Parliament begins Spring session
The Spring session of the Swiss parliament is underway. One of the main items on the agenda is the question of compensation for the wood industry following Hurricane Lothar.
The Spring session of the Swiss parliament is underway and one of the main items on the agenda is compensation for the wood industry following Hurricane Lothar.
Emergency legislation was drafted after Lothar devastated Switzerland's forests at the end of December. The strong winds felled some 15 million trees, which is equivalent to two year's wood harvest.
The government is proposing to spend SFr600 million to help people dispose of the excess wood. The industry's problems have been compounded by the drop in world timber prices, so that the wood lying in Switzerland's forests is too expensive to process or export.
Another key issue is the opening up of the electricity market. Switzerland's electricity utilities are owned mainly by the cantons and in some cases by local communities.
It is government policy, in line with the rest of Europe, to liberalise access and supply on the electricity market. However, the issue is contentious because of the interests of the cantons involved and is expected to spark some lively debate.
The most controversial issue up for debate is whether the constitution should be changed to allow Swiss soldiers to carry weapons on foreign missions, such as peacekeeping duties. Right-wing groups, led by the Swiss People's Party, are determined to prevent this, saying it increases the risk of Swiss soldiers being injured.
The government's draft legislation has attempted a balancing act, by imposing very strict parliamentary controls which would treat foreign missions on an individual basis. Parliament would not only control the budget, but could decide when, where and in what numbers Swiss soldiers would carry arms abroad.
From staff and wire reports
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