Obituary: Ernst Brugger

FROM 1959 on, Swiss governments have been constructed on a complicated formula under which the Christian Democrats, Radical Democrats and Social Democrats each get two ministers, and the Swiss People's Party gets one. Nominations for the seven-member government must also consider Switzerland's language groups. Ernst Brugger was elected to the government at this time and awarded the Department of Public Economy. He was regarded as a model patriot, in touch with ordinary people, but one whose education had made him outward-looking.

Brugger was born in Bellinzonia, a small, ancient town in southern Switzerland which is usually bypassed by tourists heading for the Italian lakes. He grew up in a secure environment when, even in Switzerland, there was considerable turbulence in inter-war society. As an engine driver on the Swissrailways, his father, Alois Brugger, was part of the working-class elite witha secure job.

After studying at the universities of Zurich, London and Paris, Ernst joined another elite profession as a secondary school teacher in Gossau,1936. He married a medical student, Lory Ringer, in the following year. Switzerland was under pressure from its mighty neighbour, Hitler's Germany, and the majority German-speakers were a special target for Nazi propaganda.

Gossau, a small industrial town, is not far from the German frontier. Brugger did his compulsory service in what were at that time the French- orientated armed forces. That he eventually rose to the rank of major reveals that he took military service seriously, took courses and did his reserve training.

Brugger joined the middle-of-the-road Radical Democratic Party and became politically active. This was partly under the influence of the times, and also because party membership played an important part in public service. The Radicals recruited from among the secular middle classes, especially among the German-speaking Protestants.

In 1947 Brugger was elected to the council of the Canton, the Canton having powers similar to US states. From 1949 to 1959 he served as the mayor of Gossau, giving up this post when he was elected to the government of Zurich Canton. His departments were interior and justice. He had to deal with the then difficult relations between the Catholic Church and state, and the ever-present problem of cross-border workers. In his last two years, 1967-69, he had the economic policy portfolio in Zurich.

His two main problems in government were Switzerland's relations with the emerging European Economic Community to which its neighbours West Germany, France and Italy belonged, and the infinitely more difficult problem of foreign labour in Switzerland. Along with Switzerland's other EFTA partners, Brugger was able to negotiate a settlement of the first problem in 1972. It brought some relief for the Swiss watch and clock industry.

The second problem brought out strong passions on both sides of the arguments. Roughly 20 per cent of Switzerland's work force were foreigners, the largest group being Italians. They were followed by Germans and Spaniards. There were significant groups from Austria, Czechoslovakia, France and Yugoslavia. They faced severe restrictions, border medical checks, and, if they ever managed to become Swiss citizens, compulsory military service stretching well into middle age.

DrJames Schwarzenbach led the National Campaign Against Foreign Penetration of People and Homeland. Switzerland needed foreign labour to keep its economy expanding yet there were genuine fears that its character and way of life would disappear. Foreigners were welcomed as tourists, but were often cold-shouldered when they were recruited to work there. Swiss moving from one Canton to another in a different language group were not alwayas welcome either. The matter came to a head in the referendum of 20 October 1974.

Schwarzenbach proposed an amendment to the Swiss constitution designed to effect a drastic reduction of the foreign population. On a turnout of almost 70 per cent, it failed by 1,691,870 votes to 878,739. Brugger, who was, for 1974, President of the Swiss Confederation (head of state), expressed his satisfaction with the result. He believed, however, that the vote showed that the government must work to stabilise the foreign population and then bring about a "moderate and organic reduction". The problem has remained an issue in Swiss politics and is a factor when Swiss membership of the European Community is discussed.

Brugger resigned from political office on medical grounds in 1978. However, he presided over the Swiss People's Bank for some years until 1985 and was involved in various charities. He also spent more time on his hobby, a model railway.

David Childs

Ernst Brugger, politician: born Bellinzona, Switzerland 10 March 1914; married 1937 Lory Ringer (five sons); died Gruningen, Switzerland 21 June 1998.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world