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Parliamentary session marked by budget cuts

Good spirits in parliament despite tough negotiations Keystone

The summer session of parliament draws to a close on Friday, leaving some political parties with more to celebrate than others.

This content was published on June 17, 2005 - 08:21

The three-week sitting was dominated mainly by moves to cut federal spending.

For the centre-right parties, who had mostly supported the savings programmes, the results were positive. Both Doris Leuthard, the president of the Christian Democrats, and Radical Party leader Felix Gutzwiller said they were satisfied with the latest round of public-spending cuts.

But Hans-Jürg Fehr, the president of the centre-left Social Democrats, said he regretted that his party had not been able to impose its views during the most important debates. As for the rightwing Swiss People’s Party, it said the cuts did not go far enough.

Cutbacks

On Wednesday parliament finalised federal budget cuts aimed at saving SFr4.8 billion ($3.7 billion) between 2006-2008.

Most of the cutbacks – the third savings package in recent history – will be in social welfare, transport, education and research and foreign aid.

Approval came shortly after parliament voted through a new version of the military’s arms procurement programme for 2004.

Its original wish list was sent back to the drawing board in March following disagreement over the inclusion of two air transporters that would have cost SFr109 million.

The pared down military budget for 2004 now stands at SFr409 million, a significant reduction on the original proposal which would have cost SFr647 million.

Total federal spending in 2004 reached SFr50.29 billion, resulting in a further - but already much reduced - deficit of about SFr1.6 billion. Total government debt was nearly SFr127 billion, or just under 29 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).

Heated debate

Just how much should be shaved off the federal budget was the subject of heated debate in parliament.

The Social Democrats favoured fewer cuts, fearing that making too many savings would lead to more unemployment. The People’s Party wanted to cut further, but acknowledged that the end result was a step in the right direction.

The centre-right parties had no argument with the final SFr4.8 billion figure. "It was necessary to get this savings exercise through, because the federal finances are still in disorder," said Leuthard.

Last time

Both the Radicals and the Christian Democrats stated that it was time to draw a line under the recent rounds of deep public-spending cuts. They said it was not possible to keep making cuts across the board.

"Simply cutting everywhere is not a policy," said Gutzwiller. "We must start making real policies again."

Fehr agreed, saying that some people had mixed up politics and cost-cutting measures, thinking that if they agreed on savings they had fulfilled their political mandate.

However, this is not the view taken by the People’s Party, which maintains that Switzerland has been far too lax in its spending.

"We have to make some corrections to expenditure and adapt it to economic growth," said the party’s Caspar Baader.

Differences over the army

Different opinions between Left and Right were also seen in the case of the army. The Social Democrats rejected the original procurement programme over cost concerns, whereas the People’s Party sent it back because it is opposed to military involvement abroad.

"We will stand by a higher military procurement plan in the future, as long as it’s not aimed at activities abroad," said Baader.

For the Radicals, the potential for savings in the military is now exhausted, while the Social Democrats' Fehr says there is more fat to be trimmed.

"At the moment the army is far too big; it has the wrong mandate," said Fehr. "It’s still possible to make more savings."

swissinfo

In brief

Parliament debated several important topics during its three-week summer session.

The House of Representatives debated the federal budget cuts, the military budget and the animal rights and domestic market laws.

The Senate also considered the federal and military budgets, as well as a law on wildlife protection.

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