The Swiss government has blocked an initiative that sought to call a referendum on the acquisition of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter for the country’s air force.
The association Stop F-35, launched by two political parties, the Socialist Party and the Greens, as well as the lobby organization ‘Group for a Switzerland without an Army’ (GSsA), officially filed their challenge to the order on August 16, 2022, after having collected enough signatures. The Swiss system requires 100,000 signatures for a “popular initiative” ‒ the Swiss referendum model ‒ to be considered.
But less than a week later, the Federal Office for Civil Protection (DDPS) said it had no time to organize a popular vote before the deal that it has agreed with the United States expired.
The contracts relating to the order with the United States have to be signed before March 31, 2023. The order has been priced at 5 billion Swiss francs ($5.4 billion).
“If the signature of the acquisition contracts does not occur before the end of March 2023, additional negotiations will be necessary to extend the validity of the offer,” the DDPS said in a statement issued on August 24, 2022. “This will not be able to be done at fixed prices due to inflation and increased demand.”
The DDPS added that if its acquisition of the fighters was delayed by a referendum, it may lose its delivery slot, especially given how other countries including Finland, Germany and Canada have also announced their intention to acquire the aircraft. Switzerland hopes its first F-35 will be delivered to the Swiss Air Force by 2025.
“A delay in the acquisition would have serious consequences in terms of security policy,” the DDPS warned. “By 2030, the population would no longer be protected against aerial threats and dangers.”
The Federal Council of Switzerland plans to acquire 36 F-35s that would replace the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C/D Hornets and the few remaining Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II antiques of the Swiss Air Force. The fifth-generation fighter jet was competing against the Dassault Rafale, the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, and the Eurofighter Typhoon.
“A parody of functional democracy”
The Coalition against the F-35 strongly condemned the DDPS decision.
“With today’s decision, the Federal Council wants to avoid a fact-based public debate regarding the acquisition of the F-35, the most expensive arms contract in Swiss history,” it said in a press release.
“The DDPS was already aware of the alleged delays in this case,” Pierre-Alain Fridez of the Swiss Socialist Party added. “The fact that a popular vote is now prevented after the initiative was filed even though the signature collection only lasted a year is a parody of functional democracy in which relevant minorities are respected.”
The association called the members of the Swiss Parliament to reject the deadline for the contracts’ signature.
“We demand that voters be able to vote on the largest arms contract in Swiss history. No more, no less,” concluded Fridez.