Swisscom's fate tops the bill at parliament

Hard work ahead: Swisscom's future is undecided Keystone

Controversial plans to privatise leading telecommunications company Swisscom are set to dominate a special parliamentary session which began on Monday.

This content was published on May 8, 2006 - 07:52

The decision in the House of Representatives - the Senate is not meeting - will be a close race with the four main parties evenly divided on the issue.

Last November the government announced that it wanted to sell its majority stake in Swisscom.

It is currently the major shareholder in the cash-rich company, holding a 62.45 per cent of shares.

However, not all the political parties and actors in Swisscom's future are agreed on whether this is the best path for the telecoms giant.

The first debate on the issue is scheduled for Wednesday.

Against

Those against the privatisation, mostly for financial and political reasons, include the Green Party, the centre-left Social Democratic Party and the centre-right Christian Democrats.

They are joined by smaller parties such as the Protestant Party and the Federal Democratic Union, an ultra-conservative Christian party.

Opponents of privatisation fear that Swisscom could be sold to a foreign company. They have also raised concerns that its nationwide presence and service may no longer be guaranteed.

The left also fears that working conditions could be under threat. However, the Christian Democrats and the two smaller parties have not ruled out a partial privatisation, provided the government keeps a controlling stake to ensure a basic provision of services.

For

Among those for privatisation are the business-oriented centre-right Radical Party and the rightwing Swiss People's Party, as well as the government and Swisscom.

One of their main arguments is that privatisation ensures that there is no conflict of interest for the government, which at the moment acts as owner, legislator, regulator and customer for the company.

Added to this is the belief that the provision of telecoms services in Switzerland does not depend on who owns Swisscom. This will be guaranteed by means of laws and concessions.

However, several important parliamentary committees have already spoken out against privatisation.

Serious concerns

They argue that the government's proposal had not been drawn up carefully enough, making it impossible to make a decision at this stage.

Criticism also came from opponents who found that the plan was "unprofessionally" prepared.

The government last week admitted that communication of its decisions had "not been optimal in all points".

The proposal does not seem to have totally convinced the population either. In a survey by research institute gfs.bern only 25 per cent of the 1,220 polled said they agreed with the privatisation of Swisscom.

If it came to a national ballot on the issue, 56 per cent said they would vote against it.

swissinfo, Christian Raaflaub

In brief

The government owns 62.45 per cent of shares in Swisscom. A sale of these shares could raise up to SFr16 billion ($13.05 billion), which the government aims to use to pay off some of its debts.

The government also wants to divest itself of the risks attached to the telecoms market and allow the company more freedom.

Opponents fear Swisscom could be sold to a foreign company and that provision of services and working conditions could be under threat.

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Key facts

The House of Representatives is meeting in a special session from May 8-11 in the Swiss capital, Bern.
The main theme is the privatisation of Swisscom.
The Senate is due to debate the issue in during its regular summer session in June.
The House also discussed a people's intiative to introduce a single health insurance scheme.

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