COLOGNE, Germany — Swiss voters have approved a government plan to spend $6.5 billion on new fighter aircraft by a margin of 8,670 votes, with the two U.S. vendors in the race feeling the backlash of anti-Trump sentiments.
Sunday’s vote translates into a razor-thin majority of 50.1 percent, or 1,605,700 votes, in favor of the acquisition. There was 49.9 percent, or 1,597,030 votes, against. The voter turnout was 59.4 percent, according to figures published online Sunday evening by the Federal Chancellery.
Defence Minister Viola Amherd told reporters she considers the result, however close, a mandate to continue ongoing evaluations of the Eurofighter, the Rafale, the F-18 Super Hornet and the F-35A.
“The vote represents a long-term investment in the security of the Swiss population and infrastructure,” she said.
Prodded by reporters about the the narrowness of the vote, she said: “In a democracy it’s a given that we respect the majority decision.”
The Swiss legislature last week approved the budget for the Air 2030 modernization program, which includes $6.5 billion for 30-40 new aircraft and $2 billion for a complementary ground-based, air defense system.
Amherd stressed that the aircraft budget is to be seen as a ceiling. “If we can get suitable aircraft for less, we will certainly look at that,” she said.
All vendors must meet a deadline of Nov. 18 to deliver final proposals. The government will then evaluate the bids throughout the first half of 2021 and make a decision on the aircraft type and missile defense hardware by June.
Opponents of the plan could still derail it by seeking another referendum, a step that would require 100,000 signatures and could take years to unfold.
The Swiss opposition was energized in part by voters' views about the government of U.S. President Donald Trump, according to local media reports. During the pre-referendum campaign, the two U.S. vendors in the running, Boeing and Lockheed Martin, saw themselves lumped in with his foreign policy approach, considered reckless by many in the wealthy European countries such as Switzerland.
Sebastian Sprenger is Europe editor for Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multinational investments in defense and global security. He previously served as managing editor for Defense News.