ZURICH Nov 14 Switzerland's government asked
parliament to approve financing for its controversial purchase
of 22 Gripen fighter jets and warned the measure could face
stiff opposition if put to a referendum.
Switzerland plans to buy 22 JAS-39 Gripens, made by Sweden's
Saab, at a cost of 3.126 billion Swiss francs ($3.30
billion) to replace its aging Northrop F-5E/F Tiger fighters.
But the move is unpopular with some because it will require
spending cuts in other areas, such as education.
On Wednesday, the government presented a financing package
for the Gripen buy, which parliament must now vote upon. The
acquisition can also still be derailed by a popular referendum.
Defence Minister Ueli Maurer told a news conference he
expected to get a green light from parliament but that
convincing citizens would be more challenging.
"In the parliament we're not in the clear yet, but I think
the cards are in our favour," said Maurer, a member of the
right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP).
The head of the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) has
indicated he was sceptical about the acquisition; the measure
needs the FDP's backing in parliament to pass.
"I regard the people as the biggest hurdle. We will probably
vote on it at a time when the economy doesn't have much
momentum," Maurer said. "And then people wonder if you should be
spending that much on planes."
Switzerland is seeing economic momentum slow, as the debt
crisis afflicts countries in the euro zone, its biggest trading
The Green party said in a statement it would seek a
referendum if parliament approved funding for the jets, saying
the money should instead be used to safeguard the environment.
In Switzerland, a referendum can be held on federal laws if
at least 50,000 people or eight cantons have petitioned for one
within 100 days of the item's official publication.
($1 = 0.9475 Swiss francs)
(Reporting by Catherine Bosley; editing by Keiron Henderson)