, GENEVA, September 11- The lower house of the Swiss parliament gave its blessing Wednesday to a controversial deal to purchase 22 Swedish fighter jets.
With 118 votes in favour and 67 opposed, Switzerland’s National Council greenlighted the deal, agreeing to release the 3.13 billion Swiss francs ($3.35 billion, 2.52 billion euros) needed to buy Saab’s JAS 39 Gripen combat jets.
The vote marks an important step forward for the deal, which has hit several bumps amid concern in Switzerland over the spending cuts it will entail in other areas.
Nearly two thirds, or 63 percent, of the Swiss polled for a survey published by the SonntagsBlick weekly on Sunday said they were opposed to the purchase of the Gripen jets.
A full 60 percent of those questioned meanwhile said they were opposed to their small Alpine nation buying any new fighter jets at all, regardless of the seller.
The upper house of the Swiss parliament will now need to reconsider the deal after it approved the purchase in March but refused to release the funds needed.
If it too gives its full blessing to the deal, which is part of a larger order for the planes to be shared with Sweden in a bid to cut production costs, the agreement will likely still need to be put to a popular vote as part of Switzerland’s direct democratic system.
According to media reports, that vote would likely take place during the first half of 2014.