Swiss to vote in June on government’s Covid restrictions

The Swiss will vote in June on the validity of a law giving the government new powers to impose lockdowns and other restrictions to rein in Covid-19, Bern said Wednesday.

Swiss to vote in June on government's Covid restrictions
The anti-Covid law will be voted on June 13th. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

Switzerland’s Federal Chancellery confirmed that enough signatures had been gathered to trigger a referendum on the 2020 Covid-19 Act as part of the wealthy Alpine nation’s direct democratic system.

Campaigners had handed over 97,878 signatures on January 12th, and the chancellery said Wednesday it had determined that 90,789 of them were valid — far more than the 50,000 needed for the referendum to go ahead.

The issue will be among several voted on on June 13th, the chancellery said.

The Covid-19 Act, adopted by parliament last September, gives the government a legal basis to impose restrictions aimed at tackling the pandemic on an ongoing basis.

Before the law was introduced, Bern could only impose restrictions through a string of emergency decrees, providing for strictly time-limited measures under tight parliamentary oversight.

A group calling itself “Friends of the Constitution” gathered the signatures needed to trigger the referendum, arguing that the law was unnecessary and voiced concern the government might use it to launch an obligatory vaccination campaign — something the government adamantly denies.

The announcement came as the government faces increased pressure to loosen restrictions as new Covid-19 cases and deaths have declined significantly in recent weeks.

On Monday, non-essential shops, museums and zoos were permitted to reopen after two months of near-lockdown conditions, but restaurants and other venues remain closed.

The lower house of parliament pushed Wednesday for the government to allow restaurants, cinemas, theatres and gyms to open as of March 22, and called for the lifting of restrictions limiting gatherings to just five people.

Switzerland, a country of 8.6 million people, has seen more than 557,000 cases and 9,258 deaths from the virus since the beginning of the pandemic.

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Swiss decision to purchase US fighter jets could force second referendum

Switzerland's decision to purchase US-made fighter jets could be put to a referendum,

Swiss decision to purchase US fighter jets could force second referendum
Swiss fighter jets. Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

Switzerland’s government on Wednesday backed the purchase of 36 F-35A fighter jets from Lockheed Martin to replace its fleet and five Patriot air defence units from fellow US manufacturer Raytheon.

Switzerland’s current air defence equipment will reach the end of its service life in 2030 and has been undergoing a long and hotly-contested search for replacements.

“The Federal Council is confident that these two systems are the most suitable for protecting the Swiss population from air threats in the future,” the government said in a statement.

‘No Trump fighter jets’: Swiss don’t want to buy American planes

The decision will now be put to the Swiss parliament — and also risks being challenged at the ballot box, with left-wingers and an anti-militarist group looking to garner enough signatures to trigger a public vote.

The F-35A was chosen ahead of the Airbus Eurofighter; the F/A-18 Super Hornet by Boeing; and French firm Dassault’s Rafale.

For the ground-based air defence (GBAD) system, Patriot was selected ahead of SAMP/T by France’s Eurosam.

“An evaluation has revealed that these two systems offer the highest overall benefit at the lowest overall cost,” the government statement said. Switzerland is famously neutral. However, its long-standing position is one of armed neutrality and the landlocked European country has mandatory conscription for men.

“A fleet of 36 aircraft would be large enough to cover Switzerland’s airspace protection needs over the longer term in a prolonged situation of heightened tensions,” the government said.

“The air force must be able to ensure that Swiss airspace cannot be used by foreign parties in a military conflict.” 

Long path to decision 

Switzerland began to seek replacements for its ageing fleet of fighter jets more than a decade ago, but the issue has become caught up in a political battle in the wealthy Alpine nation.

The Swiss government has long argued for the need to quickly replace its 30 or so F/A-18 Hornets, which will reach the end of their lifespan in 2030, and the F-5 Tigers, which have been in service for four decades and are not equipped for night flights.

In 2014, the country looked set to purchase 22 Gripen E fighter jets from Swedish group Saab, only to see the public vote against releasing the funds needed to go forward with the multi-billion-dollar deal.

Bern launched a new selection process four years later, and a referendum last year to release six billion Swiss francs ($6.5 billion) for the purchase of the fighters of the government’s choice squeezed through with 50.1 percent of voters in favour.

During the referendum campaign, the government warned that without a swift replacement for its fleet, “Switzerland will no longer be in a position to protect and even less defend its airspace by 2030”.

Currently, the fleet does not have the capacity to support ground troops for reconnaissance missions or to intervene against ground targets.

Meanwhile Switzerland’s current GBAD system is also old and lacks the capacity to meet the widening spectrum of modern threats.

The military currently relies on a range of Rapier and Stinger short-range missiles that have been in service since 1963.