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.

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Swiss government indicates support for same-sex marriage as referendum date set

The Swiss government on Tuesday indicated it would be backing the same-sex marriage campaign ahead of September’s referendum on the issue.

Swiss government indicates support for same-sex marriage as referendum date set
A rainbow flag. Photo: ALEX HALADA / AFP

In a press conference on Tuesday, Swiss Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter spoke out in favour of marriage for all, saying the Federal Council was in favour ahead of the vote this September. 

In supporting the Federal Council’s case, Keller-Sutter said “the state should not dictate to people how they have to organise their private and family life.”

If the proposal passes when put to a vote in September, not only will it allow people to marry someone of the same sex, but it will end unequal treatment with regard to naturalisation, adoption and reproductive medicine. 

Currently, same-sex couples cannot adopt children together in Switzerland, while it is more difficult for a same-sex partner to be naturalised than a partner of a different sex. 

When will Switzerland vote on same-sex marriage?

Switzerland will hold a referendum on same-sex marriage on September 26th.

As yet the only other question to be considered on September 26th is an initiative to reduce taxes

Switzerland is one of the few remaining countries in Europe where same-sex marriage is not legal.

If approved, Switzerland would become the 29th country in the world to allow same-sex marriage.

Why is the referendum taking place?

The Swiss parliament approved a bill in December allowing same-sex couples to marry.

However, under Switzerland’s direct democracy system, new laws can be challenged and put to a referendum if more than 50,000 valid signatures are collected within 100 days.

Opponents in the wealthy nation of 8.6 million people gathered more than 60,000 valid signatures, the government said in a statement.

The Swiss normally vote three to four times a year on a wide range of topics at the national, regional and local levels — either laws challenged by petition or proposals that have gathered enough signatures.

A date for the vote, described as the “referendum against ‘marriage for all’,” has not yet been set.

READ MORE: Switzerland to hold same-sex marriage referendum

The law’s opponents, including members of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) — the country’s biggest — and the marginal, similarly right-wing populist Federal Democratic Union, had said they would try to trigger a referendum.

The SVP said it was “intolerable to want to place marriage on an equal footing with any form of cohabitation”. Same-sex couples can register a civil partnership in Switzerland.

However, this status does not provide the same rights as marriage, including for obtaining citizenship and the joint adoption of children.