Swiss parliament extends coronavirus relief package

Finance Minister Maurer has warned parliament against additional spending on coronavirus emergency measures. Keystone/Alessandro Della Valle

Parliament has approved a financial package of more than CHF57 billion ($59.1 billion) to help businesses and institutions cope with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in Switzerland.

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The Senate gave the green light on Tuesday for loan guarantees to small and medium-sized companies (CHF40 billion), a scheme for short-time work compensation (CHF6 billion) and benefits for one-person business ventures (CHF5.3 billion) as well as for the purchase of medical supplies.

The package includes a government request for nearly CHF1.9 billion in aid for the Swiss aviation sector, including the two carriers Swiss International Airlines and Edelweiss, as well as aviation service companies Swissport International, Gategroup and SR Technics.

Left-wing parties tried to link aid to environmental standards but their demands were rejected.   

Emergency relief was also agreed for sport organisations, cultural institutions and for tourism.

The other parliamentary chamber, the House of Representatives, had given its approval in principle on Monday, the first day of an extraordinary session in Bern.

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Additional spending was agreed for day-care facilities for children despite opposition from the government, which wanted to leave the funding to the cantonal authorities.

Both chambers also came out in favour of loans for the struggling media sector to help both newspapers and broadcasters cope with the crisis.

Proposals, notably by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party to cut spending on cultural organisations, were voted down.

Looming deficit

Finance Minister Ueli Maurer repeatedly warned against extending the financial relief package to additional sectors. He has forecast a budget deficit of up to CHF50 billion this year.

In total, about CHF66 billion have been earmarked to get the Swiss economy back on its feet, according to the Federal Finance Administration.

The rescue package was drawn up by the Swiss government following the introduction of emergency lockdown restrictions imposed on public life and business activities in March to curb the spread of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, parliament has retroactively given the green light for the deployment of up to 8,000 members of the armed forces to support hospitals as well as border guards.

Critics have argued the army command overreacted by calling up too many soldiers, but senior officers dismissed the allegations.  

It was the first mobilisation of the militia army since World War Two.

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