13 July 2017
Income-generating real estates for sale in Lugano - Switzerland
We sell income-generating luxury real estates in Lugano and surrounding areas Our services cater to institutional private investors, investment trusts, insurances, private owners etc.., desiring to purchase properties and invest in our canton. Included in our portfolio you can find income-generating luxury buildings situated in strategic locations in the City Centre of Lugano or in sought-after locations along the Lugano Lake! We offer long-term and safe investment amidst global uncertainty. Exposed photos are just advertising photos!
3 May 2017
Exclusive vacation apartment for rent in Engadin - Switzerland
The big luxury apartment is equipped with all the modern comforts and has been beautifully furnished mixing sophisticated alpine original details with contemporary art and design. This exclusive residence, decorated with original antique wood floors, is spread over three connected levels. The two spacious lounges make up the biggest Suler in the upper Engadin, with gorgeous typical arches of the valley. They allow for the perfect relaxing atmosphere and sophisticated gatherings amongst family and friends. The apartment is placed in an ancient Engadin house dating back to 1595, located in the village of La Punt, a sunny and prestigious area of Engadin valley. The whole house has been completely renovated, using furnishings, fabrics and natural materials and stone of high quality; it has been designed to ensure the best combination of hospitality and luxury. Flanked by evergreen trees and a garden, it is located in a quiet and exclusive residential village. The apartment is equipped with a rich white porcelain service, and elegant cutlery and glasses; a wonderful original wood table sits up to 12 people. For informal meals, you can use a comfortable table placed in the stunning dining kitchen with a bowled ceiling. The kitchen is a high end kitchen from Boffi equipped with all the latest devices and tools. From the kitchen you can also access a small delightful private garden. 6 bedroom - 5 bathroom - 4 parking places -
20 April 2017
For rent spacious villa near the city of Lugano
We are renting a lovely and spacious detached villa in a classic style, 7 minutes by car from the center of Lugano. It is on the high Pregassona hill, near the nursery school, primary and secondary schools with a bus stop in the immediate vicinity. The house perfectly lends itself to a family with children thanks to both the location as well as the flat garden surrounding the property. The villa is composed as follows: In the garage is: (Tot. 972M2) - Garage for 1 car and 1 motorcycle - Boiler room - Cellar - Hobby and Bunker room At the entrance floor: (tot. 154M2) - Entrance hall and staircase connecting to the upper floor (night) and the underground floor (garage) - Living-dining room with a fireplace and garden exit - Guest toilet - 1 Small studio - 2 adjoining rooms with garden exit - 1 spacious kitchen Upper floor (Tot. 87M2) - 2 bedrooms - 1 master bedroom with bath (bathtub) and garden exit - 1 bedroom with bath (shower) and balcony and veranda The villa was built in 1983 and renovated in 2004. A new kitchen and new bathrooms were installed in 2015/16. Grates were installed in front of all the windows, which can be moved to the side like an accordion. Total 340M2 including the garage floor. Available immediately.
20 January 2017
New beautiful apartment with view on the lake of Lugano
The apartment is on the first floor, 3.5 rooms and a total surface of 151 sq mt (1626.35 sq ft,) a huge living room with open space kitchen, two roomy bedrooms, one with bathtub and one with shower. All apartments have a separate entry and a private, direct access elevator with security key and gate on each entrance. The CHF 65,000 price for the garage on the ground floor is not included. Every unit may purchase more than one parking spot. A 74 sq mt terrace (796.53 sq ft) completely surrounds the apartment. Next to it is a 16 sq mt (172.22 sq ft) small garden. Delivery is scheduled for Match 31th 2017. Until February 28th it is still possible to customize your own apartment with materials of your choice, choosing your kitchen and make some small changes in the apartment. Buyer can also benefit from a low and profitable 67% municipal tax multiplier.
20 January 2017
A new, elegant Penthouse with a breathtaking view of Lake Lugano, facing S-SW , about to be completed.
The penthouse consist of 3.5 rooms and a total surface of 142 sq mt a huge living room with fireplace and open space kitchen, two roomy bedrooms, one with bathtub, one with shower and one guest WC. All apartments have a separate entry and a private, direct access elevator with security key and gate on each entrance. The CHF 65,000 price for the garage on the ground floor is not included. Every unit may purchase more than one parking spot.A large and sunny terrace measuring 118 sq mt facing S-SW.Delivery is scheduled for Match 31th 2017. Until February 28th it is still possible to customize your own apartment with materials of your choice, choosing your kitchen and make some small changes in the apartment.
1 November 2016
For rent - Villa in Origlio
Beautiful house for rent in Origlio with 5-6 bedroom, 4 bathroom, a big living and dining room, big kitchen and a separate dining room with garden view. Utility room and wine cellar, indoor swimming pool and gym. Garage for 2 cars, 1 car under roof and another 6-8 rank outside.Utility room and wine cellar, indoor swimming pool and gym. Garage for 2 cars, 1 car under roof and another 6-8 rank outside. Ask for more information!
19 September 2016
Attica apartment for rent in Savosa-Lugano
For rent, new buildings apartment in Savosa - Lugano. 2 Bed rooms, 2 bathrooms, 40 sqm terrace with a very sunny openspace kitchen with livingroom. Last floor, only 6 apartments with 2 places for the cars, storage and washroom. A beautiful park just out the entrance.
28 July 2016
NEW Real Estate web site by SWISSED!
Have a look at our new Real Estate website! Soon we will have our site translated into English, German, Russian and Chinese! Your Swissed Team
22 June 2016
News about SWISSED!
We have a lot of news! In the next week we inform you! Your Swissed Team
2 May 2016
Politics
Concerns about the country's old age pension scheme and health insurance coverage were high on the agenda of the most recent assembly of the Swiss Abroad Council. The delegates, meeting on the shores of Lake Lucerne, raised a series of practical problems. “Social security issues have been a recurring topic for the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA), just like e-voting or problems for many expats to open a bank account in Switzerland,” said OSA co-director Ariane Rustichelli during Saturday’s meeting in Brunnen. As a major reform of the old age pension system is underway in the Swiss parliament, the expat assembly focused on a voluntary scheme for Swiss citizens living outside the European Union or the countries of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). Currently, 14,000 people from outside the EU/EFTA – or 5% of the total number – benefit from the voluntary old age pension scheme, according to the Federal Social Security Office. In giving a short history of the voluntary state pension scheme, Roberto Engeler, a leading member of the OSA, conceded flaws in the system since its beginning in the late 1940s. “Reforms of the scheme were introduced at the expense of the weakest members of society or those who temporarily live outside Switzerland and miss out on regular contributions,” he added. “The problems are increasing,” he warned and called on the government to consider possibilities for a voluntary old age pension scheme regardless of the country of residence of the Swiss expats. Reforms.... see www.swissinfo.ch/eng/politics...
21 March 2016
Hurdles to merging ‘Swiss Made’ with ‘Made in China’
With Europe an increasingly attractive target for Chinese investment, some 70 Swiss brands – including the likes of Syngenta, Mercuria and Swissport – have already been subject to Chinese mergers and acquisitions. That has led to anger and doubt among some Swiss, and some Chinese, too, and raised questions on how best to bridge the two cultures. Mergers and acquisitions are a two-way street. Japan’s wave of acquisitions of Swiss brands in the 1970s and 1980s killed off quite a few of the companies that were acquired. The survival rate was less than 10%, leading the Swiss to become more cautious afterwards, experts said. Industry insiders see the Syngenta deal as following in the same model as ChemChina’s purchase of a 60% stake in Israel-based Makhteshim Agan, the largest manufacturer of generic pesticides. In 2014, the name of that company was changed to ADAMA Agricultural Solutions Ltd. In some ways, however, acquiring an overseas company can help the Chinese make an end-run around some of their own bureaucracy. "For Chinese companies, the development of strategies differ from the implementation of strategies, which is a common problem – especially for state-owned enterprises,” said Guanglian Pang, director of the China Petroleum and Chemical Industry Federation. “Having a merger with an overseas company is relatively easier and faster." Guanglian said state-run enterprises can change quickly because they have boards made up of directors that frequently come and go and prefer to launch their own reforms that can build their own reputations, rather than maintain the status quo. Their terms are limited to up to ten years, but most serve only for five years. “Swiss-made” or “Made in China”? What to do about labelling, and the connotations involved, present another conundrum. For many people, the Swiss labelling indicates high cost and top quality, while the Chinese labelling implies the opposite: low cost and poor quality. Significantly, when most Chinese enterprises acquire a Swiss brand, they will consciously avoid contact with local media in Switzerland, and also will reject an interview request from Chinese media. The main reason: To try to maintain the Swissness of a trusted brand – and its connotations of high quality. Among Chinese consumers, too, the term, "Swiss made" has gained increasing reliability. Therefore, the Chinese parent company will not readily transfer the manufacturing site to China. But when it comes to research and development, some companies, such as Swiss pharmaceutical giants Novartis and Roche, have established R&D centres in China. Experts ascribe this to not only the lower labour costs but also the ability to learn more about local consumer habits and preferences. Effect on Swiss culture Chinese mergers and acquisitions sometimes follow an “iceberg” model, with the Swiss subsidiary becoming the 1% of the company that remains exposed above ground for show purposes. Beneath the surface, Chinese companies will often operate in ways that conflict with Swiss customs in the business world, which can undermine the loyalty of employees and the trust of customers. Some Chinese companies also hunt for Swiss talent and seek out trade secrets, further tearing at the fabric of the Swiss culture of loyalty and reputation, according to Juan Wu, a researcher on international business at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences. "Some Chinese companies bring a lot of bad habits to Switzerland,” she said. “This causes great damage and has a big impact on a social culture that Swiss people have spent centuries building up on the basis of reputation and loyalty.” But, she added, by learning each other’s cultures such differences can be bridged. Chinese bosses for the Swiss When things go wrong, both sides, the Chinese and the Swiss, tend to blame it on "cultural differences". However, Guanglian said such troubles really point to a problem with Chinese management. After a merger with Swiss companies, US buyers will often implement large-scale layoffs and dismissals and upend the management. It’s a different picture with Chinese owners, who prefer to retain the integrity of the acquired companies, according to Juan. That alone is not enough to ensure that the Swiss and Chinese get on well together, however. Juan’s research since 2012 found that most Swiss executives complained about the Chinese style of management. According to the Swiss who she interviewed, Chinese bosses are used to ordering people around and publicly criticising their employees, and place too much emphasis on hierarchy, micro-managing and displays of power – in contrast to the Swiss emphasis on autonomy, discretion and privacy. One of the Swiss executives, a chief financial officer, told Juan that he “could not get used to the Chinese paternalistic style of management and Chinese staff who insist on speaking in Mandarin, and the Chinese CEO seemed to live 2000 years ago and regard himself as the king”. On the other hand, Chinese CEOs with state-run companies might have a reason for being a bad mood because they receive fixed government salaries that could be as low as CHF1,200, roughly what an apprentice might earn, though they do receive additional compensation in the form of paid living expenses such as rent and food, Guanglian said. “These hugely different salaries between the Chinese and the Swiss staff make the Chinese CEOs feel that they are nobody, so they control their staff very strictly just to show that they are somebody,” he said. Booming Chinese investment A report published in late January by PricewaterhouseCoopers showed Chinese investment abroad hit a new record of $67.4 billion in 2015, up sharply by 40% from a year earlier. Chinese investment abroad has increasingly favoured Europe over the United States. This year, for example, German industrial machinery maker KraussMaffei Group is set to be acquired by China National Chemical Corp (ChemChina). Closer to home, Swiss agrochemical company Syngenta is being bought by the same Chinese state-owned chemical company in a deal worth $43 billion (CHF43.8 billion). It stands to be the biggest acquisition ever made by a Chinese company. www.swissinfo.ch
26 Febraury 2016
Brexit and the Swiss connection – a guide
As London negotiates its relationship with Brussels, politicians in the Swiss capital Bern are hoping for a similar EU readiness to compromise. Time, however, is running out. swissinfo.ch explains a tortuous tale of three cities. On February 19, at a summit of EU leaders in Brussels, a deal was struck granting Britain an explicit exemption from the founding goal of “ever closer union”, offering concessions on the welfare rights of migrant workers and safeguards for the City of London. British voters will now decide on June 23 on “Brexit”: staying in or leaving the European Union. Switzerland has been following the talks closely. Switzerland isn’t a member of the European Union. Why does it care about Brexit? The short answer is that the Swiss cabinet is under time pressure to reach an agreement with Brussels on curbing immigration, and Brussels has said it won’t turn to Bern before sorting out London. Read more at http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/eu-priorities_brexit-and-the-swiss-connection---a-guide/41942780
26 Febraury 2016
Iran and the Swiss connection – a guide
Switzerland, like much of the rest of the world, has an eye on deepening its trade relations and other opportunities emerging from Iran’s newly open marketplace; but that’s where many of the comparisons end, because of a decades-long special relationship between the two countries. Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann’s visit to Tehran this weekend comes at a special time, just after the implementation of a nuclear deal by six world powers aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting some of the international sanctions that have crippled its economy. Here, swissinfo.ch explains some of the new opportunities emerging from Iran’s domestic market of almost 80 million people, but also some of the potential pitfalls in a theocratic Islamic republic. What is the purpose of Schneider-Ammann’s visit? The Swiss president joins a growing line of world leaders who are making a visit to Iran to size up the opportunities and send a message that encourages new investment. In late January, the Chinese president was the first to visit Tehran since the nuclear deal took effect. The lifting of sanctions against Iran, plus the release of up to $100 billion (CHF100.5 billion) in frozen Iranian assets as part of the nuclear agreement, will help revitalize the Iranian economy. Schneider-Ammann, whose delegation will include several dozen handpicked Swiss business and academic leaders, also represents Switzerland’s growing portfolio of diplomatic responsibilities involving Iran. What are those new diplomatic responsibilities? Only this month Switzerland announced it has agreed to represent Saudi Arabia’s interests in Iran so that Iranians can continue to visit the kingdom. Switzerland separately offered to represent Iranian interests in Saudi Arabia, once the Swiss representation of Saudi Arabia is clearly established. Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Iran in January after protesters outraged over the kingdom's execution of a prominent Shiite cleric set fire to the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and another diplomatic mission. The Swiss role would primarily be to facilitate visits by Iranian Muslims to Saudi Arabia for religious pilgrimages. Read more http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/switzerland-iran_iran-and-the-swiss-connection---a-guide/41966946
2 Febraury 2016
2,000 Swiss Volkswagen owners opt for legal action
Between 1,500 and 2,000 owners of Volkswagen cars have filed legal complaints against the German automotive giant, according to the Swiss Attorney General’s Office. However, it is unlikely they will receive financial compensation. The Attorney General’s Office is coordinating the multiple complaints related to the emissions rigging scandal. The dossier comprising all the complaints will be forwarded to the German Braunschweig public prosecutor that is investigating the scandal. “Our German colleagues have already opened a similar procedure,” André Marty, spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office, told Swiss public television, SRF, on Monday. He also added that the chances of Swiss car owners receiving compensation was slim compared to American ones, due to difference in legal systems. In the US, Volkswagen offered its aggrieved customers $1,000 (CHF1,019) vouchers and a similar option is being considered for the Audi brand as well. In Switzerland, approximately 180,000 vehicles are equipped emission rigging software, according to the Federal Roads Office. Swiss consumer protection groups are currently working on a compensation agreement with AMAG, the country’s largest importer of Volkswagen cars. Slow recall In January, the German roads authority KBA approved in principle the measures proposed by Volkswagen for the recall of vehicles that benefited from modifications masking actual emission levels. But before the recall can begin, measures specific to each vehicle will have to be approved separately. This process is expected to be completed by autumn 2016. All owners of “offending” cars have to register their vehicles with the Swiss importer AMAG or their local dealer so that they can be informed in advance of the recall campaign. swissinfo.ch and agencies Log In You must be logged in to comment.
2 Febraury 2016
Switzerland tops Europe for economic freedom
Switzerland is the most economically free country in Europe, according to an annual index by the Heritage Foundation, an American conservative think tank. “Notable successes” were judged to be rule of law, open markets and regulatory efficiency. A concern was control of government spending. “The Swiss economy benefits from high levels of flexibility and institutional strengths that include strong protection of property rights and minimum tolerance for corruption,” wrote the authors of the 2016 Index of Economic Freedom, which measures a country’s freedom in terms of property rights and freedom from government regulation. “Openness to global trade and investment has enabled Switzerland to become one the world’s most competitive and innovative economies.” Switzerland came fourth in the overall ranking, behind Hong Kong, Singapore and New Zealand. It was one of five countries, along with Australia, placed in the “free” category.
12 January 2016
Swiss companies strive to remain competitive
Export-oriented Swiss companies have accomplished a great deal in the year since the Swiss National Bank did away with the euro peg, but they’re not yet over the hump, says Daniel Küng, head of Switzerland Global Enterprise. “You have to tip your hat to these companies – it’s commendable what they’ve done recently in order to remain competitive,” said Küng in an interview in the Sunday newspaper NZZ am Sonntag. A survey conducted by Switzerland Global Enterprise shows that companies have taken a range of actions in order to remain competitive, among them optimising procurement, calculating in euros or dollars, reducing salaries, sinking production costs, raising prices, searching for other lucrative markets, or pulling out of foreign markets. More than 90% of Swiss exporters do business in Europe, and thus have been affected by the SNB decision, says Küng. He counsels the companies to diversify; not to concentrate too exclusively on business in Europe. The biggest chances for growth for small- and medium-sized businesses lie in countries with a developing middle class, in Asia, Latin America and to an extent in the Gulf states, Küng said. Many companies have fought to retain their market shares, often at the expense of profits, according to Küng. Almost 75% of companies reported a decrease in margins. One problem with companies’ current strategies is that they have little to invest in innovation, and that will have an effect on competitiveness over the medium term, Küng said. He highlighted the importance of companies that will add value to Switzerland, such as the American biotech firm Biogen, which brought 400 jobs and a billion-franc investment to Solothurn. But whereas 500 foreign companies new to Switzerland brought 3,500 new jobs in 2005, the number of new firms dropped to 274 and the number of jobs to 800 in 2014, said Küng. Reasons for the decline include not only the strong increase in the value of the Swiss franc, but also the uncertainty of the political situation in Switzerland in connection with a recent spate of people’s initiatives. swissinfo.ch
12 January 2016
New faces for main parties but hardly new policy
The planned changes at the helm of Switzerland’s biggest political party, dominated by strongman Christoph Blocher, is unlikely to herald a new era in politics. The conservative right Swiss People’s Party joins two of the country’s other main parties in changing their leadership. “The People’s Party has been streamlined and there are no longer major dissenting voices,” says Georg Lutz, political scientist at the University of Lausanne. He is not in the least surprised by the latest announcements over the weekend. Lutz says it makes perfect sense to seek a renewal of the leadership three months after the elections, which saw the rightwing party winning a record 65 seats in the 200-member House of Representatives. Although a president of a political party in Switzerland is less powerful than in many other countries – as he or she is neither in the government nor leader of the opposition – it is a tough and time-consuming task, says Lutz. A 24-hour availability for an often only modest salary takes its toll, it is widely agreed. Toni Brunner announced his resignation on Saturday after eight years as president of his party and apparently no ambition to be elected to Switzerland’s seven-member multi-party cabinet. Brunner’s counterparts, Christophe Darbellay of the centrist Christian Democratic Party and Philipp Müller of the centre-right Radical Party, are stepping down this year too. Strongman There is little doubt that Blocher will still call the shots within the People’s Party, despite his announcement that he too was withdrawing from the party leadership. The controversial 75-year-old billionaire has made it clear he has no plans of retreating from the political fray and that he will continue to fund political causes close to his heart, including his anti-European Union stance and his populist campaign against the political elite. “I won’t leave Switzerland or the People’s Party in the lurch,” Blocher is quoted in the Monday edition of the Blick newspaper. Political scientist Lutz says it is hard to imagine Blocher giving up his influential position other than for health reasons. “He still has an unbridled will to shape policy. Ultimately Blocher has always had his way with the People’s Party in the past two decades,” Lutz says. Style The designation of Brunner’s successor as party president is scheduled for April, but the decision is said to be a done deal even before the formal election by delegates. Critics argue the procedure as quasi-dictatorial and in apparent contradiction with the party’s image as a beacon of democracy. The race for the presidential seat in the two other main political groups – the Radicals and the Christian Democrats – is not decided yet, at least from an outsider’s point of view. Lutz, for his part, downplays the criticism. “The People’s Party has been run in this style for a long time with a highly professional leadership as shown in the campaign in the run-up to the cabinet elections in December.” The group re-captured its second seat in the cabinet following a major internal dispute within the party eight years ago. Strategy Whether the new appointments within the People’s Party as well as at the top of two other parties in government will have much visible impact remains to be seen. Only the leftwing Social Democratic Party shows no sign of changing its president. The designated new head of the People’s Party, Albert Rösti, not only pledged to continue the hardline policies of his predecessors. Rösti, a Swiss German speaker, is said to find it easier than Brunner to communicate in the country's other languages. Despite this apparent personal advantage, Lutz does not believe the choice of Rösti is a strategic move to boost the standing of the People’s Party in the French-speaking part of the country. “He seemed a logical choice. He proved himself a clever and successful manager of the party in the 2015 parliamentary elections,” Lutz said. A trained agricultural engineer with professional experience in administration and lobbying, Rösti goes well with the party’s traditional image as representative of rural Switzerland, according to Lutz. Yet there are doubts whether the general changing of the guards will result in closer ties between the three parties on the right which in the past often made no bones about their policy differences. “On a strictly personal level a new start may seem possible,” says Lutz. But it is another matter from a political and strategic perspective. “A closer cooperation would only work if the People’s Party were willing to compromise,” he says. The rightwing group is fighting a lone battle to curb immigration from countries in the EU, potentially jeopardising relations with Switzerland’s main trading partner. Its strict opposition to a reform of asylum procedures, approved by parliament last year, did not win the party many friends in Switzerland’s consensus-driven political system either. swissinfo.ch
30 December 2015
Happy New Year!
