Gold sale vote looks like a non-starter

The national exhibition has a special pavilion devoted solely to gold Keystone

Swiss voters look likely to throw out a government plan to use proceeds from the sale of excess gold reserves for humanitarian projects.

This content was published on September 22, 2002 - 15:01

Exit polls showed that a counter-proposal to invest all the proceeds in the state pension system had also been rejected.

Early results suggested that about 52 per cent of voters would turn down a government plan to divide the money equally among the state pension scheme, the cantons and the so-called Solidarity Foundation, which would support good causes both at home and abroad.

A counter-proposal, by the rightwing Swiss People's Party, to spend all the money on the state pension scheme was thrown out because it failed to win the support of a majority of cantons. Both proposals needed a majority of voters and cantons to pass.

Charities and supporters of the Solidarity Foundation say a rejection would have a negative impact on Switzerland's image, which is still recovering from scandals over its Holocaust-era role in the 1990s.

"The international image of Switzerland is ambivalent," says Jürg Krummenacher, director of the charity, Caritas.

"On the one hand, we have this picture of a rich isolationist country... on the other hand, Switzerland also has the image of being a country with a humanitarian tradition, and I think approval of the Solidarity Foundation would enforce this image."

The Solidarity Foundation would have shared an annual figure of between SFr500 - 700 million, which is the interest on the capital derived from selling 1,300 tons of gold reserves held by the Swiss National Bank.

Nothing to do with the past

The government has consistently denied that the Solidarity Foundation has anything to do with making reparations for past mistakes. It also ruled out giving any of the money to Holocaust survivors or anyone else with a grievance against Switzerland.

But since it first proposed the idea in 1997 - in the wake of fierce international criticism over Switzerland's wartime past - rightwing opponents have accused the government of caving into outside pressure.

"There is not the slightest reason to feel guilty about the way we behaved [during the Second World War]," said Luzi Stamm, member of parliament for the Swiss People's Party.

His party put forward the counter proposal calling for all the proceeds from the gold sale to be invested in the state pension scheme.

Supporters of the Solidarity Foundation argue that it offers an opportunity for Switzerland to demonstrate its commitment to international cooperation.

"It's a question of what sort of Switzerland we see," said Walter Schmid, who is director of the project.

"Whether we see Switzerland as a rather isolationist country, just thinking of itself, or whether we see it as an active partner in the world."

Humanitarian tradition

However, opponents of the Foundation, such as Stamm, argue that Switzerland is already heavily committed to international humanitarian work.

"We've got the Red Cross, and lots of other aid organisations," Stamm told swissinfo. "We don't need another one."

Jürg Krummenacher of Caritas warns against assuming that Switzerland is more generous than other countries when it comes to aid.

"What we pay in development aid is more or less average," he told swissinfo. "We are not paying more than the others, and if we approved the Solidarity Foundation it would be a welcome addition, but it would not bring us to the top of the list."

swissinfo

Solidarity Foundation

The sale of 1,300 tons of gold reserves (around half the country's total reserves) held by the Swiss National Bank would raise SFr20 billion.

The Swiss government proposes that the annual interest from this sum, between SFr500 and 700 million, should be split equally between state pensions, the Swiss cantons, and humanitarian aid projects.

The Swiss People's Party says all the money should go into state pensions.
Switzerland tops the world in per capita gold reserves, even after the sale of 1,300 tons.

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