Pierre Graber

Former Swiss President
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The Independent Online

Pierre Graber, politician: born La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland 6 December 1908; Head of Federal Political (Foreign Affairs) Department 1970-78; President of Swiss Confederation 1975; died Lausanne, Switzerland 19 July 2003.

Pierre Graber was Switzerland's foreign minister from 1970 to 1978, and President of the Swiss Confederation in 1975. He was also a key figure in Swiss social democracy. As head of the Federal Political Department - the foreign ministry - he raised the profile of Switzerland in keeping with the mood of détente of the time. He was instrumental in Switzerland's joining the European Human Rights convention in 1974.

In 1975, his year as President, Graber also signed the founding document of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. He also had to grapple with some of the problems associated with the emergence of the European Economic Community to which Switzerland's neighbours Germany, France and Italy belonged. Switzerland had resolved to remain outside. Graber was involved in negotiations on an accord on liberalising trade in Europe. This gave some relief to the Swiss watch and clock industry.

He strengthened Switzerland's diplomatic representation, establishing ties with the Communist regimes in East Germany, Vietnam and Albania. He was the first Swiss cabinet minister to visit Israel in 1973, and, in 1974, the first Swiss foreign minister to visit China. On the other hand, he attempted to build up ties with the Arab world. More controversial were his negotiations with the Palestinian terrorists to free hostages seized following the hijacking of a Swissair plane in Jordan in 1970. All of these moves were in line with Switzerland's German and Austrian neighbours, at that time led by the Social Democrats Willy Brandt and Bruno Kreisky.

Pierre Graber was born in 1908 at La Chaux-de-Fonds. After schooling in Neuchâtel and Bern, he studied law at the universities of Neuchâtel and Vienna. Although he worked as a lawyer between 1933 and 1946, it soon became clear that his key interest was politics. He joined the Swiss Social Democrats in 1925, regarded then as a party well to the left. He was elected to the Lausanne city council in 1933, serving as Mayor from 1946 to 1949. He was then the city's Director of Finance until 1962. For much of the period he was also a member of the Council of the Canton Vaud and its Director of Finance from 1962 to 1970.

Graber was a member of the Swiss National Council (parliament) from 1942 to 1969, and leader of the Socialist group from 1967 to 1969. Although Switzerland was neutral these were turbulent times. Graber had witnessed the rise of Fascism in Switzerland's neighbours culminating in the Second World War, Switzerland's virtual isolation, and the problems of European reconstruction after 1945. The Cold War followed and all this had its impact on Swiss social democracy; for one thing, it made it easier for those who advocated a national coalition of all the major Swiss parties. This has been the pattern of Swiss national politics since 1959.

These events and the dilemmas they caused are described in Graber's autobiography, Mémoires et Réflexions, published in 1992.

David Childs