Sincere and warm wishes for a great New Year 2016! Your relocation team!
7 December 2015
New opening in Lugano!
We have opened a new office in center of Lugano! Via Cattedrale 7 is in the Downtown, very near to the station, to the piazza Riforma. Please call us before….we would be happy to offer you a cup of coffee and enjoy your visit!
18 November 2015
‘Switzerland is the gold standard for direct democracy’
No country on earth is more democratic than Switzerland. So says the Uruguayan political scientist David Altman. As co-leader of a big international research project to measure and compare democracy in 200 countries, he should know. Is Altman a passionate advocate of direct democracy? Not exactly, as became clear in conversation. Comparative politics is David Altman’s job. The professor at Pontificia Universidad Católica in Chile is co-leader of the research project V-Dem, in which a group of 3,000 researchers has established 400 indicators to monitor democracy in 200 countries (for details, see box below). In 2014 he published the book “Direct Democracy Worldwide.” Altman was recently invited by a colleague to speak to students at the University of Bern. swissinfo.ch met him beforehand. swissinfo.ch: Wars in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, conflict in Ukraine, a refugee crisis in Europe, deterioration in Turkey: Given this gloomy outlook, is there any good news about democracy? David Altman: In some places there is progress, in others, regression. Democracy is a very diffuse collection of instruments and mechanisms to reach decisions: Initiatives, referendums, plebiscites, the right to make counter-proposals, etc. There is no linear upward development towards progress. If we don’t nurture these institutions, one day they vanish. swissinfo.ch: What impresses you about direct democracy in Switzerland? What troubles you? D.A.: Switzerland is to a certain extent the gold standard of direct democracy. Here, each citizen can change each aspect of life. Of course not acting alone, but only if they belong to a group. If we look at the scope of direct democracy on a national, cantonal and communal level, Switzerland is the most democratic country in the world. People who do not understand the significance of the direct democracy institutions and federalism do not understand Switzerland. At stations and in trains, the announcements are multilingual, and everyone understands them. Switzerland is an example of how a multi-ethnic society can work. The Swiss have always been sensible, sober and adult. They have long experience with these institutions. The way they combine and interlock representative and direct democracy is very clever. But direct democracy isn’t without problems and tensions. The dark side is that some groups trying to advance their own agendas can abuse it. swissinfo.ch: Is there any other country where the will of the people is given as high priority as it is in Switzerland? D.A.: No. But there is very pronounced direct democracy in some US states. For example California, but above all in Washington and Oregon. As with all institutions, direct democracy can be used correctly or it can be abused. It can lead to unintended consequences or negative external effects. A majority can reach a bad or even abhorrent decision. The process is one thing, the content of the decision another. swissinfo.ch: How do you regard this prioritising the will of the people above all else? Does it need to be limited? D.A.: Modern democracy is a combination of three great lines of thinking: One of these is Athenian democracy with the principle of the absolute majority; one is the republicanism of ancient Rome, in which opposing forces control each other, the other is the British and French form of liberalism. If there is no opposing force to the principle of majority, then it is easily possible for a tyranny of the majority to develop, which can tip over into a dictatorship. The principle of majority and the sovereignty of the people therefore needs to be controlled. This, too, is achieved by the people, in the form of laws. The rule of law is decisive. It lays down rights, which can’t be limited or withdrawn. The Swiss can’t reintroduce slavery. Or the death penalty. No way. A recent case involved the ban on minarets. It showed how the will of the majority can stand in opposition to individual rights. It is important to be extremely careful. Power to the people: That sounds very good! But only under certain conditions and within certain limits. swissinfo.ch: Who should set these limits and when? D.A.: There are several options. It is important that a body such as the constitutional court can examine decisions before they are reached or after. The latter model is used in the United States, for example. A complaint can lead to the withdrawal of a referendum decision. swissinfo.ch: You mentioned the initiative for a ban on minarets, which Swiss voters approved in 2009. What do you think of the Swiss People’s Party and its policy of setting the will of the people above all else? The conservative right party even explicitly sets it above international law? D.A.: I don’t like it at all. Yet they have the right to do that. The instruments of direct democracy are available to all. Whenever someone calls loudly for direct democracy, I always say the following: ‘Stop and close your eyes! If you like the idea of direct democracy, then imagine your biggest political enemies and how they would campaign for a proposal that you don’t like at all. Every now and then, a proposal like that makes it through the ballot box. Are you prepared to accept the decision of the people? If you answer yes, then you are ready for the democratic game. If you say no, then you are not.’ The People’s Party can follow its own political agenda. Other parties also use direct democracy to grab headlines and win voters. They play the direct-democracy card to improve their standing in the competition for representative democracy. The People’s Party has been successful in pushing its demands to the vote. However, in most cases, Swiss citizens were wise enough to reject their initiatives at the ballot box. swissinfo.ch: In Europe and the US, many citizens are losing their faith in establishment politics. Could direct democracy be a suitable cure to win back this trust? D.A.: In part. With people’s initiatives and referendums I can register my opinion. It is very healthy if people are collecting signatures because they feel the government isn’t taking them sufficiently seriously, or because they want to change the constitution. It can strengthen the love between citizens and politicians. If, however, a ruler is demanding me to re-elect him for the nth time via plebiscite, I have to say no to that very loudly. Plebiscites are the dark side of direct democracy. The instruments shouldn’t all be judged in the same way. Some secure the power of the people. Others, however, are the instruments of the powerful, and can be very dangerous. Direct democracy can have many colours and flavours, both positive and negative.
31 October 2015
Swiss prosecutors investigate diaspora tax for Eritreans
Swiss prosecutors are examining allegations that the Eritrean consular authorities in Switzerland are illegally levying a tax on the earnings of Eritreans abroad. This follows a complaint filed by the Federal Office of Police that has been investigating the affair for several months. “According to the official complaint, taxes were levied or demanded from Eritrean citizens in Switzerland,” André Marty spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney General told Swiss public radio, SRF, on Tuesday. Confirmation of the attorney general’s investigation comes after various news reports and statements by politicians and Federal Police Office director Nicoletta della Valle on the controversial tax issue. According to an NZZ am Sonntag report in December 2014, the Eritrean consulate in Geneva makes refugees sign a “letter of regret” saying that they haven’t completed their national service – a crime with a prison sentence of two to five years. Eritreans in Switzerland also have to pay a 2% income tax to the Eritrean regime. Marty said the Federal Office of Police has investigated these allegations for over a year and interviewed Eritrean diplomats. He said it would now be determined whether these entail “illegal dealings by a foreign state on Swiss territory”. But he added that proving such activities was extremely difficult and it remains up to federal lawyers to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to bring a case. “The hurdles are very high,” he added. In August, Della Valle referred to the ongoing investigations stating: “We need witnesses who are prepared to work with the police and ready to make statements.” According to last year’s NZZ am Sonntag article, 90% of Eritreans in Switzerland receive welfare payments, and they end up using those resources to satisfy the consulate in Geneva. If the refugees don’t sign the regret letters or pay the income tax, they can’t return to Eritrea. However, people who have applied for asylum in Switzerland are not allowed to return to the country that they’re fleeing – otherwise they lose their status as asylum seekers. In August, centre-right Radical Party President Philipp Müller called for the Eritrean consulate in Geneva to be closed. swissinfo.ch with agencies
31 October 2015
Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf: the ‘prudent’ accountant
The Swiss newspapers wave goodbye to Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf after her announcement on Thursday that she will not stand for re-election to the Swiss cabinet in December. The newspapers are full of praise for the politician who unconventionally took a seat on the cabinet eight years ago. The German-language Tages-Anzeiger paper applauds Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf for her "logical" yet "surprising" move. Logical, because she knew that the new parliament would no longer support her in office, and surprising because she kept the country guessing right up until she made her announcement. It's only right that the largest party in the country has a second seat in the cabinet, the paper admits, referring to the conservative right Swiss People's Party. The party lost one of its seats when Widmer-Schlumpf was elected to cabinet on the ticket and then broke away to form a new party. A party that achieved almost 30% of the vote in the recent elections "should take on the responsibility", the paper said. Widmer-Schlumpf’s party - the centre-right Conservative Democrats - got just 4.1% of the vote in the federal elections on October 18. The People's Party, meanwhile, recorded its highest ever share with 29.4%, leading to claims it should regain a second seat in the seven-person cabinet. The 246 members of the two chambers of parliament will elect the cabinet on December 9. The Tages-Anzeiger writes that the People’s Party needs to move away from oppositional behaviour. Collegiality is the name of the game in the Swiss cabinet, and with Widmer-Schlumpf gone, it has lost one of its most experienced and competent members of recent years, the paper says, making the task of working together across party lines even harder. By common agreement Switzerland's four main parties divide the seven cabinet seats according to a set formula determined ultimately by their strength at the ballot box. The country is "indebted" to Widmer-Schlumpf, the Tages-Anzeiger noted, with a nod towards her handling of the banking secrecy crisis where Swiss banks were hit with unprecedented legal challenges from the United States for helping US clients evade taxes. It adds that she has earned her place "in the history books" as a finance minister and “crisis manager” who was fiercely independent and who showed leadership during turbulent times. A "bone-dry reformer" who took care of business in a "persistent and measured" way. Swissinfo.ch
14 October 2015
In Switzerland, look before you leap
This summer’s regular media coverage of BASE jumping and mountaineering accidents in Switzerland begs the question: why aren’t “extreme” sports more closely regulated? swissinfo.ch examines the Swiss emphasis on taking personal responsibility for one’s actions and their consequences. According to the Swiss Council for Accident Prevention, about 11,000 Swiss residents suffer accidents requiring medical attention while doing mountain sports such as hiking, climbing, skiing and snowboarding each year. But if something goes wrong during a BASE jump – a parachute-aided leap off a fixed object such as a mountain, building, antenna or bridge – there isn’t much anyone can do to prevent a fatal impact. “In other sports you also get injuries, but if we mess up, in most cases it is deadly,” says Michael Schwery, president of the Swiss BASE Association (SBA). Despite the risk – or perhaps because of it – BASE jumping has gained a devoted following since its founding in the early 1980s. Laws regulating the sport vary widely between countries, sending many enthusiasts to Switzerland where the mountains are high and the rules are few. BASE jumpers in Switzerland, for example, must steer clear of “no-fly” zones closed to planes and helicopters, and are legally required to carry a skydiving license and third-party insurance. Otherwise, anything goes – no bans in national or regional parks as in the United States and Australia, and no lengthy permit application procedures and safety requirements as in Germany. “I think it is a cultural thing,” says Schwery of the laissez-faire attitude. “Switzerland is country that gives a lot of personal freedom; a lot of things are left to personal judgement.”
14 October 2015
Swiss hotels have room for improvement
Could geodesic dome suites, or other unusual accommodation, be the answer to the woes of the Swiss hotel industry – suffering under the weight of the strong Swiss franc and the perception that they offer poor value for money? Read more http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/business/good-nights_swiss-hotels-have-room-for-improvement/41650998
24 August 2015
Swiss boost development aid to Cuba
Switzerland’s foreign minister, Didier Burkhalter - in Cuba to mark the reopening of the United States embassy in Havana - has used the opportunity to announce a CHF3 million ($3.1 million) increase in development funding to Cuba. This is the first ever ministerial-level visit between Switzerland and Cuba. During a meeting with his Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla on Thursday, Burkhalter offered his congratulations on the resumption of relations between Cuba and the US, foreign ministry spokesman Jean-Marc Crevoisier said. Both foreign ministers pledged to deepen relations between their own countries, with Burkhalter telling Rodriguez that Swiss development aid to Cuba would rise to CHF12 million in 2016. Cuba is a priority country for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), which is mainly working in the area of decentralization and municipal development in the Caribbean island. Good offices At another meeting, Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz, Cuba's vice president of the Council of Ministers, thanked Switzerland for its good offices role. It acted as a discreet diplomatic go-between between Cuba and the US for 54 years. This service is coming to the end with the resumption of US-Cuba relations. The US and Cuba broke off relations in 1961 and Switzerland took on a protecting power mandate between the US and Cuba at the US’ request and represented the US’ interests in Cuba. It had represented Cuba in the US since 1991. Until 1977 the Swiss played a more active role, especially as a channel of communication between the US and Cuba and contributed to de-escalation during times of stress during the Cold War, the Swiss foreign ministry says. After that the Swiss role became more formal, as Cuba and the US had signed an agreement allowing the countries to maintain their own interests section in Havana and Washington respectively. US Secretary of State John Kerry invited Burkhalter to attend the reopening of the US embassy in Havanna on August 14 to express appreciation of Switzerland’s role and as a gesture of goodwill. A discussion between the two men is also planned on the sidelines of the ceremony. swissinfo.ch and agencies
24 August 2015
‘Democracy does not fall from the sky’
Facts and figuresMost of the about 750,000 registered Swiss expatriates live in neighbouring European countries and have double nationality.There is also a sizeable number in both North and South America as well as in Asia.About 142,000 Swiss expats have registered to take part in elections and votes at home.The interests of the expatriate community are represented by the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA). Communications Minister Doris Leuthard has called for active participation in October’s parliamentary elections to keep Switzerland’s system of direct democracy alive. Speaking in Geneva at this year’s congress of the Swiss abroad, Leuthard stressed the importance of civic education to uphold democracy and the role of the expatriate community to give an outside perspective on Switzerland. Schools, teachers with a passion for civic education as well as quality media and the internet play a central part in providing the necessary information to citizens, according to Leuthard. “But it is not enough to build our democracy,” she said. “The true essence of democracy is a political debate,” she said on Saturday. The Swiss abroad community added openness as a key quality necessary for the creation of our political culture in Switzerland, she continued. Leuthard said narrow-mindedness or the glorification of the past did not help the country tackle the current challenges, notably in its relations with the European Union or with immigration. “We need to be aware of our particularities, the advantages and weaknesses of Switzerland, of our history and culture,” she said. Leuthard appealed to the expatriates to take part in the parliamentary elections, despite a setback for e-voting following the government’s decision last Wednesday to limit the number of citizens eligible to use the internet to cast their ballot. Read more at www.swissinfo.ch at Front page
20 July 2015
Cuba-US: time to lower the Swiss flag – and open banks?
With Washington and Havana reopening embassies, another chapter of the Cold War comes to a close, together with half a century of Swiss diplomatic mediation. What role did Bern play amid two diverging world views which nearly obliterated the planet? And what could that role be within the current phase of the Cuban Revolution? “Due to its historic position and its experience, Switzerland is ideally positioned to accompany the current process of transition in Cuba,” the Swiss foreign ministry told swissinfo.ch. As early as 1961, because of its status as a neutral country, Switzerland received a request from the United States to represent its interests towards the Cuban government. In 1959, within 72 hours, Washington had recognised the government which resulted from the Cuban revolution. But the honeymoon was short-lived. Two years later, the US embassy’s staff boarded a ferry to return home. “It was a huge disappointment,” Wayne Smith, the delegation’s third secretary and later head of the US interests section chief, recently told AFP news agency. Switzerland then assumed a thorny task, especially during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, a key moment during the Cold War which followed the attempted invasion of the Bay of Pigs, when the Soviet Union positioned missile launchers capable of striking Washington. Swiss diplomatic records acknowledged “the threat of a third world war, but a nuclear one, this time”. The same source, which recently published a special dossier on Switzerland's representation of US interests in Cuba, mentioned that while the crisis was finally resolved between Moscow and Washington, “Swiss diplomacy played a primary role”. Ambassador Emil Stadelhofer was called to mediate with Fidel Castro and later organised the transfer of the body of US pilot Rudolf Anderson, shot down over Cuba. The Camarioca refugee crisis (1965-1973) represented another event involving Swiss diplomatic efforts. More than 260,000 Cubans fled the island, initially by sea, and then by air, with the authorisation of the countries of origin and destination. “We never decided who would go and who wouldn’t,” Werner B.* told swissinfo.ch. “We interviewed people with special problems and who were beyond military age [15-27] whose names were on lists provided by the Cuban authorities, and we transferred reports to the US authorities.” It was a titanic endeavour. “Between 3,000 and 4,000 people departed every month. Full planes took off. There were two flights a day. The first arrived (in Varadero) between six and seven o’clock in the morning. Two immigration officials and a doctor would come on board. They checked the passengers’ documents and their health.” Werner was 24 when he was employed by Bern to strengthen personnel at the Swiss embassy. “We received hundreds of letters every day from people who would enquire about their applications or what they needed to do to be on the [emigration] list. We replied to everyone, sometimes with standard replies. It was an enormous job.” Werner later became a full member of the Swiss diplomatic service and travelled to many countries. Now in retirement, he nostalgically evokes the year he spent in Cuba, including the interminable administrative duties and the return trips between Havana and Varadero. Above all, he remembers the apprehension of the applicants, the pain of separation [men of military age were not authorised to emigrate] and the generosity of people willing to share the little that they had. “In Cuba I truly understood what the human condition was.” In 1991, with the fall of the Soviet bloc, Czechoslovakia stopped representing Cuba in the US and Switzerland took over. But Swiss duties had been alleviated starting in 1977, when US President Jimmy Carter and Cuban President Fidel Castro agreed on the opening of interests sections between the two countries. Reed more http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/memories-and-perspectives_cuba-us--time-to-lower-the-swiss-flag---and-open-banks-/41556764
10 July 2015
Why is weather so important to Solar Impulse?
The Swiss Solar Impulse 2 plane requires good weather for its around-the-world record attempt: difficult when it comes to long crossings. (SRF/RTS/SolarImpulse, swissinfo.ch) The plane’s journey so far has shown that the right weather conditions are rare. Wind and cold fronts have, in the past, played havoc with the Swiss solar-powered plane’s attempt to go around the world. By the time pilot André Borschberg started the first Pacific crossing from Japan to Hawaii on June 28, the team had waited for nearly two months for a clear weather window. The problem is that Solar Impulse 2 cannot fly in winds over four knots or 7km/h, so it requires almost perfect conditions. The five days and five nights of good weather needed for the Pacific crossing were almost impossible to guarantee. Meteorologists at mission control in Monaco work around the clock to provide detailed weather advice when the plane is in the air. A good forecast will also be needed for the next leg of its journey, across the Pacific from Hawaii to Phoenix in the United States. The idea is to then hopscotch across the United States and the Atlantic to Europe, before returning to Abu Dhabi. If the pilot hits inclement weather on one of the legs, it could mean baling out and ditching the plane.
