Parliament ditches army procurement plan
For the first time in its history, parliament has rejected the military’s arms procurement programme, after the two houses failed to agree on the package.
At the centre of the debate was the acquisition of two air transporters – a move opposed by the House of Representatives.
On Thursday the House of Representatives threw out the proposal by 97 votes to 82. In doing so, it went against the Senate and a parliamentary conciliation committee, which recommended buying the aircraft.
Both the Left and the Right united – for different reasons – against the acquisition of the Casa C-295M planes, which would have cost SFr109 million ($94.3 million).
The failure to agree on their purchase means that the whole arms programme must now go back to the drawing board.
Centre-right parties had argued that the planes were needed by the army and other federal departments.
Fulvio Pelli, the Radical Party’s new leader, said the Swiss people had accepted a reform of the army and its deployments abroad, and it was important to give the military the means to carry out such missions.
But the rightwing Swiss People’s Party, which is against army missions abroad, said the purchase would have pushed the army "in the wrong direction".
Meanwhile, the centre-left Social Democrats said they were not in favour of more military spending, adding that they had always been sceptical of the procurement programme.
Reacting to the decision, Defence Minister Samuel Schmid said parliament was wholly to blame for the failure of the 2004 armament programme.
Schmid added that the project had been the victim of party political machinations.
However, he said it might be possible to incorporate some of the more controversial elements of the plan into next year’s programme.
Thursday's decision will come as a blow to the country’s armed forces. Christophe Keckeis, head of the army, said in a newspaper interview ahead of the debate that a refusal of the package would be "a dramatic signal, a real disaster".
The rest of the SFr647 million programme included the purchase of software and simulators, the upgrading of the air-surveillance system and new helmets.
The military’s original shopping list also contained a dozen armoured vehicles, worth SFr129 million. But these were cut by the Senate in October last year.
Switzerland’s army has been under considerable financial pressure, at a time of wide-ranging government cuts.
The defence ministry has already seen its budget cut from SFr4.3 million to less than SFr4 million.
The cuts follow a major overhaul of the country’s militia army approved in a nationwide vote last year, which would reduce it by a third.
swissinfo with agencies
Planned 2004 weapons procurement programme:
Electronic data transfer system for air surveillance. Cost: SFr268 million.
Mobile refuelling tanks: SFr11 million.
Helmets: SFr35 million.
12 armoured support vehicles: SFr129 million.
Two transport aircraft: SFr109 million.
Combat simulation system: SFr95 million
Total cost: SFr647 million
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