Switzerland's president and foreign minister said Wednesday that she will bow out of politics at the end of the year, closing a long public career marked by her active foreign policy and dashes of controversy.
Micheline Calmy-Rey, a 66-year-old Social Democrat, told a news conference in the capital, Bern, that she will not stand for re-election in December to the Federal Council. Its seven members take turns each year serving as president, a largely ceremonial role that's considered as being "first among equals."
Calmy-Rey is the Federal Council's longest serving member. She won election in 2002 after rising through Geneva's cantonal government to become its finance chief. She grew up in the canton Valais, studied political science in Geneva and then ran a book distribution business for 20 years.
She served as president once before while on the council, in 2007, when she horrified Swiss intellectuals and politicians by taking the stage to sing a mournful tune for her country on national television.
Always lively and dressed fashionably, Calmy-Rey was trying to rescue her nation's pride after it was eliminated from competition in Europe's biggest musical showcase.
"I love to sing. The Swiss also like to sing a lot," Calmy-Rey said after receiving a standing ovation from a large audience. "I sang in school, but they always told me, 'Be quiet. You're singing too loudly!'"
As foreign minister, she drew the loudest accolades and criticisms.
She said her "active and engaged foreign policy" helped the Alpine nation stay neutral and prosperous. At times it also alienated friendly governments, such as when Calmy-Rey flew to Tehran to negotiate a natural gas deal with Iran, at the same time as Switzerland was meant to be representing U.S. interests in the country under sanctions over its nuclear program.
Closer to home, Calmy-Rey drew popular applause for helping negotiate the release of two Swiss men caught up in a spat with Libya. But parliamentarians and Cabinet colleagues were less enamored by her failure to inform them about tenative plans for a military rescue operation, and in December used a routine vote to vent their anger by approving her presidency with an extraordinarily low number of votes.
Still, on Wednesday, the Federal Council praised Calmy-Rey's governing approach in a statement read aloud by government spokesman Andre Simonazzi.
"She led Swiss diplomacy with toughness and passion, making great efforts to develop awareness of Switzerland in the international arena," Simonazzi said.
Calmy-Rey, he said, was "committed to the principle of collegiality and the constant search for consensus."