10 July 2015
The flying postman
Switzerland’s postal service has begun testing autonomous flying drones for parcel delivery. Real-world use could come within five to ten years. (SRF, swissinfo.ch) Swiss Post, in collaboration with Swiss WorldCargo (the air freight division of Swiss International Air Lines) and Matternet (a drone manufacturer from California), has started testing unmanned flying drones for logistical purposes. The aim of the tests is to develop and pinpoint the technical possibilities that the use of flying drones could offer. At the moment, real-world implementation of autonomous drones includes express delivery of goods in areas cut off by unfavourable weather or the delivery of urgent consignments like laboratory tests. Swiss Post is testing the Matternet ONE model, designed to transport small loads weighing up to one kilogram for more than ten kilometres. These drones can fly autonomously, following predefined and secure flight paths. Before drones can be used for commercial use, a few hurdles need to be overcome. These include the regulatory framework and short battery life.
20 May 2015
Switzerland set to do business with Iran
Switzerland’s business representatives are beginning to explore the potential for trade with Iran, even though doing business with the sanction-hit state remains delicate and the nuclear deal is not yet finalised. An outline agreement to curb Iran's nuclear programme was reached in Lausanne after marathon talks with six major powers on April 2. The preliminary deal, which should also provide sanctions relief for Iran, is to be implemented by June 30 as part of a more comprehensive agreement. Hopes that there will be a positive outcome are also growing outside diplomatic circles. Western business representatives are already trying, also through official channels, to make contact with Iran. This is not surprising: with its vast gas and oil resources and more than 80 million inhabitants, many of whom are well-educated and wealthy, Iran has great economic potential, especially if sanctions are lifted. Even the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) is keen to cultivate relationships with the Islamic country. On Sunday, a delegation of economic representatives under the leadership of former ambassador to Iran Livia Leu will travel to Tehran in order to determine economic opportunities. “We would like to find out how the Iranian government wants to proceed until negotiations are concluded, and after the sanctions are lifted,” said Leu, who is the cabinet’s delegate for trade agreements, who served in Tehran until 2013. Leu does not name names, but she reveals: “apart from members of SECO and the Swiss Business Federation, economiesuisse, company representatives from different business sectors will also travel to Iran”. While there, the delegation will be in contact with ministries, authorities and economic players. It is important for business representatives to find out more about business culture in Iran and whether their products and services would have a future in Iran. “It’s definitely worth going there and getting an idea of the market yourself,” Leu said. www.swissinfo.ch
20 May 2015
Geneva hits the road to seduce Swiss
Geneva is currently on an expensive roadshow to celebrate joining the Swiss Confederation 200 years ago – and to try to kill off some enduring clichés. swissinfo.ch went along to see if it’s working. On a clear day Lucerne’s iconic KKL concert hall offers spectacular views of the city, lake and nearby snowy peaks. Today is slightly overcast, but another panorama is visible under its immense cantilevered roof: Geneva and its lake and surrounding countryside, drawn by Swiss comic artist Zep on the side of a huge promotional bus. The German-speaking city in the middle of Switzerland is the latest stop-off on an ambitious CHF2 million ($2.1 million) PR offensive, organised by the Geneva authorities and largely funded by private donors, to celebrate signing up to the Confederation on May 19, 1815. The two-month tour is travelling to all 26 Swiss cantons. Summer is just round the corner but love is definitely in the air. On the side of the bus, a gallant Geneva citizen kneels before the magnificent Helvetia with a heart-shaped Geneva fountain in the background. “Geneva is surrounded 90% by France so there is a perception among the Swiss that we are slightly different. But we want to show them that we are 100% Swiss and say thanks to the Confederation for these 200 years of marriage,” said Ivan Pictet, a former senior partner at Pictet private bank – an old Geneva institution – and the brains behind the roadshow. “Without Switzerland, Geneva wouldn’t be such a unique international city.” By choosing the French-speaking Zep, who designed the accompanying travelling exhibition about Geneva, the organisers insist they have opted for a modest, humorous approach. One of the main aims of the tour is to try to put an end to some of the clichés about Geneva: that they are an arrogant bunch more interested in France than Switzerland, bad at managing the state coffers and prone to so-called Genferei (local scandals unique to Geneva). www.swissinfo.ch
12 May 2015
Wanted: volunteer mountain farmhands
More than 70 farming families in the Swiss mountains urgently need volunteers to help out with a range of tasks in the coming months, from haymaking and beekeeping to harvesting saffron. Caritas Mountain Work, part of the church charity Caritas, puts volunteers in touch with farming families who are overloaded with work as a result of accident, illness or poor weather. The spring and summer months are a tough time for mountain farmers, it said on Tuesday: the preparation of the fields is followed by haymaking and harvesting. Forty people had been placed by the end of April and 220 have already been placed for the summer, but another 800 are urgently needed, it said, to carry out the equivalent of 1,215 weeks of work. This ranges from haymaking, looking after animals and general farm work to housekeeping, looking after children and gardening. Specific farming tasks could include making cheese, beekeeping and harvesting saffron. Volunteers can offer to help for one week or more, but they need to be “over 18, motivated and healthy”, the charity said. No special knowledge is required. The farming families cover the costs of food and lodging, but volunteers have to pay their own travel expenses. Information on applying, as well as the farms which need help, can be found here (in German and French). Four farms close a day Life on Swiss farms is increasingly tough. In 2013, 159,000 people worked in agriculture, less than half as many as in 1975, according to a report by the Swiss Statistical Office. Four out of five people working in agriculture are family members and just over half work part-time. The number of farms declined from 79,500 in 1996 to 55,200 in 2013. More than half of these were managed by people aged over 50. Compared with the previous year, around 1,400 farms closed down – four a day. The opposite trend was seen among organic farms, the number of which increased by more than 150 between 2012 and 2013. The average agricultural income per farm amounted to CHF61,000 ($65,500) in 2013. The average farming household earned an additional CHF30,000 from non-agricultural activities. The total hasn’t changed much since 1990, when adjusted for current prices, although the proportion of non-farm income has roughly doubled. For farm work, a third of family members received no salary. Two-thirds of the 30,000 wives or partners were not paid, but had a share in the income from self-employment. swissinfo.ch and agencies
12 May 2015
Immigrants and naturalised Swiss trust authorities
People with a migration background have greater trust in the Swiss police, courts and political system than people without such a background, according to a study by the Federal Statistical Office. A third of the population aged over 15 has a so-called migration background, which covers those without a Swiss passport, those who have become Swiss and those who were born in Switzerland to parents who were born abroad. The study, published on Thursday, analysed 68 integration indicators to compare how equal opportunities were between people with and without a migration background. It found that, of people without a migration background, 54.5% had a lot of faith in the Swiss police, 46.2% in the legal system and only 36.1% in the political system. The rate was “significantly higher” among people with a migration background, with the greatest difference seen in attitudes towards the police – the level of trust was 1.4 times greater among those with a migration background. The study noted that differences in income and living conditions between people with and without a migration background had barely changed over the past five years. One difference, however, concerned political participation. Between 2010 and 2013 the proportion of people with a migration background who took part in national votes dropped by ten percentage points. The level remained the same for Swiss without a migration background. swissinfo.ch and agencies
14 April 2015
Swiss researchers work on ‘paedophile detector’
Forensic psychiatrists in Basel and Zurich are developing a brain test that could help identify paedophiles. Although testing is in the early stages, there are already concerns about how such results might be used. The tests, led by Marc Graf, director of the forensic psychiatric clinic in Basel, involved 43 men: 20 who had been convicted of either consuming child pornography or abusing children, and 23 who had volunteered for the study. Participants were connected to machines which measured responses in their brains and fingers while they performed assigned tasks. During the tasks the men were shown various photos – for example, of naked adults and children – and the machines measured how distracted they were and what exactly grabbed their attention. The hope is that in future, the tests would be able to reduce uncertainty in the methods currently used to estimate how dangerous a paedophile is. Similar testing will take place in the psychiatric clinic at the University of Zurich. According to the leader of that clinic, Andreas Mokros, “It’s difficult to confirm paedophile tendencies if the subject is not willing to give information”. Graf in Basel agreed, saying that if, during the course of therapy, somebody says that he no longer has fantasies about children, it’s hard to know whether he’s telling the truth. According to research from North America, almost 60% of criminals convicted of child abuse were not in fact paedophiles. The tests could provide a chance for these convicts to demonstrate that they do not necessarily pose a risk to children if they are released. The researchers hope that their test will one day be useful in criminal proceedings or in prison to significantly improve the objectivity of findings. But both Graf and Mokros are aware that, as Graf said, “We have to be very careful with this technological development. Such tests are not only ethically and morally, but also legally delicate.” www.swissinfo.ch
7 April 2015
What happens with my mail when I leave on vacation?
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20 March 2015
Swiss back China-based development bank
Switzerland has become one of the first Western European countries to back the creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a new institution promoting sustainable economic development in Asia. Britain, France, Italy and Germany have also decided to take this step. The bank’s foundation was first proposed by China, and there are currently 27 signatory countries, particularly from the region. A statement from the cabinet on Friday said the move meant Switzerland would “enable Switzerland to be well positioned in the new institution from the outset” and strengthen relations with China and with Asia in general. The bank’s focus will be on providing financing for energy, transport and telecommunications infrastructure, urban and rural development and the environment. It will have an authorised capital of $100 billion (CHF 98 billion) and provide support by granting loans, investing in equity or providing guarantees. “The bank has the potential to become an important new part of the international financial architecture and play a major role in the financing of urgently needed infrastructure in Asia,” said the Swiss statement. The AIIB’s articles of agreement should be adopted this year. Once they have been approved, Switzerland will decide on definite membership of the bank. Before then, the country will have to decide on how much it will contribute financially. A parliamentary decision is also required for joining an international organisation. Controversy The idea of the bank has not been without controversy. The United States, worried about China's growing diplomatic clout, has questioned whether the AIIB would have sufficient standards of governance and environmental and social safeguards. Japan, Australia and the South Korea, all major US allies, have until now been notable regional absentees from the AIIB. But there are signs opposition is crumbling. Australia said on Friday there was a lot of merit in the AIIB, while Japan's finance minister signalled cautious approval of the institution. China has said that the bank would be set up by the end of the year and would complement rather than compete with other institutions, including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Manila-based multilateral institution dominated by Japan and the US. “Switzerland believes that it can play a significant role in ensuring that the new bank complies with the international standards in terms of its operating activities and development cooperation. The country's many years of experience and its credibility in multilateral development banks will benefit it in this regard,” said the Swiss statement.
20 March 2015
The day Switzerland became neutral
The neutrality so strongly associated with modern Switzerland originated in a congress 200 years ago, when the Great Powers met in Vienna to reorganise the territorial boundaries of Europe. But rather than being a conscious choice, neutrality was imposed on Switzerland by stronger countries that were determined to isolate France in the wake of the revolutionary wars which had rocked the continent, argues historian Olivier Meuwly. When it was invaded by France in 1798, Switzerland was a patchwork of 13 cantons, allies, bailiwicks and other territories that effectively disappeared when it became a “single and indivisible” republic in the French model. The cantons became mere prefectures, and the political situation was tense when Napoleon imposed mediation. Switzerland was formed into a country of 19 autonomous and equal cantons united under a common regime. Recent interpretations of history have defined the Act of Mediation as the origins of “modern” Switzerland. But as a satellite country of France, Switzerland suffered the brunt of the Napoleonic debacle of 1814, and its future was to be decided in Vienna at a meeting of the powerful victors. swissinfo.ch: What was the real significance of the Congress of Vienna for Switzerland? Olivier Meuwly: The stakes were high. There were two camps. The cantons of the Confederation of 1798 wanted a return to the old regime, whereas the new cantons wanted to maintain their autonomy. The roles of different people were important. Frédéric-César de La Harpe, former tutor to Tsar Alexandre I, became involved on behalf of canton Vaud to conserve its independence, therefore maintaining a Switzerland of 22 cantons (the 19 cantons resulting from the Act of Mediation, plus Neuchâtel, Geneva and Valais). Like everyone, he was hostile to Napoleon, but there was one thing worth saving from his system: mediation and the structure of 22 cantons which assured peaceful equilibrium of a Switzerland still troubled, and despite everything, important to the Great Powers. swissinfo.ch: Why was little Switzerland important to the Great Powers? O.M.: Switzerland was one of the buffer regions between a France which needed containing, and Austria. Everyone wanted to control this territory at the foot of the Alps which ensured France was surrounded. Neutrality suited everyone. Switzerland, incapable of stability, would become neutral and the Swiss could work it out, even if they didn’t feel neutral. There was no project for neutrality; circumstances dictated that Switzerland would be forced into neutrality by others. In the end, it was Alexandre I, as head of the coalition, who decided Switzerland’s lot. In agreement with de La Harpe, he decreed that the Switzerland of 22 cantons would be maintained, even though the Austrian Chancellor Metternich preferred the canton of Bern and the reestablishment of the former Confederation. swissinfo.ch: So modern Switzerland is thanks to the Russians… O.M.: It’s always delicate to attribute historical events to people. But in this case, I believe the role of certain people was considerable. If there had not been such very strong lines of friendship, of mutual respect between de La Harpe and Alexandre, would the Tsar have accepted the claims made by the Vaudois? You can’t rule it out, but the existence of personal links helped. De La Harpe is without a doubt a Swiss who would enjoy a more important position in world history. Never had a Swiss been so close to the big global questions and important leaders. He was in constant, close contact with the Tsar, from the arrival of the Russians in France until the end of the Congress of Vienna. He was the head of the antechamber, the personal secretary. He was one of the important links between the Tsar and the rest of the world. swissinfo.ch: Some say Switzerland’s neutrality began with the Battle of Marignano in 1515 because following the defeat, Switzerland pulled back from large European military engagements. What do you think? O.M.: To me it’s a stretch. Not even all the Swiss cantons were present at Marignano. It seems to me difficult to weave links between this battle and neutrality. In fact, the first snippets, at the level of international law, which would give rise to recognition of an independent Switzerland were in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, which ended the Thirty Years’ War. Recognition of Switzerland as an entity and more or less neutral began sometime around then. swissinfo.ch: Switzerland did not claim neutrality in 1815, although today neutrality is one of its essential characteristics. How did this evolution come about? O.M.: In the 19th century, neutrality was not an essential guiding principal. It was simply a consequence of an independent Switzerland which was becoming known on the international stage. But the Swiss understood that if they weren’t neutral, they would have to take sides. But which one? During the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, as during the First World War, Switzerland declared itself neutral. Neutrality was in fact a good way of not choosing. The humanitarian aspect would give substance to neutrality. This notion of neutrality would become very useful; not only in retreat, but as a means of being available. After the two world wars, Swiss neutrality experienced its glory days during the Cold War. We can also see that this neutral Switzerland has always been interesting. De La Harpe, a republican, obviously did not become the tutor of the future Tsar because of his political opinions. However, he spoke French, the diplomatic language, and Catherine II took him into her service because she preferred to see her grandson educated by a Swiss republican rather than a French aristocrat who could be a double agent. The fact that Switzerland was always a little bit removed from the large military and political events was an advantage. Especially after 1945, when the country could really thrive in this role of good offices. swissinfo.ch: Despite its advantages, neutrality is often the subject of debate. Think of the concept of “active neutrality” as put forward by former Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey. More recently, her successor Didier Burkhalter has also been criticised in Switzerland for his role in the Ukrainian crisis as president of the [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe]… O.M.: Neutrality cannot be a rigid concept. All political principles must be submitted to discussion, confronted with events of the day, their pertinence and evolution. I am also a fan of direct democracy, but it’s not a sacred norm delivered by a higher being. It can also be debated. That’s a bit of the problem that Switzerland has: we tend, on both the right and left, to make things into myths and that poses problems. It’s typical of neutrality. It’s a notion that is necessarily in confrontation with reality. What does it mean to be neutral? That can change. We can never say, we’re neutral, full stop. That means nothing in itself.
13 March 2015
New Credit Suisse boss welcomed by Swiss papers
Tidjane Thiam’s face was on the cover of the main Swiss newspapers on Wednesday, along with the words “non-banker”, “carrier of hope” and, in particular, “black”. “Long overdue” was the view of Zurich’s Tages-Anzeiger regarding the change at the top of Switzerland’s second-largest bank, which also signalled a “fundamental strategic and cultural shift” at the institution. On Tuesday it was announced that Credit Suisse had swooped on the boss of British insurer Prudential to lead it in a push to manage more of the wealth of Asia’s fast-growing multi-millionaires’ club. The 52-year-old former Ivory Coast government minister will in June replace American CEO Brady Dougan, who has drawn fire for failing to reform the bank and scale back its risky investment banking business fast enough. “The size of the expectations in the black African without banking experience could be seen in the 8% rise in the bank’s shares yesterday at the start of trading,” said the Tages-Anzeiger, adding that Urs Rohner, the bank’s chairman, had “landed a coup” in the new CEO. “Of course, he can be accused of hanging on to Dougan for too long – the time would have been ripe to remove the American after last year’s admission of guilt in the tax dispute with the US – but now Rohner can pride himself on having used the time to carefully assess the new boss and name an outsider with a respectable record on whom hopes are pinned.” Rohner too was “tarnished” after the US deal, the paper added. “The clean break at the top now takes him out of the line of fire for a start”. It concluded that Credit Suisse had “shown courage” in handing the reins over to Thiam but added that the bank’s 46,000 or so employees were not the only ones that would have to re-adapt to the move – the public would, too. “It’s the first time a manager with black skin has made it to the top of a traditional Swiss company. Bienvenue, Monsieur Thiam!” www.swissinfo.ch
13 March 2015
Swiss watchmakers to take on smartwatch big guns
Galvanised by the presentation of the Apple Watch, Swiss watchmakers are staking out their places in the next battle of the watch giants to come. The first ‘Swiss Made’ smartwatches, produced by Festina Suisse, are expected to hit the stands at Baselworld, the world’s largest watch trade fair which opens its doors in Basel on March 19. Other big players like Swatch Group and Tag Heuer are now also expected to release smartwatches by the end of the year, despite previous reservations about the viability of the market. “I am still convinced that the mechanical Swiss watch that sells for more than CHF1,000 ($1,014) is not in any danger. However, at lower price ranges, smartwatches are real competition for the Swiss watch industry,” says Tag Heuer’s watch division interim CEO Jean-Claude Biver. The sudden interest in smartwatches represents a significant change of tune from Swiss watchmakers whom just a year ago were being criticised for their lack of interest in the market by the likes of Xavier Comtesse, founder of the think tank Watch Thinking. “All, or almost all, of the bosses have changed their minds. It wasn’t a bluff. They simply realised in recent months that Switzerland has colossal technological attributes and is better equipped than California to win this market,” says Comtesse. Competing with California A similar view prevails at the Swiss Centre for Electronics and Microtechnology (CSEM) of Neuchâtel, where for the last 15 years engineers have been working on miniaturised technologies destined for devices worn by people. The Apple WatchApple unveiled its highly anticipated smartwatch on March 9. It will be available from April 24 in nine countries (but not Switzerland). A base model will cost $349. (The competition costs $100-500). Users will be able to make calls, read emails, control music, manage photos, pay for shopping, open hotel room doors – and tell the time. Battery life is expected to last 18 hours. “The media and financial analysts underestimate the capacity of Swiss watchmakers to react. Switzerland has all the microtechnical and electronic experience to produce high quality smartwatches which are also aesthetically very beautiful,” says Jens Krauss, head of the research project at the CSEM. Traditionally conservative, the microcosm that is the Swiss watch world preferred to wait and see how this new market - for the moment still a small, technophile market - would develop before diving in head first. Comtesse, who spent two months visiting a range of watchmakers using digital technology in the United States, says he has a good idea of what the smartwatches of the future will look like. “They will be like remote controls for managing objects which are nearby, like your car, computer or home security device, but they will also be used to make payments at the bank or supermarket,” he says. This seems to be the direction being taken by Swatch, which has announced it is in discussions with Coop and Migros, Switzerland’s two largest supermarket chains, to develop a mobile payment system. In the face of the financial power of the 2.0 giants, the Swiss watchmaking industry has three major attributes to bring to the table, says Comtesse: energy efficiency, sustainability and expertise in the luxury industry. Read more at www.swissinfo.ch/eng/battle-of-the-smartwatches...
