The issue of foreign meddling in the Swiss referendum is highly controversial. That became clear a few weeks ago when rumours spread that Gripen manufacturer Saab had financed campaigners who are in favour of the Swiss air force deal. Saab faced a lot of criticism and media attention then.
Now, several Swedish ministers are denying any knowledge of the operation which the Swedish state is involved in. One of them is Minister for Trade, Ewa Björling.
“I don’t know anything about that. I think that question should be put to Saab and to FXM, the Swedish Defence and Security Export Agency,” Björling tells Swedish Radio News. She adds that, to her knowledge, the government is not involved in any such activities.
Carl Bildt, Sweden’s minister for foreign affairs, also denies any knowledge of Sweden’s efforts to impact the Swiss referendum.
“No, we’re not involved in the Swiss referendum,” says Bildt. He adds that the Swedish embassy in Switzerland does cooperate with the Swiss Department of Defence, but that is par for the course, says Bildt.
Asked whether Sweden is involved in any attempts to secure a yes vote in the referendum, Bildt says: “I don’t know and there’s no way I could know about all the Swedish activities within a referendum campaign. I hardly know what’s going on in the Swedish election campaign.”
But in the past few months, Björling and Bildt, along with five other Swedish ministers, have received classified reports from the Swedish ambassador in Switzerland, Per Thöresson. Those reports outline the entire Swedish operation.
In the letters, Thöresson explains that the Swiss minister for defence, Ueli Maurer, had asked Sweden to assist Switzerland on the referendum. His wish was for Sweden to arrange as many activities as possible that would encourage the Swiss people to vote in favour of the Jas Gripen deal.
The activities started this autumn. There were many talks and meetings, including one where Thöresson, Saab representatives, Swedish and Swiss army officers and representatives of various authorities discussed the plans for Sweden’s involvement.
The Swedish embassy would arrange an exclusive interview with Bildt and place positive articles about Sweden in Swiss media. Sweden would also arrange a series of concerts and seminars.
Thöresson wanted Swiss television to cover Maurer’s participation in this year’s Vasa ski race in Sweden. And Maurer wanted to arrange regular air shows with Gripen jets in Switerland, including during the Alpine Ski World Cup in March. The idea is to give the Swiss people as positive an image as possible of Sweden.
According to Thöresson’s classified letter, Maurer had “given his blessing” to the detailed plan. In a letter dated December 17th, Thöresson wrote: “The only thing that’s left to do now is to win the referendum.”
Reporters from Swedish Radio asked Thöresson about the plan. He answered: “This is not a list intended to impact public opinion, it’s a list of all the events that we have planned and I have deemed that other people should be informed about those plans so that we, on the Swedish side, can coordinate our activities, and so that we don’t send out contradictory signals.”
Thöresson writes to the Swedish embassy in Stockholm that the plan could help tip the scales in the referendum and that "all we need to do now is win the referendum".
"You can interpret it any way you want, but everything points to that the referendum will be very close. I see no problem with us carrying out our plan," Thöresson told Swedish Radio News when confronted with the details.
Defense Minister Karin Enström tells Swedish Radio News that it is in Sweden's interest for Switzerland to carry out this cooperation. "I think it's completely natural that we have an exchange with Switzerland, and that can also include visits. I've met my Swiss colleague several times and it is natural that we talk about these issues," she says.