SWITZERLAND – The Swiss interior ministry has extended the period of consultation about changes to the AHV first pillar pension system by three months following protests from political parties.

It said cantons, parties and associations have until July 31 to put forward their suggestions.

Last May the government–backed changes to the welfare system, which include four key elements, such as the raising of the retirement age for women to 65 , were defeated in a popular referendum.

The government is now working with parties and associations on a new set of proposal for changes in a bid to cut costs.

The May deadline for the consultation has been seen in some quarters as too hasty and has triggered protests. The Green Party, the Social Democrats (SP) and the Christian Democrats are threatening to boycott a May 23-24 meeting called by interior minister Pascal Couchepin.

“The first pillar is the most important social factor in Switzerland, accelerated procedures are not called for here,” said Christian Democrat president Doris Leuthard.

SP president Hans-Jürg Fehr said in a statement that the party had written to Couchepin to demand an “orderly consultation”.

“There is no emergency which would legitimise such a procedure,” he said.

The ministry stressed in its statement that the May 23 and 24 meeting would go ahead as scheduled.

It also said that the cantons, associations and organisations had already invited to express their opinions in January and February.

“The majority was of the opinion of the Federal Council, that the financial security of the AHV is threatened and appropriate measures are inevitable.”

The Federal Council is to consider the four key element of the revision in the coming autumn. A second comprehensive revision is being prepared for 2008 and 2009. The interior ministry was not available for comment due to a public holiday.