12 January 2015
Swiss president looks ahead to 2015
In an interview with swissinfo.ch, Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga, who holds the rotating office of Swiss President in 2015, makes her case for a political culture that is "also based on respect for different beliefs". She is convinced that the country’s political system still works even though certain people’s initiatives may hardly be reconcilable with international law. Sommaruga’s biggest project in 2015 will be the implementation of a proposal approved by voters last February to cap immigration and re-introduce annual quotas. In a written interview, she stresses that steering immigration while at the same time maintaining the bilateral path will be a challenging task. The European Union, however, has indicated it is open to discussions. swissinfo.ch: People’s initiatives increasingly feature provisions that are problematic or hardly viable, and which lead to conflicts with international law. One example was the 2010 initiative concerning the deportation of foreigners convicted of serious crimes, which was approved by the Swiss electorate. In your view, should the right to launch people’s initiatives be curtailed? Simonetta Sommaruga: The implementation of initiatives is indeed a challenge when new clauses in the text are at odds with existing articles or international law. This is the reason why different reform proposals are currently being made. I welcome it because in a direct democracy you need to continue to have such discussions. I am convinced, however, that it’s not the rules that are the deciding factor for the functioning of our system but rather the political culture. We need a political culture that is also based on respect for different beliefs, and at all levels: the government, parliament, and the people. Everyone is important in our democracy. swissinfo.ch: Populist movements are gaining traction across Europe. Mistrust is growing in Switzerland as well concerning the established political system. The referendums that the government and parliament have lost are one such indication. How do you plan on gaining back the trust of the citizens? S.S.: Trust has not disappeared. Switzerland’s direct democracy is very special: it is shaped by the interaction of all the actors. It moulds our political culture, ensuring that no rift develops between the people, parliament and the government, even if the three don’t always agree. What’s wonderful about our democratic system is that the citizens have a lot of responsibility. I value our courageous democracy. The direct political rights of the people were originally created specifically to give importance to those voices that would otherwise go unheard in the established legislative process. swissinfo.ch: In recent years, direct democracy has also resulted in Switzerland losing some of its predictability as an international partner. Is direct democracy hurting Switzerland’s competitiveness? S.S.: No. In comparison with countries where the government changes on a regular basis, our democratic system ensures stability. Large, reform projects obviously require a lot of planning in advance. But in the end, there is a broadly supported compromise that will also survive the next elections. swissinfo.ch: Swiss citizens who live abroad are worried about the threatened end of the free movement of people rules because it will impact not just immigration but emigration as well. For the EU, the free moment of people is not negotiable. It firmly opposes quotas. But this is exactly what the rightwing initiative, approved on February 9, 2014, seeks. How can you steer the country away from this dead end? S.S.: You’re right, the implementation of this initiative is challenging. The government wants to carry out the people’s mandate by regulating immigration independently. At the same time, however, the government also seeks to preserve the bilateral path. The EU has said it isn’t willing to negotiate the principles of the treaty for the free movement of people. But the EU has indicated that it is open to discussions. As a result, the government will pursue both the domestic and foreign policy goals in parallel. The government will advise on the mandate for the EU negotiations, along with the implementation of the legislation in January. swissinfo.ch: 2015 is an election year. Swiss citizens living abroad will also run for the House of Representatives, although they have little chance of being elected. Can you imagine a scenario in which Swiss citizens abroad have a real shot at being elected by giving the expatriate community a fixed number of seats in the parliamentary chamber. Or do you see another solution? S.S.: Swiss citizens who live abroad are treated the same way at the federal level as their compatriots who live in Switzerland. The government has always supported the participation of Swiss citizens living abroad in the political process. One example is the recent approval of the step-by-step introduction of electronic voting. Some 135,000 Swiss citizens living abroad are currently entered in the voting register, and they take their political rights and responsibilities seriously. I welcome this because they belong to our country and they are part of Switzerland’s diversity. swissinfo.ch: There are more and more tragic incidents involving asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean Sea. What can Switzerland and Europe do to stop this trend? S.S.: You’ve touched upon it: European cooperation is absolutely crucial. Switzerland is campaigning strongly for a joint migration policy because we can achieve little on our own. It’s very important that there is help on the ground so that the people will not even attempt to risk the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean. In addition, we must carry on determinedly in the fight against people smuggling and smugglers. It’s a cynical business that takes advantage of the most vulnerable. Among other things, asylum seekers in this country should be systematically questioned in the future in order to trace the practices of these criminal organisations. Finally, Switzerland has taken in thousands of people from Syria since the Civil War began there. We are giving these people a new outlook.
30 December 2014
Happy New Year!
30 December 2014
Closing the circle on 2014
Another year is coming to an end; 2014 will soon be consigned to history. The past 12 months were lively, especially on a political level. Many large and small events will be remembered long after the new year begins. Switzerland has mixed feelings towards the European Union, as demonstrated by the February 9 vote in which 50.3% of voters surprisingly accepted the "mass immigration" initiative. However, the much more restrictive Ecopop immigration initiative was roundly rejected at the end of November. 2014 also saw the final nail hammered into the coffin of banking secrecy when Switzerland signed the OECD agreement on the automatic exchange of bank information. At the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, the circle of international heavyweights from the worlds of politics and economics met once again. A very round event was the full moon on August 10. Because it was the shortest distance from the earth, it was the largest and brightest full moon of the year. Summer in Switzerland was a washout, with Emmental experiencing extreme flooding. Throughout November rain fell almost without interruption on canton Ticino. Four people were killed in the space of four days in landslides triggered by the heavy rainfall. Fortune shone on the Swiss in tennis: Stanislas Wawrinka and Roger Federer powered to victory against France in the Davis Cup, with the Swiss winning the trophy for the first time in history. www.swissinfo.ch
19 November 2014
What does lump sum taxation really offer Switzerland?
According to opponents of the November 30 vote, abolishing lump sum taxation for wealthy foreigners will lead to a substantial loss of revenue and thousands of jobs. The initiative’s supporters view such claims as “grotesque” that fail to stand up to detailed scrutiny. “The debate on the lump sum tax is one of heart versus head, in other words, financial ethics against economic attractiveness,” says Marius Brülhart, economics professor at the University of Lausanne. “In reality, if we were to only consider the wallet, I am not sure that lump sum tax is such a good deal for our country.” The economist is critical of the sombre forecasts presented by advocates of the tax, if a “yes” vote were to prevail on November 30. The forecasts in question are those presented by the Governmental Conference of Alpine Cantons, which together with Geneva and Vaud, represent the main cantons affected by the initiative known as “Stop tax breaks for millionaires (abolition of lump sum taxation)”. In case of a “yes” vote, it is predicted that more than 22,000 jobs would be threatened in areas such as construction, tourism, services and leisure. The alpine cantons group estimates lump sum taxpayers’ annual spending power at approximately CHF3 billion ($3.1 billion), which does not include the CHF470 million in contributions towards cultural, social and charitable activities. These estimates are largely based on a 2009 study by two economists, Charles B. Blankart of the University of Lausanne and Simon Margraf of the Humboldt University in Berlin. This was confirmed to swissinfo.ch by the president of the alpine cantons group and Graubünden senator Mario Cavigelli. The problem is that the study was not commissioned by the Federal Tax Administration, as the alpine canton group communiqué suggests but by Plus-Value Suisse, a private lobbying group that openly campaigns for maintaining lump sum taxation. Geneva-based newspaper Le Temps, questions the “disputed” figures. It cites the small number of lump sum taxpayers consulted for the study - only 126 out of 5,000 such taxpayers were surveyed - and casts doubt on the CHF470 million worth of donations from these wealthy foreigners, which the study’s authors themselves downplay. Ski resorts at risk In addition to these contested economic consequences, tax losses, would be in the order of “at least one billion francs, if we consider the CHF695 million in lump sum taxes, along with loss of value added tax (VAT) and inheritance tax”, explains tax lawyer Philippe Kenel, a vehement opponent of the ban on lump sum taxation. In the affected communes, business owners and authorities express their concerns. Eloi Rossier, president of the Bagnes region, which hosts the famous Verbier ski resort and its 240 lump sum taxpayers, frets, “Every year, the tax on spending yields CHF8 to 9 million to the commune, in other words 17% of our income. This amount is indispensable for investing in our sports infrastructure and to compete on an international level with other resorts, such as Kitzbühl, Vail, Val d’Isère or Cortina d’Ampezzo. If we abolish this tax, we would not be able to play in the same league.” Beyond just the tax revenue, an entire business model will be threatened with extinction, according to Elio Rossier. Investments in construction would stop abruptly and major cultural events like the Verbier Festival, which depends in part on private donations, would have to be scaled down. Doubts within the Federal Administration All of these forecasts assume that lump sum taxpayers would leave Switzerland in case of a “yes” vote on November 30. However, this assumption is far from certain, as demonstrated by Zurich, where half the lump sum taxpayers stayed put after the system was voted out in the canton, in 2009. Higher taxation for those who stayed behind almost compensated for the loss in tax revenues from those who left. In a 2011 article published in La Vie Economique, two economists at the Federal Tax Administration, Bruno Jeitziner and Mario Morger, explain that estimates regarding threatened jobs, “are full of major unknowns and should be taken as upper limits”. The economists considered it “probable” that all of the affected persons would not leave Switzerland if tax on spending were abolished. “One can therefore expect the number of jobs that would disappear to be lower than the numbers mentioned.” “Grotesque” figures Within the ranks of Alternative Left movement which came up with the initiative, a decision was taken to focus not only on the issue of fiscal justice, but to challenge opponents’ “grotesque” figures, explains Frédéric Charpie, the national coordinator of the campaign for the abolition of lump sum taxation. “In Zurich, villas that were evacuated by lump sum taxpayers, who often moved to neighbouring cantons, were then occupied by new millionaires, who paid more taxes. We even saw job creation, as the sale of a property often required major renovation work,” says Charpie. “Tourist resorts would have less to worry about than the canton of Zurich, as wealthy foreigners are more attached to their lifestyle in the mountains than in urban areas.” Charpie puts into perspective the gains that lump sum taxpayers contribute to their adopted residence. “These 5,634 rich foreigners who benefit from the lump sum tax in Switzerland collectively contribute CHF695 million every year. In contrast, the 55,000 individuals with more than CHF3 million and who pay regular taxes, contribute a total of CHF72.3 billion per year. The lump sum tax therefore only represents 0.96% of tax income from wealthy people in our country”. Lump sum taxation: how does it work? The system of lump sum taxation is based on the lifestyle and spending habits of the taxpayer in Switzerland and not on his/her actual revenue or fortune. It applies only to foreigners who do not exercise a revenue-generating activity in Switzerland. It is also available to sports professionals and artists. In 2012, parliament decided to tighten the conditions for eligibility for lump sum taxation to come into force next year. The minimal level of spending taken into account in terms of cantonal taxation must now be seven times the rent or rental value of the abode and only people with an annual revenue of at least CHF400,000 ($419,000) can now benefit from this tax break with respect to federal direct taxation. Concretely, a foreigner who purchases an apartment in Switzerland which has a monthly rental value of CHF5,000 will be taxed at the same rate as other taxpayers, on a revenue of CHF420,000 (5,000 x 12 x 7). Added to that is other spending, such as on cars or private jets. The base used for wealth tax is a minimum of ten times more than the amount declared, in this case, CHF4.2 million.
19 November 2014
Is Switzerland really the best place to live and work?
If a survey by HSBC bank is anything to go by, executives languishing in Cairo dream of their next posting in Zurich or Singapore. But what is it really like to work as a foreigner in the world’s most desirable locations? According to the HSBC Expat Explorer study for 2014, Switzerland retains its number one spot as the most desired location for expat workers, followed by Singapore and China. Egypt languishes in last place among the 34 countries surveyed. Paul Cooke, a British expat, has worked in both Switzerland and Singapore with United States coatings firm Valspar. Cooke recognises many of the same qualities in both the alpine and island nations: small, prosperous states located at the heart of their geographic zones with a strong sense of stability and reliability. Singapore is, after all, dubbed the “Switzerland of Asia”. But the average working day is somewhat different. “Asia is a lot more demanding and the hours are longer. This is partly driven by customer expectation and partly because everyone is charging about, chasing business opportunities,” he told swissinfo.ch. Swiss workers are driven too, but benefit from more established and well-grooved work systems. “People are less experienced in Singapore and are not quite as well organised as in Switzerland,” Cooke added. “As a result, you can find yourself doing more work than is really necessary.” Making friends Shenjie Wang, a Chinese national, made the opposite journey from Asia to Europe to first study at Lausanne’s Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) and then to work at the Swiss branch of semiconductor firm Marvell. Wang also found the Swiss working structure more efficient, with a better work-life balance. But one of the most important changes was to his health. “Life quality is excellent here with better food, water and air compared with China,” he told swissinfo.ch. “Maybe Europeans take this for granted, but in China I suffered from asthma every winter. Last winter was the first time that never happened.” Wang found it straightforward to socialise and make friends with colleagues at EPFL and Marvell, but the language barrier has complicated matters outside of his professional environment. “People from Spain and Italy can learn French very well within a year or two but it is more difficult for Asian people.” The language barrier was a particular obstacle to finding accommodation. It is hard enough to find quality, affordable apartments in cities like Lausanne and Geneva, according to Wang, but this is made even more difficult if communication is strained. Indian national Raghu Viswanathan found no trouble making contact with his neighbours once he managed to breach the reserve of the Swiss, despite slow progress with local dialects. However, he initially struggled on moving from the US to Baden to work at French power company Alstom. “There was a more easy going atmosphere at my workplace in the US. Swiss workers draw a line between their professional and home lives and stick to those boundaries,” he told swissinfo.ch. “Conversations at work were limited to work matters and there was not so much personal contact.” “But I soon got to learn that the concept of friendship is just different between the two countries, with a lot more depth in Switzerland. Everyone in the US is friendly to start with, but it can be a bit superficial. In Switzerland you have to work harder to become accepted on a personal level, but once you are there the friendship is deeper.” Cost of living The natural reserve of the Swiss can take some getting used to, according to Sjoerd Broers, chief executive of Auris Relocation, a company that gets between 600 and 700 international workers settled in Switzerland each year. “The Swiss can be stubborn at times. International workers coming to Switzerland for the first time soon realise that they often have to take the first step when establishing contact,” he told swissinfo.ch. “But in the end, companies tell us that they have far greater problems sending employees away to new postings abroad than they do attracting them here in the first place.” The cost of living can also take some incoming expats by surprise despite the relatively high wages in Switzerland. Viswanathan finds it hard to comprehend that the Swiss would pass up perfectly good bargains because they associate quality with high prices. “This mind set seems to make everything more expensive and that can limit choices,” he said. “In Switzerland I had to decide whether to join a gym or a tennis club. In the US I could afford to do both.” But Wang feels that the high price island tag is overstated. “You don’t have to pay big prices for everything,” he said. “There is plenty of scope to shop around and find lower priced goods.” Anti-foreigner sentiment? Expats accepting their place of work is, of course, only half the story. The other side of the coin is what the local population thinks of migrant foreigners. Switzerland has made international headlines recently for voting in February to restrict the flow of immigrants into the country. The initiative was short on detail on how that should be achieved, leaving it up to the government to find a solution. Until such an agreement is reached, the international jury is out on how welcoming the country is to foreigners. “It creates uncertainty because people don’t really understand what the vote was all about and hear all sorts of gossip,” Broers said. “But there is a good chance that a pragmatic solution can be reached.” All that may change, however, if voters approve another immigration control initiative, called Ecopop, on November 30. This demands fixed limitations on net inflows of immigrants in the name of preserving the environment in Switzerland. “Ecopop would be disastrous for Switzerland by giving the impression that the country is not welcoming to foreigners,” Broers warned. Paul Cooke left Switzerland for Singapore in 2009, well before the immigration votes became headline news. But he did live through the infamous rightwing People’s Party political poster campaign depicting white sheep kicking a black sheep out of the country. Nevertheless, he still felt welcome in Switzerland. “I never felt any animosity as a foreign worker in either Switzerland or Singapore,” he said. For Wang, the situation has become confused, and not just because of the immigration vote. Switzerland is also in the throes of reorganising its tax structure for foreign companies to appease criticism from the European Union. “This time last year I thought I would stay in Switzerland for a long time,” he said. “But things have changed this year. Switzerland seems confused about how it views expat workers while there is a danger that the tax changes could force my company to shrink in Switzerland, or even leave.” Everywhere different Cooke has now moved from Singapore (ranked 2nd in the HSBC survey) to France (23rd). But does he feel that he has dropped 21 places in one fell swoop? “In some respects it does feel like dropping out of the premier league,” he told swissinfo.ch. “Switzerland is highly organised and there is a tremendous drive in Singapore, neither of which I feel here. The infrastructure is also not quite as good in France. Flying from Charles de Gaulle airport is not such a pleasure as from Zurich or Changi.” “But you have to adapt and not demand that every country has to be the same. The key is to find the best things that each country has to offer,” he added.
14 October 2014
Swiss billionaire may fund new bilateral initiative
Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss says he would be prepared to finance an initiative to consolidate Switzerland’s bilateral agreements with the European Union as a solution to the controversial February 9 vote curbing immigration from Europe. The 79-year-old entrepreneur, reportedly worth CHF11 billion ($11.5 billion), told Swiss public radio he would be ready to fund an initiative campaign on the bilateral accords if it was organised by an organisation like the Swiss Business Federation. “The vote of February 9 has only caused problems,” said Wyss. “Our young children need international collaboration, without which they have no chance.” Wyss, who made part of his fortune selling artificial joint maker Synthes to Johnson & Johnson in 2011 for over $21 billion, made the comments during a conference in Bern on Thursday which brought together leading Swiss scientists and businessmen to discuss their future after the controversial February 9 vote. That day Swiss voters adopted the so-called mass immigration initiative, with 50.3% voting in favour. The initiative seeks to curb immigration by introducing foreigner quotas and prioritising Swiss nationals when it comes to filling vacancies. Swiss politicians have since been struggling to find a way out of an impasse between the alpine nation and the EU. Since this vote is deemed by the EU to violate a bilateral agreement on unrestricted access to EU workers, Switzerland was frozen out of key Europe-wide educational schemes. Switzerland has recently been able to negotiate partial and temporary access to the Horizon 2020 research programme and has kept the Erasmus+ student exchange scheme going only by raising extra money to cover lost EU funds. But these temporary solutions are not seen as adequate and the impasse over the free movement accord remains. Wyss said he didn’t think Swiss politicians would be able to find an appropriate way out the current political dead-end and that the EU was in a much better negotiating position. The only solution, he added, would be to revisit the February decision via a new vote by the Swiss people in order to consolidate the bilateral accords. Since retiring from business Wyss and his foundation have been in the press for major donations to Harvard University and part funding of the Campus Biotech, the former headquarters of Merck Serono in Geneva which will house the Human Brain Project. swissinfo.ch and agencies
6 October 2014
Great expectations for scholarship Angolans
Among the intake of students at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) this semester is a unique group from Angola. These young adults fought tough competition to secure places on a course billed to make them decision-makers back home. More than 700 people applied for the new “Future Leaders of Angola” scholarship programme and 46 were chosen to travel from Angola to the Swiss city of Winterthur to attend the sixth-month course in finance and asset management. Oil-rich Angola has experienced an economic boom over the past 12 years since the end of a brutal, three-decade long civil war. The former Portuguese colony, however, faces many difficult challenges, including corruption, poor healthcare and a neglected education system. The latter has had an impact on Angola’s workforce, which comes up short in providing enough well-educated nationals. The Swiss sponsorship programme is a high-profile effort by Angola to address the knowledge gap. The programme is spearheaded and financed by the Fundo Soberano de Angola (the country’s sovereign-wealth fund), which is headed by José Filomeno de Sousa dos Santos, the son of Angola’s long-serving president. Students attending the ZHAW program will learn about a wide range of financial topics from equity analysis and research methods to portfolio management simulation. The goal, according to the fund, is that the students receive a “profound understanding” of asset management thanks to their education in Switzerland, a global financial centre. "Great opportunity" ‟It is a great opportunity for me,” said Cesar da Cunha, an outgoing and stylishly dressed 27 year old, who earned a Business Administration Degree in Algeria on an Angolan government scholarship. ‟Switzerland is so advanced because of its education system.” Da Cunha is hopeful that “we are going to see some of the people in this class become members of government or future leaders in Angola because of this programme.” Classmate Irene Cabral, 26, who earned a Business Administration Degree in South Africa before returning to work in a bank’s trading finance department in Angola, told swissinfo.ch she was grateful to receive the scholarship. ‟It’s a dream for all of us to get into this programme,” said Cabral, an articulate and elegant 26-year-old whose ambitions include one day being the chief executive officer of a company. Read more at swissinfo.ch/eng/great….
