Swiss Defence Minister Ueli Maurer has denied asking Sweden to embark on a public relations programme designed to influence an upcoming nationwide vote on the purchase of 22 Swedish-made Gripen fighter jets for the Swiss air force.
Leaked documents sent by the Swedish ambassador in Bern to senior government figures in Stockholm last year outlining possible activities, were published on the site of Swedish public radio and taken up by various Swiss media on Wednesday, the day after Maurer launched the official campaign for a yes-vote.
In the three letters, dating from October, November and December 2013, ambassador Per Thöresson refers to Maurer’s wish for Gripen jets to be visible in Switzerland “preferably every 6-8 weeks (!)”.
The Swiss parliament approved the Gripen deal last year, but opponents collected enough signatures to force a nationwide ballot, which will take place on May 18, giving voters the final say on the planned purchase.
Maurer told the Luzerner Zeitung newspaper that he was a big fan of Sweden and was glad to see the country presented positively in Switzerland “but that I requested Sweden to undertake a specific action programme, is not true”.
Thöresson said Maurer made it clear at a “very nice dinner” together that Swedish involvement in the campaign itself was not welcome. “It has to be run – and won – by Swiss people,“ Maurer told him.
But Thöresson stressed the importance of good media coverage, and names specific newspapers and television programmes to be targeted. “The more positive headlines we can get about Sweden, the better,” he writes.
The December document includes a draft list of some 30 events – cultural, business and sporting – aimed at raising the profile of Sweden in Switzerland.
Thörensson wrote that “thedemand for Swedish ‘peripheral activities’ is large, and the embassy has produced a list of possible actions, which has been coordinated with Swiss department of defence and Saab [manufacturer of the Gripen jets]”. Maurer had given the list his blessing, he added. The list was attached as an annex.
Speaking to the Swiss news agency, Carl Bildt, Sweden’s foreign minister said Sweden was not part of the referendum campaign. “Coordination between Sweden and Switzerland on such an important matter is just normal,” he said.
Asked about the plan, Thöresson told Swedish radio the list of events was not intended to impact public opinion. “It’s a list of all the events that we have planned and I have deemed that other people should be informed about those plans so that we, on the Swedish side, can coordinate our activities, and so that we don’t send out contradictory signals.”
However in the documents Thöresson suggests that the plan could help tip the scales in the referendum and that "all we need to do now is win the referendum".
The committee seeking to stop the purchase of the jets with the initiative “No to billions for fighter jets” said the hidden public relations campaign “was totally unacceptable and shows a lack of respect for our direct democracy.”
‘I asked if the efforts could be focused on some areas and/or groups and the
response was no: we need to reach all of Switzerland: men as well as women
and all ages - that is all the 2.5 million people that will probably take part in the
referendum. The most important thing though, is to reach the political middle
and the interested but non-political general public.”
“As previously reported, Ueli Maurer wishes to have as much support as possible from Sweden from now until the referendum. Not in the campaign itself – only the ambassador and the defense attaché can participate there, and only if specifically asked and in special cases - but in the shape of "positive events" connected to Sweden, the partnership and Gripen.’