Supporters of a planned SFr7 billion national charity have been mobilising to defend the idea, after a key political party surprisingly withdrew its blessing. The withdrawal of the Christian Democrats has dealt a blow to the Solidarity Foundation.
Supporters of a planned SFr7 billion national charity have been mobilising to defend the idea, after a key political party surprisingly withdrew its blessing. The withdrawal of the Christian Democrats has dealt a decisive blow to the Solidarity Foundation.
In an attempt to shore up the project, the finance minister, Kaspar Villiger, said there was no doubt that the cabinet was still firmly behind the plan to set up the foundation, designed to help the needy at home and abroad. He dismissed the Christian Democrats' claim that the idea was dead.
Villiger was one of the key figures behind the plan, which was put forward in 1997 at the height of the controversy over Switzerland's role during World War Two. The idea is to use the proceeds from the sale of 500 tonnes of National Bank gold, no longer needed to back its monetary policies, for the foundation. The gold is estimated to be worth SFr7 billion.
Villiger defended the concept on Wednesday as a flexible way of responding to needs which could not be met through other projects. He said the government still considered it as one of its priorities.
The Solidarity Foundation also received public support from the interior minister, Ruth Dreifuss. She said she believed the Swiss people would back the project, despite the Christian Democrats' decision to abandon the idea.
One of the reasons invoked by the Christian Democratic party president, Adalbert Durrer, for withdrawing from the idea was its lack of support among the population. He said the concept was too vague, and suggested giving the money to the International Committee of the Red Cross instead. He said the ICRC, founded by a Swiss last century, was a project which the people could identify with.
The Christian Democrats are the second government party to come out against the Solidarity Foundation. The right-wing People's Party has already vowed to block the project, proposing putting the money into the ailing old-age pension scheme instead.
The People's Party has made no secret of the fact that its objections to the Solidarity Foundation are partly connected to the circumstances in which the idea was launched. Many in the party see it as the result of foreign pressure on Switzerland to do something to atone for its role in World War Two. During the war, neutral Switzerland maintained close economic ties with Nazi Germany and turned away many refugees at its borders.
The president of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Associations, Rolf Bloch, warned on Wednesday that the Christian Democrats' move to distance themselves from the Foundation could damage Switzerland's image abroad.
Bloch said the party had reacted too soon, and should have waited until plans for the Solidarity Foundation had been deepened. He said the idea for a Solidarity Foundation was a good one and should be given a chance.
swissinfo with agencies
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