Government wants to buy fighter jets without public vote

Keystone / Harald Tittel

The Swiss government wants to finalise the purchase of new US-built fighter jets before March 2023, without waiting for a possible public vote on the issue.

This content was published on May 19, 2022 - 10:58

The seven-member body said on Wednesday that the “deteriorating security situation” called for a faster-than-planned update of military capacities. This would also mean a faster-than-planned signing of a deal to buy 36 Lockheed Martin F-35A fighter jets.

The CHF6 billion ($6.1 billion) contract was provisionally signed last year, after Swiss voters narrowly approved the credit to buy the jets in a 2020 referendum. Since then, however, left-wing groups have been collecting signatures to force another vote – this time on the specific choice of the F-35, which they claim is an attack plane unsuited to Switzerland’s modest air defence needs.

The government initially planned to wait for the outcome of this initiative before closing the deal. However, with the outbreak of war in Ukraine and moves by other countries to re-arm, it has now reconsidered and wants to sign the contract before it expires next year “without waiting for a possible vote on the ‘Stop F-35’ initiative”.

If the deal had to be renegotiated or pushed back, the government said, it is unclear whether the same price or delivery deadline could be guaranteed – particularly as other countries, including Finland, Germany and Canada, are also queuing up to buy the jets.

Democratic dismay

Left-wing politicians reacted angrily to the announcement, saying the government was continuing to make hay from the Ukraine war, which does not directly threaten Swiss security.

Fabian Fivaz of the Green Party told the Le Temps newspaper on Thursday that not waiting for a public vote was “shocking, from the point of view of democratic institutions”.

Campaigners already have the 100,000 signatures needed, according to Le Temps, and are planning to hand them in this summer. It’s unclear whether a vote could then be held before March 2023. In its press release on Wednesday, the government said that “people’s initiatives have no legal effect before being accepted by the population and the cantons”.

Finally, the cabinet has also backed a plan – approved by one of the two parliamentary chambers last week – to boost the army budget to 1% of gross domestic product by 2030. Both the fighter jet issue and the army budget more generally are still to be discussed by parliament later this year.

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