Fighter jet initiative is coming – and will probably remain without consequences
It is only a matter of days before what is probably the most public initiative in Switzerland will reach the Federal Chancellery. It could be as early as next Thursday.
Rarely has there been such a hype about a referendum in Switzerland. The public was able to follow the launch of the “Stopp-F-35” initiative by the Switzerland without Army (GSoA), SP and Greens group in real time. There were regular water level reports on the signatures collected; Rumor has it that some journalists even ambushed stands to compare the figures reported there with those on the website.
The public interest is explained by the complex situation. After all, it’s about a lot of money that Switzerland wants to spend on new fighter jets, six billion francs – and fighter jets have often been a platform for directional decisions in the past, often highly controversial at the ballot box. The question quickly turns to whether Switzerland should have a classic army.
The discussion about the F-35 received additional impetus with the outbreak of the Ukraine war, not least thanks to Defense Minister Viola Amherd. At first she wanted to wait for the initiative before signing the purchase contracts. She later put pressure on the initiative, preferring not to vote at all.
Waiting for the communities
Despite all the banter: Now the time has come. According to several sources, the GSoA has requested an official filing date from the Federal Chancellery. It’s Thursday August 11th, so next week. However, this is the earliest possible date. Whether it can be adhered to is not in the hands of the initiators. “It is up to the municipalities to send back the certified signatures as quickly as possible,” said the GSoA when asked. On Monday, the initiative committee makes a checkout. Then it should be clear whether it is already enough for next Thursday.
But the even greater race against time only begins when the signatures are handed over. Switzerland has negotiated a preliminary contract for the fighter jet deal with the USA, which expires at the end of March. Should the Swiss voters give their blessing to this type of decision beforehand, the only option left is the voting date of mid-March. However, it is doubtful at this point in time that this can be adhered to, as the “Tages-Anzeiger” already calculated.
It takes good will on all levels
“For the “Stop F-35″ initiative to be considered for a vote on March 12, 2023, the maximum deadlines of the Federal Council (approval of the message) and Parliament (federal decision) would have to be significantly undercut,” the Federal Chancellery announced on request. Specifically: In order for the Federal Council to be able to start the vote by November at the latest, the National Council and the Council of States must already deal with the business in the autumn session. Before that, a message from the Federal Council would be needed.
For comparison: Normally, the Federal Council can take up to a year to formulate the message for an initiative. For Parliament, there is even a maximum period of 30 months between submission and final votes. It would therefore need an urgent procedure at all levels of federal politics – and with it a lot of good will to submit the initiative a special status. This is not necessarily to be assumed; the initiative is likely to have a difficult time in both chambers.
On the occasion of the minaret initiative, the Federal Council proved that it can pick up the pace. Less than 24 hours passed after the submission, and the state government had already recommended that the request be rejected. But even then, more than a year passed before the voting date.