ida, née Diebold. Together with two siblings, René Felber spent most of his childhood and youth in the city of Neuchâtel . He graduated from high school there with the Matura and then completed the cantonal teachers' seminar. From 1955 he worked as a primary school teacher , first in Dombresson , later in Le Locle . Also in 1955 he married Lucette Evelyne Monnier from Dombresson, with whom he had two daughters and a son. After joining the Social Democratic Party , Felber began his political career in 1960 when he was elected to the General Council (conseil général), the local parliament of Le Locle. In 1964 he was elected to the local council and at the same time city president. As a result, he was initially responsible for the municipal utilities, then until his resignation in 1980 for the finance department.

Cantonal and federal politics

From 1965 to 1976 Felber was a member of the Cantonal Parliament of the Canton of Neuchâtel . In 1967 he was elected to the National Council . In 1980/81 he led the Social Democratic parliamentary group in the Federal Assembly . In 1981 he resigned as member of the National Council after being elected to the Neuchâtel State Council. He then headed the finance and culture department in the cantonal government. He had already been discussed as a possible Federal Councilor in 1977 , but the parliamentary group nominated the Council of States Pierre Aubert , also from the Canton of Neuchâtel, as the official candidate. Nonetheless, Felber received twelve votes at the time.

In 1987 Felber got his second chance after Aubert announced his resignation at the end of 1987. Félicien Morel was initially considered the favorite to succeed him in the Federal Council , but internal disputes in the SP of the canton of Friborg reduced his chances. While the SP party executive appointed Christian Grobet, a member of the left wing of Geneva, as the official candidate, the parliamentary group preferred Felber, who was considered moderate and pragmatic, although he had not been a member of the National Council for six years. The Greens and the left-wing alternative POCH called for a woman to be elected, but were not heard. In the Federal Council election on December 9, 1987, Felber was elected in the first ballot with 152 of 228 valid votes; Grobet received 36 votes and Morel 27 votes. With the election of Felber, four Catholics were represented in the Federal Council for the first time.

Federal Council

Felber took over the management of the Department of Foreign Affairs on January 1, 1988 . In his first year as Foreign Minister he was mainly occupied with reorganizing his department. It created the general secretariat already decided by his predecessor Aubert; In addition, there was a new department within the Political Directorate that dealt with peace, disarmament and security policy. From 1989 onwards, in view of the epochal upheavals in Central and Eastern Europe ( fall of the Iron Curtain , collapse of the Soviet Union ), he realigned Swiss foreign policy. Felber did not see Switzerland's neutrality as a passive sideline. Rather, the country should play a more active and flexible role than in the years of the Cold War . In 1989 he took part in the Francophonie Summit , and a year later in the CSCE Summit Conference . Under his leadership, the Geneva Disarmament Conference took place in 1992 , at which the Chemical Weapons Convention was adopted. From November 1991 to May 1992 he was President of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe .

EC membership application signed by Felber (1992)

As a result of Felber's opening course, Switzerland first participated in United Nations economic sanctions in 1990/91 during the Second Gulf War , and two years later it also took over the non-military sanctions of the UN Security Council against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Libya . Even before the UN had taken the relevant decisions, it issued arms embargoes against Liberia and Somalia in 1992 . Switzerland also took an active part in UN peace missions in Lebanon and Cyprus . To support the blue helmet troops , she sent medical units to Namibia and the Western Sahara . Felber strove to create a solid legal basis for Swiss blue helmet missions. The "Federal Law on Swiss Troops for Peacekeeping Operations" proposed by him, however, failed in a referendum on June 12, 1994.

The European integration was clearly in the center of Felber's foreign policy, especially when he in 1992 the Office of the Federal President held. While the first integration report from August 1988 clearly excluded Switzerland from joining the European Community (EC), the second report from November 1990 recommended starting negotiations on the European Economic Area (EEA). These were concluded in November 1991 and the corresponding agreement was signed in Porto on May 2, 1992 . In the third integration report, which appeared two weeks later on April 18th, there was already talk of the start of EC accession negotiations. On the same day, Felber convinced the majority of the federal councilors to submit a formal application for membership. In the midst of the campaign to vote on the EEA Agreement, this contributed to further emotionalising the counter-campaign cited by Christoph Blocher . In the referendum of December 6, 1992 , a narrow majority of 50.3% voted against the EEA Agreement. Felber had failed with the most important foreign policy goal of his term of office.

Resignation and other activities

From December 1991 Felber suffered from health problems and underwent treatment in Bern's Inselspital because he was suffering from bladder cancer . At the end of May 1992 he had to have an operation and then took three months' sick leave. After the EEA vote defeat, there was speculation that his resignation was imminent. Felber took his time and finally announced in the first Federal Council meeting in 1993 that he would resign on March 31st. Ruth Dreifuss was elected as his successor .

Felber moved to Saint-Aubin-Sauges and became a founding member of the association for the support of the Laténium archaeological museum in Hauterive . At the request of the Federal Council and the governments of the cantons of Berne and Jura , he presided over the newly founded Inter- Jurassic Assembly from 1994 to 1997 . He also remained present at the international level and in the 1990s he accepted various orders from the UN, including in the Palestinian Territories . He was also a member of the honorary board of the environmental protection organization Green Cross, founded in 1993 . From 1998 to 2000 he was a board member of the International Center for Humanitarian Demining in Geneva . He did not interfere in domestic political debates. From 2008 he lived in Sierre .

Felber died on October 18, 2020 at the age of 87.


Web links

Commons : René Felber  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b Former Federal Councilor René Felber dead. Swiss radio and television , October 18, 2020, accessed on October 18, 2020 .
  2. ^ Altermatt: The Federal Council Lexicon. P. 612.
  3. ^ Altermatt: The Federal Council Lexicon. Pp. 612-13.
  4. ^ Altermatt: The Federal Council Lexicon. P. 613.
  5. ^ A b Altermatt: The Federal Council Lexicon. P. 615.
  6. ^ Altermatt: The Federal Council Lexicon. Pp. 614-615.
  7. ^ Altermatt: The Federal Council Lexicon. Pp. 615-616.
  8. ^ Altermatt: The Federal Council Lexicon. P. 616.
  9. ^ Altermatt: The Federal Council Lexicon. P. 617.
  10. ^ Federal administration: On the death of former Federal Councilor René Felber. In: Retrieved October 20, 2020 .
predecessor Office Successor
Pierre Aubert Member of the Swiss Federal Council
Ruth Dreifuss