6 October 2014
Balancing national and global language needs
Bilingual learning Although there a number of different language combinations in bilingual diploma programmes in Switzerland, German-English programmes are the most common, and are offered in 56 schools. In contrast, only four schools run French-English bilingual programmes. Overall, two different types of language immersion systems are officially recognised. In model A, students learn at least three non-language subjects in the second language at their local school. A compulsory personal project is written in the second language and counts as a subject. This can be combined with between three and 20 weeks of study in a country or Swiss region where the second language is spoken. For Model B, students spend a year at a school in a country or Swiss region where their second language is spoken. On their return, they study at least one non-language discipline in their second language. Read more at swissinfo.ch/eng/balancing….
11 September 2014
Swatch inventor: Swiss watch industry missed the smartwatch boat
Elmar Mock, co-inventor of the Swatch watch, believes the Swiss watch industry ignores the Apple Watch at its own peril. He sees it repeating the mistakes from the 1970s, when it underestimated competition from Japanese quartz watches. In 1970, Elmar Mock invented the Swatch along with Jacques Müller and Ernst Thomke. It was designed as an affordable product that could compete with the cheap Japanese quartz watches that flooded the market. Currently the director of Creaholic, an innovation consultancy, Mock shares his views on the Swiss reluctance to enter into the smartwatch fray. swissinfo.ch: Many predict the Apple Watch will be as disruptive to the market as the Mac, iPhone or iPad. Do you share this view as well? Elmar Mock: The big deal is not the Apple Watch itself but the fact that an electronics giant like Apple has entered the watch market. It makes total sense to have a communication tool on the wrist and, in my view, this strategic space has enormous market potential. The biggest challenge lies in the digital environment and the consumer experience that a smartwatch can offer. There is a lot to learn in this new area but it’s only possible to learn by creating. This is where I think electronics giants like Google, Samsung or Apple are winning the battle. swissinfo.ch: But are consumers ready for such products that some dismiss as mere gadgets? EM: The Apple Watch is by far the most attractive of the smartwatches. I would definitely wear it. Don’t forget that the early smartphones did not immediately replace conventional mobile phones. When the iPhone first launched, Blackberry was sure that consumers would notice the lack of a keyboard and Nokia was convinced that the big screen would put users off… swissinfo.ch: Should the Swiss watch industry fear the smartwatch invasion, as suggested by Apple’s chief designer Jonathan Ive? EM: Switzerland has already lost the wrist war. Only one of every 200 watches produced [worldwide] is a Swiss watch. However, the profit made on that one Swiss watch is greater than that of the other 199 combined. So, we’ve won the profit war. Swiss watchmaking has transformed a watch into mechanical jewellery that represents the ingenuity of manual craftsmanship. It has also excelled in design, marketing and communication. Smartwatches are not going to completely replace mechanical watches just like the Kalashnikov assault rifle is not going to make samurai swords any less desirable. On the other hand, Switzerland has missed a tremendous opportunity and it is shocking that the leaders of the watch industry do not find the smartwatch market a tempting prospect. This market could be worth $30 billion (CHF28 billion), assuming a realistic figure of 100 million smartwatches sold every year. This amount would benefit the entire Swiss watch industry. swissinfo.ch: Is Nick Hayek, head of the Swatch group, an example of this nonchalant attitude towards smartwatches? EM: Clearly! It’s understandable why [luxury brands] Breguet, Rolex, Cartier or Patek Philippe are disinterested. Swatch, on the other hand, should be taking a leading a role. Swiss watchmakers seem to have forgotten how they underestimated Japanese quartz watches in the 1970s as mere gadgets and not real watches. That mistake led to the near collapse of the watch industry. However, through Swatch, we eventually succeeded in creating a stylish quartz watch. But we then failed to follow up and re-conquer the global watch market through investment in industrialisation. Obsessed by short-term gains, the Swatch group did a complete U-turn towards luxury watches. Instead of investing in ideas, the group chose to invest in luxury watch brands and showrooms all over the world. swissinfo.ch: Does the Swiss watch industry lack diversity? EM: It is definitely a risk. The industry is beginning to resemble a Native American reservation. It has deliberately refused to be a part of recent changes, not through a lack of creativity or innovation, but due to strategic choice. Unfortunately, Switzerland lacks a Steve Jobs who can drag the watch industry into the future. It doesn’t necessarily mean the industry is on the wrong path, but it does mean that it has missed the boat as far as smartwatches are concerned
11 September 2014
Why can’t men make part-time work?
Just over 14% of men work part-time in Switzerland, a country with the second highest rate of part-time workers out of all OECD nations. Nine out of ten men would like to reduce their hours at work, according to one study. So why don’t more make this a reality? “Lots of men feel responsible for their family’s financial security, they’re worried about their career being affected by their decision and they’re anxious about appearing unmotivated at work,” Jürg Wiler, co-leader of the ‘Teilzeitmann’ (Men Working Part-Time) campaign told swissinfo.ch Wiler is an advocate for men who want to achieve a bit more work-life balance and says that during the lunchtime events he organises to promote this way of working, he regularly talks to men who “fear stigma in their business and social environment” and who have questions about a “loss of status”. The campaign, which is a project by männer.ch, the Swiss association of men’s and father’s groups, carried out a study in canton St Gallen in 2011. They spoke to 1,200 men from all walks of life and found that 90% of them wanted to work part-time. In 2012 they started making role models available – ordinary men who just happened to work part-time, and were happy to speak about their experience to others. Thomas Stucki is one of them. He’s been in part-time employment since he retrained and studied for a second degree, in social sciences, at the age of 30. “When I started my university studies, I had to work part-time to earn the money I needed. And from that time on, after the degree and after having studied, I never got back to a full-time job because I saw that this was a good thing for me.” By the time Stucki neared the end of his course, his wife was expecting their first child. “We didn’t even question that I would work part-time. I wanted it this way and she did too. So, as a couple, we decided to try it.” read more at www.swissinfo.ch/eng/why...
18 August 2014
Italian EU presidency unlikely to favour Swiss
Corporate tax, the automatic exchange of banking information and free movement of people: three major conflicts between Bern and Brussels that are unlikely to be helped by Italy’s presidency of the European Union (EU) in the coming months. “For its presidency of the EU, the Italian government proposes accelerating political cohesion in Europe, addressing the host of asylum problems and promoting an economic policy that can strengthen growth and employment,” said Claudio Micheloni, an Italian Senator who lives in Switzerland representing the interests of Italians living abroad. As a non-member of the EU, Switzerland clearly does not feature high on the list of priorities. But during his six months holding the EU presidency, the government of Matteo Renzi will also have to make room for Swiss issues. Three thorny issues remain unresolved in the second half of this year. Corporate tax An agreement is in sight on the differences over corporate tax. On July 1 the Swiss government initialed a joint declaration which should lead to an agreement to end special tax breaks granted by the cantons to international companies – holding, mixed and management companies – whose main business takes place abroad and who only have administrative activities in Switzerland. These companies’ revenues are taxed at much lower levels than those of companies active in Switzerland. Brussels considers that these tax regimes violate the free exchange agreement of 1972. But following the agreement reached at the beginning of the month, the EU has announced it will forego retaliation measures planned against Swiss companies. “On an international level, this joint declaration is a good thing. In effect, for years Switzerland tried to fend off pressure and opposition from the EU so that these tax regimes could distort free competition,” Sergio Rossi, an economics professor at the University of Fribourg, told swissinfo.ch. “However on a national level we will have to see now which measures the cantons will take to hold on to those companies after the tax breaks have disappeared. Several cantons are tempted to bring down corporate tax for all companies, which risks exacerbating fiscal competition inside the country.”
18 August 2014
E-voting wins ground despite risks and setbacks
The majority of registered Swiss expatriates will be able to use electronic voting in next year’s parliamentary elections, but the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) failed to win access to e-vote for the whole diaspora. Swiss expats registered in 14 of the country’s 26 cantons will be able to participate in the 2015 elections to the House of Representatives. In 12 cantons they can also help choose the members of the Senate. “139 of the 200 seat in house will be affected,” says Thomas Kalau, a senior official in the foreign ministry. The result falls short set by the OSA to ensure that all the registered 155,000 Swiss expatriates can take part. OSA President Jacques-Simon Eggly deplores the fact that the aim was only partially met. “Without our efforts even fewer expats would be able to use e-voting,” he says. At the last elections in 2011 only four cantons had introduced e-voting for their expatriates as part of ongoing trials with the technology. Eggly was speaking on the sidelines of the Congress of the Swiss Abroad in Baden on Saturday. The introduction of e-voting suffered a setback last year when technical loopholes were found. Security concerns, including attacks by hackers and verification issues, prompted some cantonal authorities temporarily suspended their efforts. Keynote speakers and discussion panels at the two-day annual event focused on hopes and risks of information technology for the expatriate community.
15 July 2014
The Interlaken of China
The Chinese imagine the Swiss as people who like watches, geraniums and bears and enjoy eating chocolate as well as travelling on steam trains. That's the caricature presented by the Bernese Oberland tourist destination of Interlaken. And that destination has been re-created in a section of a Chinese theme park near the booming city of Shenzhen in Guangdong province, which lies just across a river from Hong Kong. The "miniature Interlaken" was opened in 2007 and consists of several streets with stores, a train station and a replica of the Hotel Victoria Jungfrau. The houses are a mix of styles from the Tirol, Engadin and Schwarzwald regions, and watches or bears bearing the Chinese, Swiss or Bernese flags are ubiquitous. Chinese tourists can have their pictures taken on the "Interlaken bridge," a copy of the famous Kappelbrücke in Lucerne. Bagpipers appear, along with a clown that performs to the tunes of Swiss pop star DJ Bobo. The Interlaken replica is also good advertising for the real place in the Bernese Oberland and a good alternative to expensive trips abroad for the Chinese. (Photos: Simon Tanner, Keystone)
9 July 2014
Will free trade help quench China’s thirst for milk?
A Swiss-Chinese free trade agreement is making exporting to China more attractive for Swiss milk producers, but exporters and farmers – one of whom runs two Chinese stores – say it’s harder than it seems to gain a foothold in such a huge market where uncertainty remains. The farmer On his farm among the verdant hills of Switzerland’s Appenzell region, Robert Bischofberger recalls the upheaval when it all began: in 2002, a competitor moved into the area, putting the milk buyer for him and 700 other farmers out of business overnight. Suddenly, they had nowhere to send their supply. Worldwide, the demand for milk is higher than what’s being produced, so to outside observers, the solution seems obvious: with Swiss farmers generally producing 30% more milk than the country can consume, why not follow the lead of countries like the Netherlands and New Zealand and sell to a place like China, where milk consumption has quadrupled since 2000? read more at www.swissinfo.ch/eng/news
9 July 2014
New ‘Iron Curtain’ in Europe fights illegal migration
On a trip to the Evros river at the outermost edge of Europe, swissinfo.ch saw first-hand how Greece is working to stem the flow of unwanted immigrants into the European Union (EU). Frontex, the external border security agency of the EU, provides support to Greece in this immense task. Non-EU member Switzerland also takes part in Frontex operations – and not entirely for altruistic reasons. Daniela Looser, a 27-year-old Swiss border guard, sits together with her Romanian counterparts in the Frontex office in Kipi, an official Greek border crossing with Turkey. Two kilometres to the east, across the Evros, is the Turkish border post. At a length of 185 kilometres, the Evros forms almost the entire border between Greece and Turkey. The area is a magnet for would-be migrants to the EU. Read more at www.swissinfo.ch/eng
9 June 2014
Coming soon to a battlefield near you?
by Simon Bradley, swissinfo.ch June 9, 2014 - 11:00 Machines are starting to slowly replace humans on the battlefield. It’s believed fully autonomous weapons may be ready in 20-30 years. And Switzerland is moving ahead with its own research into mobile robot technology. LAWS Some 87 countries out of the 117 that have signed up to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) attended the meeting of experts on lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) at the United Nations in Geneva from13-16 May, 2014. The aim was to start to define the limits and responsibilities of LAWS. At their next annual meeting on 14 November CCW members will decide whether to continue the process. Campaign groups are calling for a pre-emptive ban on such future weapons. They put forward the example of blinding lasers, which the international community banned by adopting an international protocol in 1995 before they could be used. Switzerland was one of 87 countries trying to start to define the limits and responsibilities of LAWS, fully autonomous weapons that could select and engage targets without further human intervention. So far only five states, including Cuba and Pakistan, have joined activists calling for a ban on LAWS. Many others, including France and Britain, highlighted in Geneva the need to keep meaningful human control over targeting and attack decisions. The United States said there should be “appropriate” human control over autonomy in weapons systems, while Israel talked about the desirability of autonomous systems. Read more at www.swissinfo.ch/eng/politics
6 June 2014
‘Advancing EU sceptics’ affect us all, say papers
Newspapers in non-EU Switzerland have reacted with concern to Eurosceptic nationalists who scored stunning victories in European Parliament elections in France and Britain on Sunday. Critics of the European Union more than doubled their seats in a continent-wide protest vote against austerity and unemployment. “In a democracy, results at the ballot box should be taken very seriously for the bigger message they send. The fact is, the European Union still divides its citizens more than it unifies them and is not a convincing answer to people’s hopes,” said Le Temps in Geneva. Anti-establishment parties of the far right and hard left, their scores amplified by low turnout, made gains in many countries, although in Germany, the EU’s biggest member state with the largest number of seats, and in Italy, the pro-European centre ground held firm. “Is this an irrevocable failure of the European ideal?” Le Temps continued. “This serious verdict on Europe, delivered by a significant portion of voters, is reversible. Europe falls between two stools: it is a power halfway along a political road that merits being debated more intensively by its members.” It said the evolution of European governance needed to speed up because history would not wait. “War on its borders, the urgency of strong responses to immigration, the challenges posed by the competiveness of large regional powers – all require greater strategic choices by the European Union. Europe is only at the beginning of its history. This concerns us all.” 'Wrangling' The Neue Zürcher Zeitung, which devoted more space to Petro Poroshenko, a billionaire chocolate manufacturer who claimed the Ukrainian presidency on Sunday, focused on the “earthquake” victory by Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration, anti-euro National Front in France, one of the EU’s founding nations. In a vote that raised more doubts about Britain’s long-term future in the EU, Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party, which advocates immediate withdrawal, comfortably led the opposition Labour party and Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives with almost half the results declared. “Now the wrangling begins,” was the headline of the editorial in Zurich’s Tages-Anzeiger. “It’s the hour of spin doctors, campaign managers and party spokespeople,” it continued. Their job – which started more or less as soon as the booths closed and the first results started trickling in – is to win the race for the interpretation of the votes and to dictate the headlines for the next few days. “Europe’s transnational democracy experiment is still untested – there’s plenty of room for possible interpretation.” More at www.swissinfo.ch/eng/politics
6 June 2014
Do billionaires just want homes away from home?
A court decision last month ordering Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev to cede half of his worth to his wife highlighted some high-priced properties the couple accumulated in Switzerland, and elsewhere. How are such homes acquired by ultra-wealthy foreigners, and are the buyers always in line with the law? Donald Trump’s Maison de l’Amitié, a Florida mansion, estimated at $78 million (CHF70 million) and sold for $100 million was one property owned by a trust in the name of Rybolovlev and his daughter Ekaterina. A $88 million apartment in New York, the highest price ever paid for a home in the city, another. The family had other properties in Hawaii, Greece, France and Monaco, in addition to two homes worth $135 million in the Swiss alpine resort of Gstaad, and yet a couple more outside of Geneva, including a 20,000 m2 building site, now frozen, known as the “hole of Cologny”. While wealthy foreigners have always been drawn to Swiss real estate, in recent years a steep hike in prices, particularly on the Lake Geneva shores, has continued to find buyers from abroad. In addition to the benefit of lump-sum taxation, Joachim Wrang-Widen, regional director at Christies’ Real Estate identified Switzerland’s central geographic location, its lifestyle, respect for privacy and security, as some of the country’s other draws for affluent individuals looking for a home in this country. “You can wear your expensive watch and expensive jewellery and not be concerned about it being stolen at knife- or gunpoint… and you don’t have paparazzi or anyone else harassing people who have a face with a known name,” he said. Read more at www.swissinfo.ch/eng/business
28 May 2014
Swiss-Indian trade deal: bitter pill to swallow
Who has the high ground in the intellectual property (IP) rights talks between Switzerland and India? Differences between the two countries on this issue are one of the key reasons negotiations have stalled on a free trade agreement. Talks between India and EFTA (Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein) began in 2007. As recently as last month, Swiss Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann expressed hopes the two sides were getting close to an agreement after so many years of negotiations. However, on Sunday, the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) said Switzerland had been informed by the Indian side that a deal was unlikely in the last week of February. From the beginning of March, a date will be set for Indian elections meaning the current government will no longer have the authority to take such an important decision. Negotiations are expected to continue on a technical level. A large sticking point in the talks up to now has been the pressure on India to provide stronger patent protection that could make or break a deal. Swiss pharmaceuticals are keen on an agreement with India on terms favourable to their industry. Observers speak of intense lobbying recently by the Swiss firms. Thomas Braunschweig, who oversees trade policy matters at the non-governmental organisation, Berne Declaration, told swissinfo.ch that “they have asked the government to make more efforts to secure their interests citing that the pharma sector offers a significant number of jobs in Switzerland”. Swiss demands There are two specific demands from the Swiss pharmaceutical industry that are being resisted by New Delhi. One is the call to do away with the Indian rule against patent ‘evergreening’ - when companies apply for patents on obvious modifications and ‘new use’ of existing medicines. This was at the heart of the case against Novartis in India where the Indian Supreme Court denied a patent on a new version of the anti-cancer drug Glivec. Second, Switzerland’s Big Pharma wants to introduce the provision of so-called data exclusivity that undermines the registration of generic versions of even off patent drugs. This would oblige generic companies to repeat clinical trials and also gives rise to monopolies that can keep prices high. Both these demands have so far been rejected by the Indian side since they go beyond what has been accepted multilaterally under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) system in an agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS). Pharma, chemical and biotech industries Switzerland’s chemical, pharmaceutical and biotech companies contribute 40% of all Swiss exports, making it the country’s leading export industry. With 65'000 employees in Switzerland in 2012, this sector is one of the largest Swiss industrial employers, according to the industry association ‘scienceindustries’. Total exports in 2013 for the three sectors rose 2.5%. In the same year, exports to India dropped by 23.8% to CHF700 million. That puts India in 21st place, accounting for 0.86% of all Swiss exports from these sectors. Market research company Deloitte estimates that sales of pharmaceutical products produced in India will increase 14% to $27 billion in 2016 from about $23.6 billion in 2013. Read more www.swissinfo.ch/ang/business
28 May 2014
How sweet are Swiss companies on Modi?
