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In conversation with Naturefriends: Urs WŁthrich-Pelloli | President of Naturefriends Switzerland

On 13 May 2017, Urs Wüthrich-Pelloli took office as president of Naturefriends Switzerland. The education policy-maker and former member of the cantonal government has big plans for his time as president. In our conversation, Urs talks about the reasons for his involvement with Naturefriends and his ideas for the future of the organisation.

You look back on a long political career. What made you get involved with Naturefriends now?
Urs Wüthrich-Pelloli: As a private person, I have been making a contribution to a sound environment for a long time, and I've been a member of the Naturefriends organisation since the 1980s. I have a triple connection to this association. A historical connection, because Naturefriends arose from the labour movement, where my roots are, too. A sports connection, for I'm committed to sports and I love to go hiking. And a connection of values, because I think that friends of nature also need to take responsibility for the latter.

Many people still perceive Naturefriends solely as a leisure-time and hiking organisation. Political work is of different importance to the various national organisations. At the same time, different topics are important at the national level - from nuclear energy over free trade to right of way. What are your ideas on Naturefriends' political work?

Urs Wüthrich-Pelloli: I think it is crucial for the Naturefriends movement to intervene in political issues on nature and the environment. I explicitly don't say that Naturefriends should become a political party or be instrumentalised by one. But Naturefriends clearly need to regain a political profile and position themselves as allies of organisations that champion sustainable development and stand up for "Friends of Nature".

The Naturefriends movement is currently experiencing difficult times. Many national associations have been struggling for several years because of decreasing membership figures and the loss of national funding - e.g. for the maintenance of their mountain lodges. How do you intend to counteract this situation at the national level?

Urs Wüthrich-Pelloli: The development of our membership figures and the ageing structure of various local groups bring to light the shortcomings in attracting the young generation that need to be made up for. Various sections successfully show that renewal in continuity is possible. I am confident that this success will be infectious.
A topic that is very close to my heart is to run our Naturefriends houses successfully and sustainably. This is where we need to combine the indispensable commitment of volunteers and the expectations of high professionalism.
And, as I mentioned before, the substantive profile and political positioning of Naturefriends Switzerland is a top priority. I consider our movement's depoliticising a disastrous development - a development that brings a loss of identity, profile and unique feature and which makes our guiding principles and values remain empty phrases and futile statements of intent.

In the past years, you held numerous international offices, such as the head of the Swiss delegation and the presidium of the Franco-German-Swiss Conference of the Upper Rhine as well as the representation of Switzerland at the Congress of the Council of Europe and at the Assembly of European Regions. How important is internationality for you - especially with regard to the Naturefriends movement?

Urs Wüthrich-Pelloli: I have repeatedly experienced cross-border encounters as enriching and an indispensable prerequisite for mutual understanding. It is only the exchange of different opinions and experiences and discussion about other perspectives that provide development and stability for our society. Especially in an ever more globalised world, movements such as Naturefriends need to join forces across borders and become strong networks if they want their voice to be heard by international decision-makers. Consequently, I welcome the work of NFI and I am looking forward to contributing to this commitment with my expertise.
(Mai 2017)
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