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Path clear for Swiss purchase of US F-35 fighters

Swiss lawmakers voted Thursday to proceed with the controversial purchase of F-35 fighter jets without holding a referendum sought by opponents of the deal.

Path clear for Swiss purchase of US F-35 fighters
Switzerland can purchase F-35A fighter jets, MPs decided. Photo: Michael Heiman/Getty Images/AFP

The lower house National Council gave the government the go-ahead to buy the 36 aircraft from US manufacturer Lockheed Martin by a large majority.

The upper house, the Council of States where Switzerland’s cantons are represented, has already approved the acquisition.

The Swiss government said last month it planned to go ahead with the acquisition of the combat aircraft despite a petition to hold a popular vote
on the issue.

The left-leaning “Stop-F-35” alliance handed over the 100,000 signatures required under Switzerland’s direct democracy system to take any subject to a vote.

But the government said there would not be enough time to hold a vote before Lockheed Martin’s offer for the F-35A aircraft expired, which would have left Switzerland unable to replace its ageing fleet of fighter jets.

Switzerland decided in June 2021 to acquire F-35A jets and has until March 2023 to sign the contract.

In September 2020, Swiss voters narrowly approved six billion Swiss francs to replace the country’s fleet of F/A-18 Hornets.

The selection of the F-35 sparked some controversy, particularly in light of the cost-overruns of the fighter programme in the United States, but a
Swiss parliamentary investigation did not call into question the selection of the fighter.

Switzerland will join a growing number of European countries which have opted for the stealth multi-role combat aircraft, including Belgium, Britain,
Denmark, Finland, Italy, Greece, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, and Poland.

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Swiss finance minister makes surprise decision to quit

Swiss Finance Minister Ueli Maurer, 71, announced he would resign at the end of the year in a surprise move on Friday after more than four decades in politics.

Swiss finance minister makes surprise decision to quit

He is the longest serving member of the Federal Council — Switzerland’s seven-member government — having been a member since January 2009. He has held the finance brief since January 2016 after seven years as the defence minister.

“I have been in politics for more than 40 years, 14 of them in the Federal Council. It is a fascinating task,” Maurer told a hastily arranged press conference.

However, “during the last year, I thought that I still have a lot of energy to do something else”, he said, announcing his resignation.

“I already have plans,” the Zurich father-of-six said, without revealing his intentions, adding that he was leaving “with one eye smiling and one eye crying”.

Maurer served twice as Switzerland’s president — which rotates annually among Federal Council members — in 2013 and 2019.

He chaired the Swiss People’s Party from 1996 to 2008. The right-wing, populist SVP has been Switzerland’s biggest party since 2003.

“Without Ueli Maurer, the SVP would never have become the country’s leading political force,” Le Temps newspaper said.

The Tages-Anzeiger daily said he was “one of the most versatile Swiss politicians of recent decades, unpredictable and agile”.

The election of his successor on the Federal Council is expected to take place on December 7. Ministers are elected by parliament.

The major parties share out the seven seats according to a so-called “magic formula” which has evolved over time.

The SVP, the centre-left Socialist Party and the centre-right Liberals have two ministers each, with the centre-right Centre party allocated one.

The left-wing Green Party hopes to secure a first-ever seat with a strong performance in the 2023 parliamentary elections.