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Social security to dominate spring session

Parliamentarians face a busy three-week spring session Keystone

A reform of the struggling invalidity benefit system is high on the agenda when the Swiss parliament begins its regular three-week spring session on Monday.

This content was published on March 6, 2006 - 07:45

Health premiums and hospital funding schemes as well as development aid are among the wide range of issues under discussion.

The House of Representatives will dedicate several days to debating the government's plans to shore up the ailing state invalidity benefit scheme.

The fund in 2005 posted a SFr1.7-billion ($1.3-billion) deficit and debts soared to over SFr6 billion.

The government is seeking to lower the number of new beneficiaries by 20 per cent, reduce spending and promote re-integration of claimants into the workforce in an effort to bring the scheme out of the red by 2009.

The proposal is facing opposition by centre-left parties and trade unions. Organisations for the disabled have even threatened to challenge the reform in a nationwide vote.

At the other end of the political spectrum, rightwing and centre-right politicians have warned that the government proposals don't go far enough.

Health

Health issues feature prominently on the list of Senate. It will begin discussions on the funding scheme for hospitals as part of government plans to cut rising health care expenditure.

The new system is to be based on standard rates and splits the costs between the cantonal authorities and the insurance companies.

The debate is the latest in a series of proposals following parliament's rejection in 2003 of a revised health insurance law.

During the spring session the Senate is also due to consider a proposal by the rightwing Swiss People's Party to reduce the number of doctors and treatments paid for by health insurance companies.

Swiss voters will have the final say on the issue at a later date. A separate proposal by the centre-left Social Democratic Party to introduce a single health insurance company is also awaiting approval at the ballot box.

Eastern Europe

The House of Representatives is widely expected to follow the Senate in approving a ten-year extension of payments to countries in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

The programme is aimed at helping them transform into market economies from their former state-run Communist systems. Since the early 1990s Switzerland has spent more than SFr3 billion on eastern Europe.

The payments are separate from a SFr1 billion package agreed for mainly eastern European countries following the extension of a labour accord to new members of the European Union.

The People's Party has been trying to block the payments to the so-called cohesion fund, while other parties warned of cuts in aid to developing countries on other continents.

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey told the Senate that Switzerland's existing development aid programmes would not be cut back and that the payments would not lead to additional public spending.

swissinfo

In brief

The Swiss parliament meets four times a year for regular three-week sessions in the capital, Bern.

It is made up of two chambers – the House of Representatives and the Senate - with equal powers. Under the Swiss militia system, most parliamentarians are part-time politicians and follow professional careers.

Among other business, parliament's spring session is expected to debate the funding of the 2008 European football championships, to be hosted by Switzerland and Austria, and anti-hooliganism measures, as well a road infrastructure fund and a CO2 tax on fuel.

It is also expected to wrap up debate on amendments to the country's radio and television law granting public licence fees to private broadcasters.

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