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New Swiss foreign minister faces thorny EU ties

© AFP/File | Ignazio Cassis, a 56-year-old medical doctor, has been appointed as Switzerland's new foreign minister

GENEVA (AFP) - 

Switzerland on Friday named Ignazio Cassis as its new foreign minister, putting him in charge of an office tasked with stabilising the country's complex relationship with the European Union.

Cassis, a 56-year-old medical doctor, was elected by parliament earlier in the week to the Federal Council, making him the first politician from the country's Italian-speaking minority to join the executive branch in nearly two decades.

The government then tapped him on Friday to replace outgoing foreign minister Didier Burkhalter, who is leaving politics.

Cassis, who supports legalising marijuana, wants 100 days to "take stock" of his new duties and will not make public comments until the end of the exercise, according to a government statement.

But that delay may clash with the pressing need to tackle Switzerland's EU relations, currently defined by dozens of overlapping agreements on areas ranging from migration and labour to trade.

The country's rightwing Swiss People's Party wants more distance from the EU, while some in the centre and on the left insist now is the time for a new comprehensive accord.

Cassis, from the conservative Liberal Democrats, has been cautious on EU questions, saying there was a need for a "settlement" with Brussels, while not committing to supporting a new comprehensive agreement.

The Federal Council is made up of seven ministers who choose their portfolios based on seniority, and the largely symbolic position of president rotates every year between them.

© 2017 AFP