June 14, 2017 / 3:36 PM / 7 months ago

Swiss foreign minister Burkhalter to step down

ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter will resign at the end of October, he announced on Wednesday, shuffling the political deck as neutral Switzerland tries to redefine its relations with the European Union.

Burkhalter, 57, has championed putting EU ties on a new footing via a treaty formalising relations now based on a patchwork of bilateral economic accords. The idea has run into opposition from critics, especially from the right wing.

“I know it will be difficult for the negotiations with the EU to go into the direction I would like them to go,” he told a hastily called news conference after his surprise announcement, but stressed he was not quitting out of frustration over policy.

“The (outcome of the) game is open, and the government now has to decide how it wants to play the game,” he said, adding the departure of just one player can change the dynamics.

Burkhalter, a member of the business-friendly Liberal Democratic party, has been a member of the seven-person cabinet since 2009 and foreign minister since 2012. He held the rotating Swiss presidency in 2014.

He gave no details of what he might do next, saying only he wanted to be less in the public limelight. “I need more space for a private life,” he said.

Switzerland in December dodged a direct conflict with the EU over the free movement of citizens, a pillar of bilateral ties, when parliament passed a law aimed at curbing immigration by giving local people first crack at open jobs.

Reporting by Michael Shields; editing by Ken Ferris

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