Are you sure you are a conservative
"The SVP is not conservative"
"The SVP is not conservative"
Tomorrow Gerhard Pfister will be elected as the new President of the CVP. The Zug National Council explains why he feels comfortable as a conservative in the CVP, how he imagines civic cooperation - and why he does not want to realign the party in terms of content.
Mr. Pfister, a year ago you published an essay entitled “Trend reversal” in which you called for stronger cooperation between the bourgeois parties SVP, FDP and CVP. On Saturday you will be named President of the CVP. Is the way now clear for the “turnaround”?
Gerhard Pfister: A trend reversal is definitely necessary. Little did I know when I wrote the text that a year later all three parties would reappoint their presidents. In my opinion, this is a good prerequisite for civil cooperation to work a little better than before.
Pfister: One shouldn't underestimate personal factors in politics. There were violations between the three parties, starting with the voting out of Ruth Metzler in 2003 and continuing with the voting out of Christoph Blocher in 2007. These episodes certainly made civil cooperation more difficult. The new presidents all start without these conflicting stories. In addition, a second SVP representative was elected to the Federal Council. That was an indispensable prerequisite for stronger cooperation. Perhaps we are now at the beginning of a certain normalization in the bourgeois camp.
In the essay you wrote against state paternalism, against increasing regulation, against the energy transition - the responsibility for such developments also lies with your party. Do you want to move the CVP to the right?
Pfister: I have never made a secret of the fact that I advocate deregulation, especially in economic policy. When it came to the energy transition, I was less bothered by the content than by the way in which the CVP parliamentary group's decision came about at the time. Such fundamental decisions should be discussed longer and more broadly within the party. But the energy turnaround has now started. It would be completely wrong for the CVP to deviate from the position adopted at the time.
You are a politician who likes to provoke - even in your own party. In the past few months, however, you have been noticeably reticent. Are you already in presidential mode?
Pfister: No. But when I announced my candidacy, I knew that there were two reservations about it: on the one hand, the question of whether I want to bring the party on my own line, and on the other, the doubts whether I can fulfill the role of president as a mediator between positions. The last three months have also been a good opportunity for me to face these doubts. I am aware that a president has a different role. And I knew from the start that I would have to use the time until the delegates' meeting to approach those who have doubts or are skeptical.
In an interview you recently said in relation to the comparison between CVP and SVP: "I am the true conservative." Is Conservatism Trending?
Pfister: I just wanted to say that the SVP is by no means conservative in the sense that it wants to transform this country enormously. In the last 20 years the SVP has launched more initiatives to change institutions than the left. For me, conservative means that the new must first prove that it is better than the old before introducing it.
Still: 10 or 20 years ago, no CVP president would have publicly stressed how conservative he was.
Pfister: That may be. But the CVP has always had a conservative wing, and as a conservative I have always felt at home in that party.
Was it a mistake for the CVP to move away from its conservative roots and move into the "dynamic center"?
Pfister: No. It's cheap to say: it was a mistake because we didn't win voters. That's not an argument because you'd have to prove that if you had done it differently, things would have turned out better. We have had tremendous dynamism in the party landscape over the past 20 years. In this environment, it was challenging for the CVP to find a different position of its own. Now I have the impression that they have been found. The CVP has a profile that is unmistakable.
That sounds like a continuation of the previous strategy. What do you want to do better than Christophe Darbellay?
Pfister: Christophe Darbellay's great merit is that he led this party for so long in the first place. That is not a matter of course in the CVP, which was used to very frequent presidential changes. Before you say what you want to do better, you should first take a close look. I will start a discussion process with the whole party. We will start this project - we call it CVP 2025 - at the summer party conference and look at different areas for a year: organization, content and structure. In summer 2017 we will be ready to say in which direction we want to go in the next few years.
But I assume you already have ideas about the direction in which to go.
Pfister: Of course, but you can't set the course in a party by simply developing something out of your own head. You have to take the people with you, because in the end they implement the whole thing. Basically, I have the impression that we are on track in terms of content. The party program does not have to be rewritten. We can improve in terms of organization and communication.
Pfister: We have to learn to communicate our positions more proactively. We have to work on topics that other parties do not manage or manage less well. We have to break down this reflex of always feeling responsible for the majority from the start. I think the current constellation in the National Council is also an opportunity for the CVP: SVP and FDP have a majority, and we are not forced to find solutions to give others a majority. We are free to enter into a compromise if it suits our position.
In the past, the CVP mainly addressed Catholic voters. Who Votes CVP Today?
Pfister: The typical CVP voter does not come from a certain class, but feels comfortable in a party in which all classes are present. 90 percent of the CVP voters are still Catholics, so it cannot be said that this is not typical. But it is also not wanted: Our goal is to become more open.
You are anti-abortionists. Do you not see the danger of deterring more open-minded CVP voters with such positions?
Pfister: No. This is a question on which opinions differ within the CVP. The CVP has spoken out in favor of the deadline solution, and that is certainly the position of a large majority at the moment. Personally, I cannot reconcile abortion with my faith - even though I can see the needs of women who have abortions. Ultimately, however, this is an ethical question, and I would never claim that my ethical conviction is the only correct one.
How long do you intend to be CVP President?
Pfister: As long as I can and want and as long as the party wants. It will not be insignificant what kind of result we will achieve in the 2019 elections.
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