Robert Comtesse

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Robert Comtesse

Hugo-Robert Comtesse (born August 14, 1847 in Valangin , † November 17, 1922 in La Tour-de-Peilz , entitled to live in La Sagne ) was a Swiss politician ( FDP ), lawyer and judge . After two years as an examining magistrate, he was elected to the State Council of the Canton of Neuchâtel in 1876. From 1883 he also represented this canton in the National Council . From 1900 to 1912 he was a member of the Federal Council . As finance minister, he played a key role in founding the Swiss National Bank .


Study and job

He was the son of the liberal notary and justice of the peace Arnold Comtesse and Marie-Eliza Cornu. After attending the humanistic grammar school in Neuchâtel , he studied law at the Universities of Heidelberg and Paris . From 1869 to 1874 he worked as a lawyer in a joint law firm in La Chaux-de-Fonds . In 1873 Comtesse was one of the founding members of the Association démocratique libérale , but the following year he switched from the liberal camp to the radicals on the left. Not least because of the change of party, the Grand Council of the Canton of Neuchâtel elected him as examining magistrate in 1874; he held this office for two years.

Cantonal and federal politics

In 1876 Comtesse was elected to the State Council , where he succeeded Numa Droz . As a member of the cantonal government, he first headed the police department, from 1877 the interior department and finally from 1884 the newly created agricultural and industrial department. Among other things, he drafted a new municipal law and took numerous measures to maintain social peace. This includes the introduction of a cantonal insurance company and the establishment of the cantonal chambers of commerce, industry and labor. In addition, he was on the board of several agricultural and industrial associations. He also played an important role in the Swiss non-profit society , in the pacifist movement and in organizations that campaigned for the protection of the Armenians .

Comtesse was also politically active at the federal level and represented his canton in the National Council from 1883 . In 1894 he was President of the National Council . He often sided with progressive social politicians such as Georges Favon and Ludwig Forrer . Sometimes he was accused of advocating socialist ideas, as he advocated the creation of compulsory unions. After the announcement of Adrien Lachenal's resignation , Comtesse was chosen by his party as a candidate for successor in the Federal Council . The election on December 14, 1899 was completely undisputed and unspectacular: Comtesse received 148 out of 177 valid votes in the first ballot, 29 votes were distributed among various people.

Federal Council

At the beginning of 1900 Comtesse took over the management of the finance and customs department , in 1901 he moved to the justice and police department , and in 1902 to the postal and railway department . With the exception of 1904 and 1910, when he was President of the Federal Republic of Germany, he was in charge of the Political Department , and from 1903 to 1911 he again headed the Department of Finance and Customs.

In his first year in office, Comtesse appointed Léopold Dubois, the director of the Neuchâtel Cantonal Bank , as finance director of the Swiss Federal Railways, which was about to be founded . Comtesse played a key role in creating the Swiss National Bank . The first attempts in 1897 and 1901 failed because of the dispute between supporters of a purely private institution and supporters of a state bank under the sole supervision of the federal government. He himself rejected a state bank, but in contrast to his predecessor Walter Hauser, he was willing to compromise. The solution he implemented as finance minister was pragmatic: the cantons, cantonal banks and private individuals were involved in the new institution, but not the federal government. The legal foundation took place on January 16, 1906, operations began on June 20, 1907. Comtesse turned down the offer to become one of the directors-general of the National Bank.

During his first year as president in 1904, Comtesse tried to strengthen Swiss diplomatic activities. Guided by his pacifist attitude, he strove for more international tribunals to help prevent future wars. He was able to get Switzerland to have a diplomatic mission in The Hague to be present at the Permanent Court of Arbitration and other international organizations. In 1910 he received the French President Armand Fallières . Comtesse suggested an administrative reform and in particular called for a modernization of the Political Department. In his opinion, the rotation principle at that time prevented the continuity and professional handling of the increasingly important external relations. After his demands initially encountered resistance, they were implemented from 1914 onwards.

Federal finances caused major problems. The new customs tariff of 1902 did lead to additional income, but this could by no means keep up with the sharp rise in expenditure (especially with those in the military sector). In this way the deficit grew from year to year. Comtesse warned several times of the increasing instability of the federal finances and called for additional sources of income, but did not implement any specific austerity measures. He was simply trying to curb the growth in military spending. Because of this, there were several arguments with Defense Minister Eduard Müller , who mostly prevailed. From 1909 onwards, parliamentarians began to criticize what they believed to be a conceptless financial policy. The Neue Zürcher Zeitung described Comtesse in reporting on the budget consultations as "incredibly naive". After the finance commission of the Council of States publicly called for a new finance minister on November 20, 1911, he switched back to the postal and railway department on December 14.

further activities

On March 4, 1912, Comtesse resigned and took over the management of the international offices for industrial property rights and intellectual property. However, he remained politically active. During the First World War he openly showed sympathy for the war opponents of the Central Powers and called for a protest against the invasion of Belgium . He called the war "stupid and barbaric", and it was due solely to "Prussian imperialism and militarism". The events of the war reinforced his pacifist convictions, which is why he was a staunch supporter of Switzerland joining the League of Nations . From 1920 he presided over the Swiss Association for the League of Nations, which he co-founded. For health reasons he had to give up his post as director in 1921.


Web links

Commons : Robert Comtesse  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b Perrenoud: The Federal Council Lexicon. P. 227.
  2. Perrenoud: The Federal Council Lexicon. Pp. 227-228.
  3. a b Perrenoud: The Federal Council Lexicon. P. 228.
  4. Perrenoud: The Federal Council Lexicon. Pp. 229-230.
  5. Perrenoud: The Federal Council Lexicon. P. 229.
  6. Perrenoud: The Federal Council Lexicon. Pp. 230-231.
predecessor Office successor
Adrien Lachenal Member of the Swiss Federal Council
Louis Perrier