Obituary: Jean-Pascal Delamuraz

David Childs
Monday 05 October 1998 23:02

JEAN-PASCAL Delamuraz was elected Swiss President in 1989 and again in 1996. He replaced his fellow FDP (Liberal) colleague Kaspar Villiger in this rotating and largely ceremonial office.

Delamuraz created headlines in December 1996 by describing as "blackmail" Jewish demands for early compensation to Holocaust survivors whose money had been deposited in Swiss banks during the Nazi period. He said Jewish claimants should await the findings of a panel investigating Switzerland's role in the Hitler era. Delamuraz's comments caused an international storm and he later apologised for them.

He was only nine at the end of the Second World War and had grown up in a Switzerland that was very proud and complacent about its role in that war, including the achievements of the Swiss armed forces. Swiss people often did not appreciate the fact that Switzerland supplied vast quantities of war materials to the German forces, and that the Swiss army airforce was equipped with Messerschmitt planes.

Delamuraz's generation grew up believing that Switzerland was most generous to Jewish and other refugees and that the Swiss Red Cross played a major role in helping prisoners and others. Times have changed and in January 1995 a law came into force making racial remarks an offence in Switzerland. With this law the government was attempting to curb the increasing number of attacks against foreigners.

However, in 1994, in a referendum, the Swiss voted to give the authorities more power to place asylum seekers in detention or to expel them. This was against a background of increasing numbers of foreigners entering the country; in 1994 they represented 18.6 per cent of the population as against 18.1 per cent in 1993.

Born in Paudex, near Lausanne, in 1936, Delamuraz was deeply rooted in his own Canton and city. After studies at Lausanne University he took to politics using the FDP, Switzerland's strongest party, as his vehicle. He served as Mayor of Lausanne in 1974 and was elected to the National Council (parliament) in 1975. He reached Cabinet rank in 1983 in the seven- member four-party government which has ruled Switzerland since 1959.

In 1984 he took over the Federal Military Department (Ministry of Defence). He served as its head until 1986. He promoted co-operation with the forces of the fellow neutrals Austria and Sweden. He faced the continuing problems of the place of women in the services and the unresolved question of conscientious objection, both issues of concern to his colleagues in the FDP. He was also concerned about Swiss officers having the chance to attend courses with other Western armed services.

In 1987 Delamuraz was elected head of the Department of Public Economy in charge of industry, trade, labour and agriculture. He headed this office until his resignation earlier this year on health grounds. In an increasingly competitive world economy he realised Switzerland needed to end its economic isolation. He took the Confederation into the World Trade Organisation but suffered a setback in December 1992 when the Swiss, in a referendum, voted against joining the free movement of people, goods, services and capital between Efta (the European Free Trade Association), to which Switzerland belongs, and the European Economic Area (EEA).

This left Switzerland as the only Efta member not in the EEA. Efta, was, in any case reduced to Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, the other members (Austria, Finland and Sweden) having joined the European Community/Union. Somewhat dismayed, the government then decided to freeze Switzerland's application to join the European Union.

Delamuraz had suffered for some years from ill-health. He had heart surgery in 1992 and 1995, and last year underwent an operation for liver cancer.

David Childs

Jean-Pascal Delamuraz, politician: born Paudex, Switzerland 1 April 1936; married 1962 Catherine Reymond (one son, one daughter); died Lausanne 4 October 1998.

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