by Matt Allen, swissinfo.ch May 28, 2014 - 11:00 Swiss companies are waiting with bated breath for details of the highly anticipated economic agenda from the new Indian government led by Narendra Modi. But how fast can Modi move to liberalise the economy, tackle corruption and revive talks on a free trade accord? India is viewed as one of the most exciting markets in the world by many Swiss companies, but one that has not lived up to its true potential. Economic growth has dipped in the last two years while inflation has risen amid mixed messages about reforms that could open up the country further to foreign investment. Having enjoyed several boom years, Switzerland’s exports to India sank 11% in 2012 and a further 24% last year as rapid Indian economic growth ran out of steam (see infobox). But Modi has caught the eye of Swiss companies operating in India after transforming Gujarat into a foreign business-friendly market during his time as chief minister of the state. “Given the work Modi has done in Gujarat, there are high expectations from the business community that he can revive the national economy,” Mohinder Nayyer, a Delhi-based economic advisor to Swiss businesses at Switzerland Global Enterprise (s-ge), told swissinfo.ch. Indians also have high expectations and have been moved to post-election levels of “euphoria”, an audience of business leaders at the Swiss-Indian Chamber of Commerce heard at a recent presentation in Zurich. But former Swiss ambassador to India Philippe Welti warned attendees that despite the landslide victory for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) “it could be very difficult to put forward a liberal economic programme” that is expected to be unveiled in July. Reinvigorating India’s stalled economy will necessitate tough reforms affecting agricultural workers, the welfare system and the country’s bloated bureaucratic cadre. “People don’t often live with sacrifices imposed on them for the sake of long-term benefits,” Welti said. But even a few modest changes could make a big difference for foreign companies investing in India, according to g-se’s Nayyar. Swiss firms will be keeping a close eye on corporate tax reforms and raising ownership restrictions on local companies during takeovers. “Generally speaking, foreign direct investment is not restricted but it faces more of a problem of implementation. For example, acquiring land is very complicated,” said Nayyer. “The challenge for the new government is to improve the implementation phase to make the country more attractive for foreign investors.” Hold-ups at border customs offices and other red tape delays can also prove frustrating to exporters. “Our products are highly specialized and technical,” Conrad Sonderegger, sales director at Kistler - a Swiss firm that makes sensors and measuring systems - told swissinfo.ch. “If they need maintenance it is sometimes better to bring them back to Switzerland, but the paperwork involved is not always straightforward.” The three Indian elephants sitting in the room for Swiss firms are the issues of corruption, the failed free trade agreement (FTA) and an unresolved tax evasion spat with the previous government. Much of the talk on the sidelines of the Swiss-Indian Chamber of Commerce meeting centred on how Modi will tackle a culture of petty corruption that extends from politicians to local official all the way to ordinary people on the street. None of the audience was under any illusion that the problem could be sorted out straight away. “If you know what form corruption takes and how pervasive it is, you can find ways of dealing with it,” one executive, who did not want to be named, told swissinfo.ch. “The real problem is when corruption changes and suddenly manifests itself in a different form.” “Modi should tackle the problem from the top down,” said another. “If the government can be seen as incorruptible it would send a good message down the chain to others.” Given the size and scope of issues that the new government now faces – from building up the transport infrastructure to fixing a disconnect between power stations and coal supplies and keeping a lid on a potentially volatile mix of religions – some observers feel that India will push the FTA to the side for the time being. Their concerns about tax evasion were addressed by Modi’s new government earlier this week when it set up a new investigation team to “bring back black money,” according to Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. At present there are no obvious signs that the FTA between India and Switzerland, together with the other European Free Trade Association (EFTA) states of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, will be revived after stalling earlier this year. “Both governments keep saying the FTA will be concluded by the end of the year, but they never say which year,” quipped former ambassador Welti at the chamber of commerce meeting. Sudhir Kapadia of Ernst & Young India told the gathered executives that the new Indian administration was unlikely to immediately take up the cudgels of the previous government which had vociferously called on Switzerland to hand over the names of tax cheats in the build-up to the recent election. Read more on www.swissinfo.ch/
5 May 2014
SNSF invests record CHF819 million in research
The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) invested a record CHF819 million ($933 million) in basic research in 2013 on higher demand for the financing of long-term medical studies, research infrastructures and the promotion of young scientists. The SNSF approved more than 3,400 research proposals involving about 14,000 researchers. Projects in biology and medicine received 40% of the funding, while mathematics, natural and engineering sciences were granted 33% and the humanities and social sciences 27%, the foundation said in its annual report, which was published on Monday. The SNSF has a government mandate and gets its income from Swiss state contributions. In 2013, it invested more than half of its funds in research projects. The number of applications for this type of funding increased by 37% between 2005 and 2011. With the remaining funds, the foundation also supported 4,500 PhD students and 2,500 postdocs via projects and programmes and spent CHF180 million on career funding schemes to support 1100 young researchers in pursuing an academic career. In 2013, the SNSF implemented various measures aimed at improving conditions for young researchers in Switzerland. These included return grants in the case of fellowships abroad, family support measures and a 7% increase in the salaries of doctoral students. The SNSF said it plans to focus on further promoting young researchers over the coming years. “The SNSF can look back on a very successful year, but a lot remains to be done, particularly with regard to the promotion of young researchers,” said Martin Vetterli, President of the SNSF’s National Research Council. “We must persuade young talents to become researchers and ensure that the conditions for them are right.” www.swissinfo.ch
5 May 2014
Basel team shed light on Egyptian burials
Egyptologists from the University of Basel have identified the burial site of the children and other family members of two pharaohs in the famous Valley of the Kings near Luxor, finding the mummified remains of at least 50 people. After searching the subterranean tomb’s central chamber and three of its four side chambers, the researchers and their Egyptian colleagues were able to name 30 people buried there. Titles such as prince and princess confirmed that some of the mummies were related to two 18th dynasty pharaohs, Thutmosis IV and Amenhotep III, who ruled during the 14th century BC and are also buried in the valley. Analysis of inscriptions showed that tomb KV 40, as it is known, contained the remains of at least eight previously unknown royal daughters, four princes and several foreign ladies, according to the Egyptologists. While most were adults, children were also found. “We discovered a remarkable number of carefully mummified newborns and infants that would have normally been buried in a much simpler fashion,” said the head of the research team Susanne Bickel in a statement. “We believe that the family members of the royal court were buried in this tomb for a period of several decades.” The Egyptologists believe the close proximity of the remains to the royal tombs indicates who had the privilege of spending an eternal life close to the pharaoh. “Roughly two thirds of the tombs in the Kings’ Valley are non-royal,” explained Bickel. “Because the tombs do not have inscriptions and have been heavily plundered we so far have only been able to speculate on who lies buried in them.” The tomb, which was re-used centuries later after the valley was no longer a royal necropolis, was looted a number of times, most recently at the end of the 19th century. The researchers were able to recover fragments of funerary objects such as coffins and textiles. The burial site was also damaged by fire most likely caused by the looters’ torches. Further analysis is expected to reveal more details about the pharaoh’s court under the 18th dynasty as well as burial customs of the time.
10 April 2014
Swiss startups get help with US market breakthrough
Switzerland’s entrepreneurs who want to go global have trouble finding local markets and support, so they’re increasingly seeking fertile ground in the United States. Now, the largest-ever startup support programme has come calling in Bern to boost Swiss-American business relationships. For Carlos Ruiz, it all started with a tortilla – or, more specifically, the lack thereof in his adopted home city of Zurich. The native Mexican came to Switzerland to study political science and was working on a master’s degree when he realised he wanted to take his business idea – a tortilla and bread maker that functioned with instant capsules, much like a Nespresso coffee machine – and turn it into reality. Because of the global nature of his idea – “every culture has a kind of flatbread,” he says – Ruiz knew he had to break into the US market to have a shot at success with his company, called Flatev for “flatbread evolution”. But how? That’s where MassChallenge – a so-called “startup accelerator” based in Boston that’s the largest of its kind – came in. Amir Eldad, who’s in charge of boosting MassChallenge’s global participation, recently presented the project to a handful of journalists at the American Embassy in Bern to boost its visibility and point out that despite the name, the programme reaches far beyond the borders of Massachusetts – it currently has a hub in Israel, one planned for London and is looking to expand further. Eldad says Switzerland “has the potential” to maybe become one of those global hubs someday. But what’s the advantage of focusing on a small European country with only eight million inhabitants? In Switzerland and in other countries, the venture capital element of the ecosystem is not as strong as it should be, so we can help with that,” Eldad explains. “There’s a lot of effort being invested in the technology side, but not as much in the business side – we need to reach a better balance between technology creation and business support.” “Switzerland is great in invention, but sometimes not so great in innovation,” says Professor Rico Baldegger of the School of Management Fribourg, a MassChallenge partner. “From the region of Fribourg and Bern we hope to have four or five applicants to MassChallenge this year.” On the positive side, as Ruiz points out, Switzerland has a lot of attractive things to offer: his investors wanted him to keep the company incorporated in Zurich since they would not be subject to capital gains tax, and his collaborators on the technology were all trained at Zurich’s renowned Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ). Read more at swissinfo.ch/eng/business
10 April 2014
New Swiss solar plane poised to circle the globe
Five years and eight world records after unveiling the prototype, the Solar Impulse team has introduced the Si2 – a solar plane that’s scheduled to fly around the world in 2015. Test flights are planned for next month, followed by training missions over Switzerland. Pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg presented the plane at the Payerne Air Force base on Wednesday. As founder and chairman Piccard told the crowd: “Today we are one step closer to our dream”. He also confessed that his creation reminded him more of an elephant than a bird. “Each time I look at this plane I have a memory of my childhood – of the Walt Disney animation of ‘Dumbo’. His ears were so enormous that everybody made fun of him,” Piccard said, recalling how aviation experts laughed when he and his team displayed the first designs for the Solar Impulse 12 years ago. Jokes aside, nobody’s laughing now – despite the fact that this plane’s 72-metre wingspan is even greater than that of the prototype (63.4 metres) or a Boeing 747 jumbo jet. Similar to a car, it weighs 2,300 kilogrammes – far more than the 1,600-kilogramme Solar Impulse 1. To improve performance and comfort, the increase in size and weight was a must for the single-seat aircraft. In 2010, the project’s longest fuel-free flight lasted 26 hours – proving that it was possible to fly day and night on solar power alone. Now the challenge is to circle the planet, which means crossing oceans. This will require the plane to stay airborne for up to five days at a time. Solar Impulse 1 crossed the Mediterranean (2012), and the United States (2013) – the latter project completed in six stages. Energy efficient “The Si2 is the only airplane in the world with unlimited endurance. It could fly for days, weeks, months, perpetually. It’s the most energy-efficient airplane ever designed,” said CEO and co-founder Borschberg. He and Piccard will take turns in the cockpit, which has also received a major design overhaul. For example, they’ll be able to lie flat to sleep and relieve themselves via a convertible toilet seat. “It’s a better environment for the pilot. If the first plane was economy class; this one is business,” said Borschberg. In addition to increased comfort, the Si2 features improved energy efficiency. Unlike its predecessor, it will be able to collect and store enough energy to fly through clouds. This is thanks to its 17,248 solar cells, which will feed energy to the aircraft’s four propellers. Additional energy will be collected and stored in its lithium-polymer batteries. Flight speeds will be modest, ranging from 36-140 kilometres per hour, depending on time of day and altitude. Described as an “airborne technology lab”, the plane was created by dozens of specialists – with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne serving as the project’s scientific advisor. A major challenge was finding extremely lightweight yet resilient materials. Yet adapting the plane for commercial use isn’t on the agenda. According to Piccard, the main goal besides making it around the world is “to demonstrate how important technical innovation is for energy savings and renewable energy”. And as Borschberg pointed out, “All of the technologies used on the plane can work on the ground, and they’re already finding uses in appliances, homes and cars to make them more energy efficient”. In numbers: Si2 Wingspan: 72 metres Weight: 2.3 tons Cockpit size: 3.8 m3 Number of solar cells: 17,248 Thickness of solar cells: 135 microns Batteries: 4 x 260 Wh/kg Max. cruising altitude: 8,500 metres Speed range: 36-140 km/hr, depending on altitude Susan Misicka by Swissinfo.ch
13 March 2014
Cabinet to boost security staff at Swiss embassies
swissinfo.ch and agencies March 13, 2014 - 10:07 Parliament has given the go-ahead for up to three unarmed civilian security staff to protect Swiss embassies in fragile states around the world. The mandate is limited to the end of 2016. The House of Representatives on Thursday confirmed a decision by the Senate last week. It allows the government to decide on such a measure without preliminary approval by parliament over the next few years. As part of a legal reform to come into force in 2017, the cabinet hopes to be granted the right for dispatching military personnel. In February, the cabinet agreed to send one expert to the Swiss embassy in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, for up to 12 months. The defence ministry says the task of security staff is advise embassy personnel and examine specific situations on the ground. Last year, parliament extended a mandate for up to 20 elite soldiers of the Swiss Army to protect the Swiss embassy to Libya. The commando had been stationed in Tripoli since the beginning of 2012 and replaced a private security firm.
13 March 2014
Fighter jets await green light from voters
by Urs Geiser, swissinfo.ch March 13, 2014 - 11:00 In the 1990s pacifists and the political left tried - and failed - to block the purchase of new fighter jets for the Swiss Air Force. Twenty years on they have taken aim again, challenging a parliamentary decision to buy 22 Swedish Gripen aircraft. On May 18 voters have the final say on defence ministry plans to spend CHF3.1 billion ($3.5 billion) over the next decade to acquire JAS-39 lightweight fighter aircraft from aerospace manufacturer Saab. The jets, still in development, would replace the ageing fleet of F-5 Tiger jets and help protect the Swiss airspace up to the year 2050. The outcome of the ballot should end ten years of technical evaluation and political debate over what would be a partial renewal of the Swiss Air Force fleet. Last September both chambers of parliament finally gave the purchase the green light, despite opposition by the left and a small centrist party. An alliance of the Social Democrats, the Greens and the smaller Liberal Greens – as well as the Switzerland without an Army pacifist group then launched a referendum on the issue, collecting about 66,000 signatures, enough to bring it to a nationwide vote.
3 March 2014
Winter, winter disappear…
… come again another year! That’s the idea behind the Chalandamarz, a festival in the Romansh-speaking part of eastern Switzerland when children walk through the streets on March 1, singing, cracking whips and ringing cowbells. The aim is to banish winter from wells, houses and fields and to wake up spring. The children pictured here are making a racket in the village of Ardez in the Engadin Valley (Chalanda means “first day“ in old Romansh). Chalandamarz dates back to when southeastern Switzerland was part of the Roman Empire, and therefore the tradition is probably older than Christianity.
19 Febraury 2014
Mobile academics – brain drain or circulation?
Scholarships for international students from less well-off nations allow Switzerland to attract some of the best minds to its universities. Some of these scholars never go back home. A “brain drain”? A Zurich study aims to give some answers. When Meghali Randive arrived at the University of Zurich from India to take up her scholarship for German studies in 2008, she had a bit of a culture shock. “I did not realise how different Swiss German was to the High German I had learned in India,” she recalled. Six years on, and working towards a PhD, she has integrated well and is not necessarily intending to go back home. Togo veterinarian Bassirou Bonfoh, who came over to Basel and Zurich for post-doctoral study, is now back in West Africa. The director general of the Swiss Centre for Scientific Research in the Ivory Coast, he is known as “the Swiss” due to his Helvetic approach to problem solving. A joint study by the Federal Institute of Technology Zurich and the University of Zurich -presented in January and the first of its kind in Switzerland - looked into the impact of five types of university scholarships, including federal government ones, on the career paths of international students. Researchers found both Randive and Bonfoh’s cases to be fairly typical. Of the 304 people surveyed from developing and transition countries, only around half of the grant students had returned home after their studies at the two institutions. Networking ….cont. on www.swissinfo.ch/eng/swiss_news/
10 Febraury 2014
Banks play catch-up on social networks
Swiss banks are behind the times when it comes to social media according to a new study. In comparison with banks outside Switzerland, many have only cautiously taken up using digital networks. Researchers at financial comparison site, moneyland.ch, used publicly available information on 20 Swiss banks’ use of social media and awarded points based on their usage and interaction on different sites. They then compared this to their assessments of 50 banks abroad. On average, Swiss banks totted up 45% of the maximum points total, compared with an average of 69% for foreign banks. Facebook came out as the site that Swiss banks made the best use of, followed by Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and Google+. In comparison, financial institutions outside Switzerland made better use of Twitter overall, followed by Facebook. In the international study, Commonwealth Bank in Australia and Bank of America made up the top two. Strong content alongside a high level of interaction were the desirable qualities. “All companies should listen to what’s going on in social media, because your business might become a topic in social media channels. It’s important for you to know, to feel the atmosphere in [these] channels,” social media expert Philippe Wampfler told swissinfo.ch Wampfler added that although building up a level of personal trust is often an aim of companies such as banks, online interactions might not be the best way to do it. “There are many people who do not think that social media is a serious conversation. If you want to have an image as a really serious company, it might not be ideal to use social media to do that,” Wampfler said. Getting answers Benjamin Manz, director of the website which put together the figures, argued that in an increasingly digital world, new media plays an important role for customers. “Banking clients want to be heard … they need to be taken seriously by the banks … they don’t want to wait a week for the bank to respond, they want a response immediately.” Credit Suisse, then PostFinance followed by online bank Swissquote and UBS were the top four scoring Swiss banks in this analysis. “The large companies, especially the banks, they are really careful in developing strategies and then going public once they know how to do it and what to do on social media platforms, and what kind of dialogue they want to have with customers,” Wampfler told swissinfo.ch. Credit Suisse have included social media in their general communications strategy since 2009. While Twitter is mainly used by the bank to give out news and information, they try to use Facebook in a different way, according to Valeria Ancarani, of the communications team. “We see potential for focused interaction, for example in talent recruitment," said Ancarani, adding they would like to post more job opportunities on Facebook and make more information available about internships. Showing a personal face behind a corporate image is another possible use of the technology, as in this tweet from the bank:
10 Febraury 2014
National vote and results
National vote - official results Immigration quotas: 50.3% Yes 49.7% No Private funding of abortions: 30.2% Yes 69.8% No Railway infrastructure fund: 62% Yes 38% No Turnout: 55.8% E-voting: About 165,000 citizens, notably Swiss expatriates, were eligible to vote online as part of an ongoing trial with e-voting. 28,785 people, or 17.4%, cast their ballot electronically. Read more: www.swissinfo.ch/eng/swiss_news/
15 November 2013
The cleanest house in Europe
The first non-allergenic block of flats opens outside Zurich next month. That's good news for sufferers of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), for whom the smallest amount of chemicals in the air can trigger asthma attacks, skin disorders or depression. Christian Schifferle opens the door of his car, a Japanese model with many kilometres on the clock and visible signs of wear and tear. He asks me how I came to our appointment. When he learns that I travelled by train, he immediately lays an old rug on the passenger seat and explains: "I am doing this so the smell of perfume which some people use isn’t left on the seat.” The steering wheel is protected by a plastic cover. "My hands are very sensitive." The 59-year-old Swiss is suffering from MCS. He is extremely sensitive to pesticides, perfumes, deodorants, lotions, detergents, dyes, cigarette smoke, flavourings, carpets… and so the list goes on. But his suffering is not limited to chemicals. He also cannot tolerate the electromagnetic waves of mobile phones and the smells of electrical appliances such as televisions or computers. The consequences are a life spent in social isolation. "Since my childhood, I have reacted strongly to a variety of fragrances. I suffered from chronic fatigue," says Schifferle and remembers how he was rejected by his family and treated as mentally ill. Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) About 5,000 people are believed to suffer from MSC in Switzerland, but the disease has not yet been officially recognised. While some doctors doubt its existence, others maintain that chemical substances in the environment really can lead to serious health problems. "Even if the causes have not been fully explained scientifically, these people and their suffering are real," says Roger Waeber from the Federal Office of Public Health. MCS - chemical intolerance, environmental illness or chemical sensitivity - is a rare allergy, which causes eye irritation, a runny nose, breathing difficulties and headaches when the person is exposed to chemicals in everyday life. These can include new clothes, the smell of cosmetics, car fumes and alcohol. The main cause is the interior pollution of buildings. The sensitivity is exacerbated by the presence of chemicals in the air, which come from dyes in the walls and furniture as well as detergents and computers. Exposure to light and moisture promotes the growth of micro-organisms. The immune system of those affected is in a constant state of alert and every time they are exposed to a new chemical substance, this leads to a chronic allergic reaction that often renders them incapable of working. Cont. www.swissinfo.ch/eng/science_technology
4 November 2013
Computer scientists struggle to get e-voting right
Fully automated, secure systems for electronic voting are technically feasible, but implementing them remains a challenge. Security breaches have resulted in a lot of scepticism. For the moment a completely paperless system is not on, computer experts say. “Systems currently used in Switzerland do not allow voters any way to check what has happened with their vote. They have no option but to trust the system,” says Rolf Haenni, a professor of computer science at the Research Institute for Security in the Information Society (RISIS) of Bern Technical College, based in the town of Biel. "Great importance has been attached to some of the security aspects,” explains Haenni's colleague, RISIS director Eric Dubuis. “But the first-generation systems lack a feature which we have been calling for for years – verifiability – that is, the option for the voter to check whether his vote has really been cast in the way he intended.” Putting it very simply, an electronic voting system consists of a central computer, which counts votes, and the personal computers used by the voters. In theory, an election result could be manipulated by a hacker attack on the main computer or by infecting the individual voters’ computers with malware. Malware could bring it about that the unsuspecting voter enters a “yes” on the screen, but the central computer registers a “no”. www.swissinfo.ch/eng/swiss_news
25 September 2013
Geneva to host Iran nuclear conference
A top-level conference on Iran’s nuclear programme will be held in Geneva “from October”, according to Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, speaking during the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Burkhalter told Swiss public radio, RTS, on Tuesday that he had been in contact with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and that the dialogue would continue in Geneva “at chief negotiator level”. The meeting is still to be confirmed. He described Switzerland as a “communication channel” in this “exercise in rapprochement”. US President Barack Obama on Tuesday cautiously embraced overtures from Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, as the basis for a possible nuclear deal, but a failed effort to arrange a simple handshake between the two leaders underscored entrenched distrust that will be hard to overcome. In his speech to the UN, Obama said he was determined to test Rouhani’s recent diplomatic gestures and challenged him to take concrete steps toward resolving Iran’s long-running nuclear dispute with the West. Hours later, Rouhani used his debut at the world body to pledge Iran’s willingness to engage immediately in “time-bound” talks on the nuclear issue, but he offered no new concessions and repeated many of Iran’s grievances against the United States and Washington’s key Middle East ally, Israel. ‘City of human rights’ For his part, Swiss President Ueli Maurer complained in his speech at the General Assembly about the self-serving policies of many large countries. Maurer, who holds the rotating Swiss presidency for one year, said that “as the representative of a neutral country with a long humanitarian tradition”, he was concerned about the return of power politics, a form of international relations in which countries protect their interests by threatening each other with military, economic or political aggression. “Smaller countries are increasingly less accepted as partners,” he said, adding that he hoped this trend would reverse. He also stressed the importance of sovereign countries choosing their own constitution and economic system, adding that “no countries is allowed to force its law onto another”. Problems, he said, could be solved only through negotiation. “Sovereignty and equal rights guarantee peace, stability and good relations between all nations.” On Tuesday, Maurer met UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and discussed Geneva as an international location. “Geneva is the humanitarian capital and the city of human rights,” he declared. swissinfo.ch and agencies
25 September 2013
Swiss voters endorse army conscription
Switzerland will remain one of the last countries in western Europe with mandatory military service after voters overwhelmingly rejected a pacifist initiative to scrap conscription. The vote is a resounding victory for the government. Defence Minister Ueli Maurer said the defeat of the proposal by the pacifist Switzerland without an Army group to end conscription and introduce a professional army of volunteers was a vote of confidence in the current militia system. “It is a yes to the army and to more security,” he told a news conference on Sunday. He said he was now cautiously optimistic about a vote next year on the purchase of 22 Gripen fighter jets from Sweden, given the 73 per cent majority in favour of conscription. Christophe Darbellay, a parliamentarian for the centre-right Christian Democratic Party and leading member of pro-army committee, said the result was a slap in the face of the pacifist group. The group, which had collected enough signatures for the ballot on conscription, said the disappointing outcome of the vote was to be expected. “The army is obviously part of Switzerland’s identity. Emotions held the upper hand over facts,” Nikolai Prawdzic said. The pacifists had argued the current army was outdated and too expensive. The Social Democratic Party, which supported the initiative, said Sunday’s result must not be taken as a blanket approval of the army. It said reforms remained necessary to adapt the structure of the armed forces and reduce their size and costs. On the wane For his part, political scientist Claude Longchamp of the GfS Bern research and polling institute says the allure of the pacifist group might wane. It is the third time in 25 years that voters have rejected similar proposals by the pacifist group. The vote in Switzerland comes on the back of a non-binding ballot in neighbouring Austria in January, which endorsed conscription. However, most other European states have scrapped or suspended mandatory military service in recent years. Under the Swiss constitution every able-bodied male Swiss citizen has to serve in the Swiss militia army from the age of 18. Exceptions are allowed for those opting to do civilian service. But the army will remain high on the political agenda. Voters are likely to have the final say next year on the purchase of 22 fighter jets, and parliament and the government are at odds over the army budget. Results September 22 vote Abolition of conscription 26.8% yes 73.2% no Amendment epidemics law 59.9% yes 40.1% no Opening hours petrol station shops 55.8% yes 44.2% no Turnout: 46.4%
13 September 2013
Apple drops Swiss Railways clock
The iconic Swiss Federal Railways clock is no longer featured in the new Apple operating system i0S7 or on the US computer company’s newest iPad and iPhone devices, presented to the public on Tuesday. The clock was the subject of a patent dispute which the railways settled with Apple in October 2012 for a widely reported but unofficial sum of CHF20 million ($21.5 million). Details of the arrangement remained otherwise confidential. Apple had used the Swiss station clock design without permission for its mobile operating system iOS6, released in September last year. At the time, the railways had said it was happy that the computer firm had adopted the clock, confirming its design status, but could not ignore the illegal usage. As the owner of the clock’s trademark and copyrights, the transport company promised to take legal action. The railway clock was created in 1944 by Swiss electrical engineer and designer Hans Hilfiker. The red second hand is in the shape of the disc which controllers previously used to signal to train drivers that they could leave. The clock was lauded by the Design Museum in London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York as an example of outstanding 20th-Century design. Swiss watchmaker Mondaine has been licensed to make wall clocks, desk models and wristwatches based on the design since 1986.
