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Defence ministry presents civil protection reforms

The Swiss Defence Ministry has presented draft reform proposals under which all emergency management aspects of civil protection would be put under the umbrella control of the individual cantons, rather than the federal government.

This content was published on September 27, 1999 - 16:07

The Swiss Defence Ministry has presented draft reform proposals under which all emergency management aspects of civil protection would be put under the umbrella control of the individual cantons, rather than the federal government.

The ministry submitted the proposals to the cantons and all interested parties on Monday. Comments on the reforms can be presented to the government until the end of the year as part of a regular consultation process.

The proposals are in line with Switzerland’s post-Cold War security concept and the related changes to the Swiss army’s role.

Swiss soldiers complete their military service at age 42 but spend several more years in civil defence, along with those who are unfit for military duty.

But with no military threat in sight, post-Cold War civil defence has to change its emphasis, too, as Defence Minister Adolf Ogi explained Monday.

“Civil defence units must in future principally be used to combat natural disasters and man-made catastrophes and emergencies,” he said.

Under the latest proposals, each canton could in future save much money and manpower by creating a unified command structure for police, fire brigades, civil defence troops, ambulance teams as well as search and rescue units.

Many of those units have traditionally been volunteer-based teams. Overcoming local rivalries and complicated power structures will therefore be a vast task, according to experts.

The amalgamation of civil defence with other rescue contingents will also again raise the question of compulsory military service -- a subject which has repeatedly given cause for heated political debates in Switzerland.

Ogi said the ministry was considering the idea that young Swiss men could be given the choice of doing service in the fire brigade, civil defence units or in the military.

But the minister added that there was still a key obstacle: “Any such change in national conscription would need a constitutional amendment -- and this is at the moment…just not opportune.”

Complete freedom of choice for young Swiss men is unlikely to become a reality, experts argue, not least because of the kind of demographic changes which already make it difficult for the armed forces to find enough NCOs and officers.

However, there may one day be the option that those doing regular military service may serve shorter periods than those doing civil defence service.

Such a differentiated system already applies for conscientious objectors, who serve longer than male Swiss doing mandatory military service.

From SRI staff.

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