The government has launched its campaign against a people’s initiative aimed at preventing the closure of 800 rural post offices.
It said the costs of maintaining the current postal network were too high, but Communications Minister Moritz Leuenberger guaranteed to ensure a decent level of service.
The people’s initiative, which is due to go to a nationwide vote on September 26, has been put forward by an alliance made up of a trade union, a consumer group and rural organisations.
Entitled “Postal Services for Everyone”, it rejects moves by state-owned Swiss Post to close down hundreds of small, loss-making post offices in order to save money and remain competitive.
It also calls on the government to provide subsidies for post offices in remote villages.
But Leuenberger said on Tuesday that the government did not support the initiative because the present law and Constitution adequately covered the concept of a universal postal service in Switzerland.
“We have actually fulfilled all the demands of the initiative,” said Leuenberger. “I had expected the initiative to be withdrawn.”
The minister also said that the financial demands of the initiative went too far. It stipulates government intervention if Swiss Post is unable to fund a comprehensive service.
Leuenberger said this was out of the question at a time when the government was cutting the federal budget.
He added that Swiss Post was in good shape financially – its annual turnover is SFr6.8 billion ($5.5 billion) – and this was expected to continue in the future.
But Leuenberger said the government would, if necessary, ask for subsidies from parliament, which has also come out against the initiative.
Opponents to the government’s plans, who also held a press conference on Tuesday, have called for a more “moderate” plan for Swiss Post.
Christian Levrat, a parliamentarian from the centre-left Social Democrats, said those behind the initiative accepted that the postal service needed to be restructured.
But he argued that there should be no post office closures without consulting the relevant local authorities. He claimed this had already occurred in some Swiss villages.
“The present pattern [of events] is dangerous,” said Levrat, adding that the economy could suffer if many post offices were closed.
Supporters of the initiative say Swiss Post is crucial for small and medium-sized businesses.
They also claim that post offices help to bind the country together and ensure that people do not leave rural villages.
They want postal services to be defined in the Constitution in such a way that they “respond to the needs of the population and economy”.
The initiative has split the country’s major political parties. Leuenberger’s own party, the Social Democrats, support the initiative, but the three main parties on the Right are against it.
The debate about the future of the country’s postal service has been raging for some time. Swiss Post belongs to the government but has been autonomous since 1998.
Over the past few years, its monopoly has been gradually eroded: private companies have been able to send parcels weighing less than 2kg since early this year.
Leuenberger said his fear was that the September vote would become totally focused on the future existence of Swiss Post.
swissinfo with agencies
Swiss Post belongs to the government but has been autonomous since 1998.
But since the beginning of 2004, private companies have been able to send parcels weighing less than 2kg.
Swiss Post deals with 17 million letters and 500,000 parcels daily in nearly 3,000 branches.
Annual turnover is SFr6.8 billion ($5.5 billion).