13 September 2013
Swiss join international accord on environment
Parliament has paved the way for Switzerland to join the Aarhus Convention, an international agreement laying down basic rules to promote the involvement of citizens in environmental matters and to improve the enforcement of environmental law. The Senate on Thursday came out in favour of ratifying the accord, despite opposition by critics who warned of interference by foreign judges and non-governmental organisations as well as excessive bureaucracy. The other parliamentary chamber, the House of Representatives, had approved the convention in March. The international agreement provides for public access to information on the state of the environment, human health and safety. It enshrines the right of the general public to participate in decision-making in environmental matters and to appeal in court against infringement of environmental laws. The Swiss government had signed the convention in 1998, but it took the cabinet more than ten years to present its proposals for the necessary amendments of Swiss law to parliament. Passionate plea Supporters in the Senate argued Switzerland, a country with high environmental standards, stood to dent its international credibility if it refused to agree to the convention. Only minor changes to Swiss law were in fact necessary as a result of the ratification, said environmental committee speaker Raphaël Comte. A minority criticised there was no need for additional regulations. Environment Minister Doris Leuthard made a passionate plea for the convention as it helped create a level playing field. “Small countries only stand a chance if there are multinational rules,” she said. It was the second time this year that the issue was tabled in the Senate. In June it sent the bill back to a preparatory committee amid concerns that environmental groups could block procedures. Aarhus Convention Agreed in the Danish city of Aarhus in 1998, the convention came into force three years later. It has since been ratified by at least 46 signatories, mainly countries in Europe and central Asia. The Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (better known as Aarhus Convention) is an initiative of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. swissinfo.ch
7 September 2013
New Swiss negotiator to defend with ‘firmness’
Switzerland has named a replacement for its top diplomat in ongoing international tax and banking talks: Jacques de Watteville, the current ambassador to China. He replaces Michael Ambühl, who stepped down in August. De Watteville was appointed State Secretary for International Financial and Tax Matters in the finance ministry on Wednesday. The 62-year-old succeeds Ambühl, who led lengthy banking and tax evasion talks with the United States and negotiations with the European Union, and who left his post to become a professor at Zurich’s Federal Institute of Technology. De Watteville has a busy agenda ahead of him: talks with France, Germany, Italy and the European Union are expected, as well as dealing with pressures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the G20 and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) inter-governmental body. He told reporters in Bern that he would defend Switzerland’s interests with “determination and firmness”. Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf described the career diplomat as an “independent-minded” man with clear opinions and loyal. The search for Ambühl’s successor was coordinated with the foreign ministry. “It is important that the foreign and finance ministries cooperate well,” De Watteville said. Globe trotter De Watteville began his diplomatic career in 1982 after obtaining his doctorate in law studies, working as a delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and passing the bar exam. He has also worked in London, Brussels and Beijing among other places. As head of the Economic and Financial Affairs Division of the foreign ministry between 1997 and 2003, he participated in numerous international negotiations with the EU, the OECD and the United States, and was involved in the development of Switzerland’s international financial and tax policies. Before being sent to Beijing in September 2012, De Watteville was an ambassador and Head of the Swiss Mission to the European Union in Brussels (2007-2012) and ambassador to Syria (2003-2007). swissinfo.ch and agencies
7 September 2013
Switzerland tops field in competitiveness
Switzerland has again been named the most competitive country in the world in an annual survey released on Wednesday by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum. Singapore ranked second, Finland third, Germany fourth and the US fifth. Switzerland’s strengths lie in its innovation, its system of education, and its research institutions, as well as its superb infrastructure, transparent administration, and functioning finance and job markets, WEF said. There is room for improvement in several areas, according to the study. Swiss youths should have greater access to universities and women should have greater access to the business world. The study also criticised the protectionism in the Swiss agricultural market. “It is important that Switzerland shy away from overregulation and protectionism and focus on its competitive advantages,” said the study’s authors. WEF praised the financial and banking sectors for quickly adapting to new realities. The study urged countries with lower rankings – such as Spain (ranked 35), Italy (49), Portugal (51) and Greece (91) – to improve access to innovation in order to address the inefficiencies and flexibility of their markets. swissinfo.ch and agencies
17 July 2013
Military fears links with business unravelling
For generations, many executive jobs at Swiss companies were traditionally filled with army officers. But the arrival of foreign firms, indifferent to Swiss ways, and a drop in domestic support for the army is threatening the once cosy system. Besieged by an increasing number of overseas firms complaining that their staff are being taken away from work for military duty, the army has launched a charm offensive in an attempt to convince foreign executives of the benefits of the militia system. Equally at home amid the mud and explosions of battlefield exercises and multinational corporate offices, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Schudel might be held up by the army as an example of how the Swiss military and civilian business life can benefit each other. “There is no better training for business management than the army,” Schudel told swissinfo.ch. “It is not about learning to shoot a bazooka at a tank, but the process of pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone.” “Putting your personal feelings aside to take care of your team and get the job done builds character,” he added. “Officer training is tough, but so is life outside the army - there is often no mercy in business.” Double edged sword But the Swiss army is concerned that 47-year-old Schudel, regional director for Germany, Switzerland and Austria at United States data storage firm CommVault, is one of a dying breed. The Swiss militia system of regular compulsory military service for all men aged between 18 and 34 is now being viewed as something of a double edged sword by the business sector. On the one hand, conscription instills discipline, teamwork and problem solving skills into its young recruits. But companies have to cope with employees spending time away from work to regularly attend military training exercises, even more so if they are officers. To address these concerns Lieutenant General André Blattmann, chief of Switzerland’s armed forces, assembled foreign executives in Zurich on July 3 in an attempt to convince them that the armed forces still has plenty to offer the business community. Trudging through muddy fields in the pouring rain in Bülach, canton Zurich, executives were walked through a military training exercise of the 11th combat engineer battalion. With armoured vehicles and soldiers charging by, the guests were told of the benefits to the army of having civilian doctors, engineers and construction workers in the ranks. Companies could also benefit from having their workers experience practical, hands-on leadership training in uncompromising, uncomfortable and stressful situations, executives were told. see www.swissinfo.ch
3 July 2013
How competitive are competitiveness rankings?
Conventional wisdom is that the IMD World Competitiveness Centre’s annual rankings are a key indicator of a country’s economic fortunes. But with powerhouses like China outside the top ten, some experts question how influential such rankings are. After a quarter of a century, the Swiss-based IMD’s competitiveness list has become a coveted prize for countries around the world that view the top spot as the business world’s equivalent of an Oscar. A move in the right direction could persuade firms to invest in a country. This ritual was again on display with the recent release of the 2013 list. Countries such as Ireland, the United Arab Emirates and Ukraine celebrated their improved rankings, while those that slipped a few spots found themselves the subject of much hand wringing in the local media. Simon Evenett, a professor of international trade and economic development at the University of St Gallen, urged caution when considering the rankings. “No one agrees with what constitutes national competitiveness,” he told swissinfo.ch. “When you look into the IMD’s rankings, you’re buying into a certain view about what drives competitiveness, which other people might not agree with.” Changing times Since its debut, the competitiveness list from the business school has expanded from 32 countries in 1989 to the 60 that make up this year’s report. The list is based on 333 criteria, with two thirds involving data from international organizations and private institutions and another third from executive surveys. “At that time, everybody was thinking about the competitiveness of enterprises,” explained Stephane Garelli, director and founder of the IMD’s World Competitiveness Center. “The concept of competitiveness of nations was not really established.” The way IMD defines competitiveness is as a “tool for prosperity”, Garelli explains. “How countries manage everything to be more wealthy.” IMD World Competitiveness Center The IMD World Competitiveness Center’s “IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook” is in its 25th year. In 2013 it assessed 60 countries based on 333 criteria. Two-thirds of these are derived from statistical indicators and one-third from the perceptions of opinion leaders. Switzerland climbed to second place, its best ever performance. The United States regained the top spot. Only two other European countries (Sweden, fourth; Germany, ninth) made the top ten. The economic downturn saw countries like Swiss neighbour Italy (44) and Spain (45) fall several places in the overall ranking. www.swissinfo.ch/eng/business
3 July 2013
Spying fears highlight worth of data centres
The granite grey slab of the Swisscom data centre outside Bern can protect its clients’ most valuable assets from bombs, earthquakes and even a direct aircraft hit. It’s only one of the reasons why there’s growing interest in such hubs. The centre’s stark concrete vaults also protect the highly sensitive information of banks and other clients from the prying eyes of governments or economic spies. ‘Trust’ is the watchword of the expanding Swiss data storage industry as it quietly carves out a highly lucrative global niche. Recent revelations of United States intelligence agency spying, coupled with ongoing reports of espionage emanating from China, may have raised public consciousness of the dangers to data but the industry has known about it for years. At the Swisscom centre in Zollikofen, canton Bern, no stone has been left unturned to protect its valuable cargo from any form of threat. Six powerful diesel-powered generators are kept permanently warmed, ready to kick into life within 15 seconds and able to power the entire centre’s operations in the event of total power failure. Thousands of video, heat and infra-red sensors would detect anyone who managed to get past the strict entrance security controls. Staffing is kept to a minimum, leaving the ranks of servers unmolested. Enquiries related to encryption techniques and other measures to prevent cyber intrusion are met with a polite but firm “no comment”. Political stability, a tradition of confidentiality and strong data protection laws have all added to Switzerland’s growing reputation as an international data safe house. Unlike in the US, even the Swiss government would need a court to approve each request for data. “Clients increasingly want to entrust their data to a jurisdiction where there is legal certainty,” Bruno Messmer, head of sourcing consulting at Swisscom, told swissinfo.ch. “This will be one of Switzerland’s many strong selling points in the future.” www.swissinfo.ch/eng/business
2 May 2013
Why some residents choose not to become Swiss
Naturalisation is a Swiss political hot potato, with moves afoot to make the process harder in the face of rising immigration. But not every foreign resident who is eligible feels the need to embark on the long road to Swiss citizenship. A 2012 study commissioned by the Federal Commission on Migration found that in 2010 around 900,000 people in Switzerland were eligible for citizenship. In contrast, 36,000 people, or around two per cent of foreigners in Switzerland in 2011, were granted Swiss citizenship. “In comparison to other countries, Switzerland has very strict criteria for citizenship, which could be a reason for the relatively high number of people with foreigner status,” Halua Pinto de Magalhães, co-president of the immigrant organisation Second@s Plus, told swissinfo.ch. But there are other reasons as well. Mary Ann Reynolds, who is British, lives in Appenzell with her Canadian husband. “I’ve lived here 12 years and my husband nearly 20,” Reynolds says. “Neither of us are interested in becoming Swiss. We don’t understand anyone’s motivation if their current citizenship is of a well-recognised and respected country.” Bibiana* [name withheld], from Slovakia, a member of the European Union, “never thought about being Swiss. I never needed it.” She has lived in Bern for 14 years. Her partner, from South America, has a diplomatic passport. The couple plan to return to South America before their oldest child starts school. And Per Jessen, a Dane who lives in canton Zurich, is torn. He would like to become Swiss, but would have to give up his Danish citizenship. “It’s sentimental attachment,” he says, and not the belief that an EU passport is more valuable. Cont. www.swissinfo.ch/eng/swiss_news/
20 March 2013
Swiss know-how helps fight Beijing smog
In January 2013 Beijing experienced the worst air pollution in its history – but while it clogged the lungs of many Chinese people, it helped open their eyes to the seriousness of the problem. And Swiss companies are jumping in to help. “The government isn’t doing enough to reduce pollution. There is too much black smoke, too many exhaust fumes,” says Mr Ma, a Beijing pensioner who, along with his granddaughter, is taking advantage of a brief interval of clear sky to get some fresh air into his lungs. “I have lung cancer, I can hardly breathe,” complains Mrs Li, another pensioner, who says she never goes out when the air is too polluted. The Chinese capital was blanketed in smog for 25 days. The concentration of fine particles (PM 2.5 – i.e. those of a diameter smaller than 2.5 micrometres, small enough to get into the lungs) stood at nearly 1000 micrograms per cubic metre of air; the guidelines set by the World Health Organization (WHO) suggest a limit of 20. Last year ordinary people were still playing down the impact of the smog. Today they are aware of the danger, mainly because the authorities and the media have been transparent about it, and put out warnings – which is a first. Pure air from Swiss companies The city authorities are promising clean air by 2030. “That’s far too long!” says Zhou Rong, of Beijing Greenpeace. She points out that half the coal burned in the world every year is burned in China. The cure is a long way off, so what is urgent now is prevention, and this is where Switzerland is playing a very visible role. The Swiss cross is all over the internet in China, most notably in advertisements containing the logo “IQAir”. Business is flourishing for IQAir, a manufacturer of air purifiers based in canton St Gallen. These upmarket devices with their somewhat austere design enjoy a reputation for excellence. They are selling like hot cakes in Beijing. “Sales have gone up by two and a half or three times since pollution peaked in January,” Mike Murphy, the head of IQAir China, told swissinfo.ch. Waiting lists are long, and the buyers are not just expatriates, but also – and more and more - Chinese.
18 Febraury 2013
Franc cap remains “valid” policy
The president of the Swiss National Bank (SNB) has reaffirmed the central bank’s determination to keep the Swiss franc cap in place for as long as needed. Thomas Jordan said he expected the currency to continue easing against the euro in 2013. The franc may have weakened since the start of the year against the euro, but keeping a lid on the franc at 1.20 per euro remains the appropriate monetary policy instrument to maintain price stability, Jordan told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday. “The motives for the introduction of the cap are still valid,” he said. “The franc remains a very strong overvalued currency, although we expect it to continue to fall and weaken. The risk of an extreme change in the exchange rate remains as long as budgetary problems in the euro zone are not resolved.” The SNB would maintain the peg “with the utmost determination” and, if necessary, take additional measures to achieve its aims, he added. In September 2011, the SNB fixed a minimum exchange rate of SFr1.20 to the euro to check the franc’s strong gains versus the euro zone currency when it reached almost parity and to prevent Switzerland sliding into a cycle of deflation and recession. The central bank has intervened heavily to defend the 1.20 limit, building up foreign currency reserves of over SFr427 billion in December and making it the world’s biggest foreign exchange-rate manager in 2012, overtaking China. But it has done less since September as an easing of the euro zone crisis took the heat off the franc.
27 January 2013
German ministers assure Swiss of friendship
Jan 27, 2013 - 17:06 Switzerland’s preferred way of dealing with the European Union by means of bilateral agreements, has found support from two prominent German politicians, despite official EU warnings that the bilateral path has no future. The German vice-chancellor and economics minister, Philipp Rösler, of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) – the junior partner in the ruling coalition - told the Swiss German-language Sonntag newspaper in remarks published on Sunday that bilateralism was “not a thing of the past”. “In our view it works well. Switzerland has decided in favour of the bilateral path, and I believe it has a future,” he said. “You cannot force a country into a system that it doesn’t want, and that must be respected.” “Germany is and remains a friend of Switzerland, and understands its position very well.” Support for Switzerland was also expressed by Labour Minister Ursula von der Leyen, of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union. “I should like to tell the Swiss from the bottom of my heart: You have good and reliable friends in Germany,” Sonntag quoted her as saying. The paper said that Swiss Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann had spoken of receiving a “clear commitment” from Rösler and von der Leyen during his meetings at the World Economic Forum in Davos in the past week. It commented that the German government evidently wanted to counteract the “anti-Swiss polemics” coming from leading members of the opposition Social Democratic party, like Peer Steinbrück, his party’s candidate to oppose Merkel in elections later this year. Steinbrück - a long-term critic of Swiss banking secrecy - gained notoriety in Switzerland in 2009 when he compared the Swiss to Native Americans “running scared” of the US cavalry. In November 2012 Steinbrück’s Social Democrats, along with the Green Party, blocked a deal which would have led to a German-Swiss tax accord, by voting against it in the Senate. The EU has officially told Switzerland that all future agreements with Switzerland “must include an obligatory legal mechanism to ensure that they will be automatically adapted to constantly evolving legislation”. A letter to this effect was sent at the end of last year by European Commission chairman José Manuel Barroso, and earlier this month the EU ambassador to Switzerland, Richard Jones, repeated that the system of fixed agreements was coming to an end and “needed to be reconsidered”. Top level negotiators from the two sides are due to meet on Tuesday to discuss the future course of relations. swissinfo.ch and agencies
3 January 2013
President stresses Swiss unity but EU separation
Switzerland should not allow itself to be put under pressure by the European Union, Swiss President Ueli Maurer has told swissinfo.ch in a New Year interview. Maurer admits he may be more “blunt” in his opinion of EU-Swiss ties than his fellow cabinet members but he is “not fundamentally different” when it comes to the will to secure the best possible bilateral accords for Switzerland. swissinfo.ch: Recently in a speech you seemed in a roundabout way to question the bilateral accords with the EU. How do you imagine things should proceed with Switzerland and the EU? U.M.: I think the bilateral approach is the only way. We have to take time for ourselves to pursue this bilateral approach and shouldn’t allow ourselves to be pressured. The closer the relationship to the EU, the more care has to be taken in examining the accords. In my opinion we have never been under such great time pressure that we have had to rush something through. The most important motto for me is to retain as much freedom to negotiate as possible. I don’t think I am fundamentally different from my cabinet colleagues in this respect, because nobody wants to join the EU. They all want good agreements for Switzerland. Perhaps I have a slightly more blunt opinion. But there is no basic difference between the stance of the government and the political majority in the country. swissinfo.ch: Exporting companies have a vital interest in the EU internal market. With your party’s immigration initiative you are bringing the free movement of people between the EU and Switzerland into play. Are you not afraid of sanctions and the possible economic consequences? U.M.: No. In the economy, the strongest will prevail. The EU’s interests in Switzerland are just as concrete as the other way round. Imagine, purely theoretically, that the EU would limit access to its market and that we, in response would impose limitations in the area of transport. That wouldn’t work. Those are merely hypothetical games. We are closely tied to one another and continually have to find common solutions and we will do so.
15 November 2012
Swiss criticise UN sanctions regime
A group of countries, including Switzerland, has called on the United Nations Security Council in New York to introduce the possibility of appeal for people who find themselves on the body’s sanctions list. Switzerland welcomed the Security Council’s resolution from June 2011, which introduced measures to improve the sanctions regime such as the creation of an ombudsman. Paul Seger, Switzerland’s ambassador to the UN, said these measures had led to an improvement in the respect for human rights and the rule of law. He added, however, that the right to a fair and open hearing before an effective, independent and objective court was still not being respected enough. In addition, the group of countries wanted the ombudsman to be responsible not only for sanctions against al-Qaeda, as is currently the case, but to be anchored in the entire UN sanctions regime. The period of office of the ombudsman should also be extended and the exchange of information between UN member states and the ombudsman should be intensified, according to the group. Lack of evidence The sanctions regime was established by the Security Council in 1999 to avert an imminent threat to international peace and security. The Council, through its Sanctions Committee, is responsible for designating individuals and entities on the sanctions list. Member states are then be obliged to impose financial and travel sanctions – as well as an arms embargo – on people suspected of having connections to al-Qaeda or the Taliban. In Switzerland, headlines were made in September 2012 when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Switzerland had violated the human rights of Egyptian businessman Youssef Nada by restricting his cross-border movements after he was put on a blacklist on suspicions of financing terrorism. Nada was accused by the United States of helping finance the 9/11 terrorist attacks and placed on the UN Security Council sanctions list. When Switzerland implemented the sanctions, the individuals or groups affected were banned from entering or transiting through Switzerland. In Nada’s case, no evidence against him was ever found, yet he remained trapped in an Italian enclave within Switzerland for several years. The court in Strasbourg ruled that “Switzerland should have taken all possible measures, within the latitude available to it, to adapt the sanctions regime to the applicant’s individual situation”. The court said Switzerland was to pay Nada €30,000 (SFr36,100) to cover his costs and expenses. swissinfo.ch and agencies
15 November 2012
Major shift in energy policy looms
The phasing out of nuclear power will mean a profound transformation of the Swiss energy system. But the Energy Strategy 2050, which the government has issued for consultation, is too slow for some, unrealistic for others. It will be the issue of the century for Swiss politics – but also for the economy and society as a whole. The new energy strategy, devised in the wake of the March 2011 nuclear disaster at Fukushima, will need to be implemented over several decades and will keep two or three generations of politicians busy. At the economic level, hundreds of billions of francs will be needed to bring about the planned energy savings, develop renewable energy sources, modernise infrastructure and shut down the atomic power stations. The transformation of the national energy system will call for new clean-tech firms and new jobs, while heavy cuts are looming for the three major electricity suppliers who run the nuclear plants. New energy taxes, financial support for private power stations, rebuilding of plants, electrification of vehicle traffic, stricter standards of energy efficiency for lighting and appliances: the wave of change will affect every citizen in one way or another. Thousands of solar, wind and geothermal plants will be springing up everywhere, changing the face of the country.
22 October 2012
Switzerland seeks to confirm top research spot
Switzerland tops all major research and innovation rankings worldwide, largely thanks to generous funding and a clear separation between public and private research, as well as academic freedom that attracts some of the brightest minds. The country boasts the world's highest number of scientific publications per capita and the second highest for citations, the State Secretariat for Education and Research (SER) said in 2011. The OECD Factbook also shows that in 2009 the country registered the most patents per head, an indicator for innovation. “In all rankings and in all indicator lists you will find Switzerland on one of the first five places,” said David Bohmert, the head of SwissCore, which represents the interests of the Swiss National Science Foundation, the SER and the Federal Office for Professional Education and Technology at the European Union in Brussels. As a nation, Switzerland is highly respected as research location by its European partners and is often considered as an example to follow according to Bohmert. “Most European countries lose their researchers to the United States once they complete their taxpayer-funded education,” he stated. “We are one of the few countries worldwide, which attracts more researchers from the US than it loses to them.” Switzerland is “the country with the most marked migration of top researchers within Europe”, the EU Commission commented about a ranking of international cooperation in research and innovation. “On a global scale, it is second behind Japan.” “In most European countries the balance is negative, reflecting the brain drain those nations are suffering from.” Switzerland is also attractive for students seeking higher education, the commission said. “Austria, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the UK, Australia and New Zealand have the highest percentages of foreign students,” it added. cont. www.swissinfo.ch/eng/science_technology
22 October 2012
Swiss drag feet over national human rights
Do states keep their human rights promises? The United Nations Human Rights Council should offer some proof of this during the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Switzerland is back on the hot seat on October 29. Since April 2008 the human rights records of all 193 UN member states have been scrutinized by the 47-nation Geneva-based rights council in a peer review process known as the UPR. It is now Switzerland’s turn to make its second appearance before the council. Four years ago Switzerland was grilled by states on issues ranging from racism, migrant and women’s rights and naturalisations to the lack of a national human rights institution. It finally accepted 23 out of 31 recommendations made by the council to improve respect for human rights nationwide. Following this first experience back in May 2008, Swiss ambassador Paul Seger declared that Switzerland would be studying the measures to be implemented over the coming months “to ensure the continuity of this review and not to limit it to a simple Geneva-based exercise every four years”. According to Claude Wild, Seger’s successor at the head of the Swiss delegation appearing before the council this month, collaboration with civil society has been on going. The Swiss foreign ministry is “in constant contact with members of human rights NGOs, covering the whole spectrum of human rights activities”, he noted. But Alain Bovard, a lawyer at the Swiss section of Amnesty International, was less categorical. “Following the first cycle in 2008, the Swiss foreign ministry organized a meeting. Then we didn’t hear anything for two years, there was no follow up. And it was only at the beginning of this year that talks started again under the guidance of the Swiss Centre of Expertise in Human Rights (SCHR),” he declared. “The NGOs have worked closely with Wild’s team to produce the Swiss report which explicitly outlines NGOs expectations. Not many countries do this.” cont. www.swissinfo.ch/eng/swiss_news/
16 September 2012
Switzerland comes clean on its obsession
Cleanliness is commonly considered a Swiss trait, but is Switzerland really as clean as it seems? On a day in early autumn, tourists meander through Bern’s old town. A man cleans a storefront window. A rubbish truck bumps over cobblestones. Tourists seem impressed. “Yes, it’s definitely clean,” says Craig Oddie of Manchester, Britain, who is visiting the city’s bear park with his family. “Just walking around the public areas you don’t see any litter. The public transport’s always clean. It’s massively better here than it is in England.” Barbara Cunningham of Canada agrees. “Oh, I think it’s absolutely clean. Absolutely. We came down from the [Klein] Matterhorn, and as the gondola came in there’s a part underneath it—even that was clean. It didn’t have garbage there, it didn’t have grease, dried grass. Nothing. Spectacularly clean.” “We know for a fact that Switzerland is perceived as a clean country,” says Veronique Kanel, spokeswoman for Switzerland Tourism. In 2010 the marketing organisation, which receives 60 per cent of its funds from the Swiss government, surveyed 9,000 tourists from 110 countries about their perceptions of Switzerland. “Cleanliness is spontaneously mentioned as a strength by four per cent of tourists,” says Kanel. That “might not seem very high, but this comes very close to culture and history, which was mentioned by 4.7 per cent of interviewees.” Switzerland’s greatest strength as a destination was nature, spontaneously mentioned by 20 per cent. Marketing Swiss cleanliness Switzerland Tourism capitalises on that perception in its most recent advertising campaign, “Switzerland—Summer Holiday”. The television spot, created by Zurich advertising agency Spillmann/Felser/Leo Burnett, takes a humorous approach to that reputation. Two retired gentlemen are shown in a variety of idyllic Swiss locations, polishing stones, removing an old boot from a pristine lake, cutting blades of grass on their knees. The ad, with the theme “We do everything for your perfect summer holiday,” was running worldwide from April to October (see link). But does a country’s level of cleanliness have a positive effect on tourism? Not exactly, according to Christian Laesser, professor of tourism and service management at St Gallen University. Tourists are not “thrilled” by a clean destination; rather, they are “definitely not happy when it’s not clean”, Laesser tells swissinfo.ch. Laesser also refers to the “relativity of cleanliness”. “With what are you comparing? If I compare Switzerland to, for example, Singapore, I would perceive Switzerland not as very clean, just as okay clean, but not really especially clean. If you take some other countries then I definitely would perceive this country as clean.”
16 September 2012
Ambitious Switzerland plays to its strengths
Can a small, neutral country have a significant impact on global politics? In its ten years as a United Nations member, Switzerland has focused on its traditional strengths in development and humanitarian issues as it has tried to wield influence. Experts on both sides of the Atlantic agree that, despite some setbacks, the balance sheet of Switzerland’s first decade has been overwhelmingly positive. Switzerland has played key roles in structural and budgetary reform of the UN, as well as in the areas of human rights and international justice. “When it comes to fundamental rights, rule of law and accountability, Switzerland’s impact is way above its weight,” Richard Dicker, director of the international justice programme with the New York-based Human Rights Watch, told swissinfo.ch. “Over the ten years of its membership, Switzerland has established a track record with regards to those issues. Switzerland is not just showing up, but showing real commitment to these justice issues, they have credibility and legitimacy.” Italian professor of international law at the Graduate Institute Geneva, Andrea Bianchi, said: “These ten years have proved that Switzerland can play an active role in the international scene and that it has both the credibility and the skills that are necessary to play a major role in international politics”. Transformation of the discredited Human Rights Commission into the Human Rights Council, reform of the sanctions system and of the Security Council – including a bold proposal to limit the veto power of the permanent five (P5) members in cases of genocide – are cited by experts as areas where Switzerland has excelled. But the withdrawal in May of a draft resolution on reform of the Security Council’s working methods was one of Switzerland’s “big disappointments”, says Daniel Trachsler from the Centre for Security Studies at the Federal Institute of Technology Zurich. “I think it showed that if the overall context is not right, a small or middle state cannot really push something through against considerable opposition.” Cont: www.swissinfo.ch/eng/politics
2 September 2012
Strong SMEs key to Switzerland’s economic success
As many western countries struggle to stay afloat amidst powerful economic storms, Switzerland sails on largely impervious to the pain. Economist Stéphane Garelli reveals the secrets of its success, but warns of dark clouds on the horizon. The Swiss economy has continued to grow despite the three-year-old European debt crisis that began in Ireland and Greece and spread to Italy and Spain. For the past six years, the Swiss government has run budget surpluses, even while suffering a recession during the financial crisis in 2008 when it was forced to bail out UBS, the country’s leading bank. Switzerland's economy has so far avoided the worst effects of the strong franc, with better-than-expected economic growth of two per cent year-on-year in the first three months of 2012, while the jobless rate held at 2.7 per cent in July. And although economic growth is forecast to slow to about 1.5 per cent this year from about 2.5 per cent in 2011, the government still expects to book a surplus of SFr1.5 billion ($1.56 billion) for 2012, down from SFr2 billion last year. Meanwhile, the 17-country eurozone appears headed for its second recession in three years. swissinfo.ch: Is the situation in Switzerland really that exceptional? Germany and Nordic countries also seem to be weathering the economic storm quite well, don’t they? Stéphane Garelli: Every possible indicator – unemployment, public finance, growth rates and inflation – is extremely positive for Switzerland. Very few other countries are managing to produce such major economic indicators and such results. So, yes, Switzerland really is in quite an exceptional situation. swissinfo.ch: What’s your explanation for this? S.G.: Firstly, Switzerland’s economy is very much focused on the rest of the world. This is an unexpected consequence of its refusal to join the European Economic Area (EEA) in 1992. Many businesses at the time began to diversify their export markets instead of concentrating solely on Europe. Export sectors were very quick to focus on emerging markets with strong growth potential. Second, Switzerland has many highly efficient small- and medium-sized companies (SME). In most countries, even in places like Mongolia, you find large, very competitive multinationals. But an economy only really starts to stand out thanks to its SMEs – firms of between 100 - 1,000 employees that own their own technologies and have a global outlook. Thirdly, the Swiss economy is incredibly diversified. We produce everything except perhaps cars. Also, for over a decade Switzerland has managed to introduce a debt brake that everyone is now talking about in Europe. This has enabled us to keep public finances under control. Stéphane Garelli (garelli.ch) swissinfo.ch: People often talk about the positive influence of its high-quality education system and close collaboration between the academic and economic worlds. How true is that? S.G.: Very much so. This is all the more important as it has an impact on SMEs. Unlike big multinationals, SMEs really need collaboration with the academic world, and access to laboratories, research centres and special skills. This is extremely important as it strengthens medium-sized firms that export homemade products. swissinfo.ch: Despite the diversification of markets, Europe remains Switzerland’s main export partner. What are the risks if the continent’s economic situation continues to worsen? S.G.: Indeed I think the negative side of the Swiss model is its vulnerability. It’s vulnerable as it is the object of everyone’s desire. We can see that with our German and French “friends”. They look at us in a funny way and try to impose quite difficult conditions, especially financial. This vulnerability is due to the fact that Switzerland is a relatively important economic power but is small-fry politically. We depend on Europe for two-thirds of our economic activity and we depend on the United States as we are traditionally close to it through business activities. We have tried to diversify markets but it’s true that most business continues to be done with Europe and the US. And right now we must admit that relations with them are tense. swissinfo.ch: And we mustn’t forget the handicap of the strong Swiss franc… S.G.: The big question is how long the Swiss National Bank will be able to maintain the SFr1.2 to the euro cap. I must say that I have some doubts about this. Given the speed with which the SNB is building up exchange reserves, people say it cannot continue for ever at that pace. At the same time it’s in the Europeans’ interest to keep the value of the euro low. The only way for them to work their way through their austerity policies is to export to high-growth countries. So if they want to do that it’s better for them to keep a weak euro. swissinfo.ch: Swiss business circles have often pleaded in favour of joining the European Union. In view of the current problems, aren’t we better off outside? S.G.: Right now not being an EU member is an advantage. Switzerland doesn’t have to suffer the impact and slowness of European decisions. What strikes me most is the time needed to take decisions which are pretty obvious from an economic perspective. It’s been roughly two years that leaders have known what needed to be done to save the Greek economy. But sooner or later we’ll have to find a modus vivendi with Europe as Switzerland is in an extremely vulnerable position. We can see that with Germany. The Germans can do what they want, like buying CDs of stolen Swiss bank data, without us being able to do a thing. It’s the same with the Americans.
3 August 2012
Relying on innovation to boost economy
Switzerland is a world leader when it comes to innovation, thanks to a model education system, creativity and a flexible labour market. But this added value is not always to be found in the most obvious places. It’s without a doubt one of the most widely agreed upon policy principles among decision makers and economists in Switzerland today: to remain competitive at the international level, Swiss companies have to focus on innovation. The innovation mantra is even more popular in the context of a particularly challenging global economic environment. The eurozone’s public debt crisis has emphasised the Swiss franc’s role as a safe-haven, upping prices on already expensive Swiss products. Meanwhile, the European Union wants to slow the flow of multinationals setting up shop in Switzerland to benefit from favourable tax deals. See more at www.swissinfo.ch/eng/business
22 July 2012
Switzerland shapes accord with China
After a series of high-level talks in Beijing, Swiss Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann says he hopes that Switzerland and China can sign a free trade agreement by the end of the year. “There are still many problems and challenges, but I'm very confident that we can find a solution before the end of the year,” Schneider-Ammann said. The economics minister’s entourage includes 25 captains of industry, a dozen officials and several journalists. In Beijing, the Swiss organised the Sino-Swiss Economic Forum, which brought together 300 Swiss and Chinese business people. “The Swiss mission has a strong symbolic aspect, allowing us to get to get to know our partners better. It is crucial to develop a positive relationship,” said Stéphane Graber of the Swiss-Chinese Chamber of Commerce. High hopes “We expect benefits for our industry and financial sectors,” said Gerold Bührer about the prospects of a free trade agreement. Bührer, president of the Swiss business federation, economiesuisse, added that a bilateral accord better protecting Swiss investments and reducing tariffs would save jobs in Switzerland. For Alexandre Jetzer, a consultant for pharmaceutical giant Novartis, the agreement would allow goods to be imported into China at zero duty. “Currently, the taxes we pay are a heavy burden, as is the red tape. We lose a lot of time, and Chinese patients pay the price for that.” Geneva-based manufacturer LEM is very active in China. LEM president and CEO Gabella Francis said Switzerland had a "unique opportunity to strengthen its presence” in the country. One example is the jeweller Gübelin. President Thomas Gübelin said a free trade agreement could lead the family-run business to establish itself in China. “There will be much greater security than there is now,” he said. And Patrick Hofer-Noser, president of Cleantech Switzerland, said he believed an accord would make it easier to export Swiss expertise in sustainable technologies.
22 July 2012
Valtellina: lost piece of the Swiss puzzle
In June 1512, the forces of Graubünden, now a Swiss canton but then an independent republic, marched into the Valtellina, its southern neighbour. For nearly three centuries thereafter, Graubünden ruled the Valtellina as a subject territory. Yet the locals were never really happy being ruled by self-interested and often corrupt officials from Chur. In 1797, when Napoleon conquered Switzerland and the northern regions of modern Italy, he gave the Valtellinesi the option to join the new “Cisalpine” (Italian) Republic. They went with their Italian neighbours. The Valtellina has basically been Italian ever since. The 500th anniversary of the conquest was marked recently by a conference of historians in Tirano, now on the Italian side of the border, and Poschiavo, on the Swiss side. Valtellina’s Guglielmo Scaramellini, a professor at Milan University was pleased by recent discoveries of documents in Italian and Swiss archives which “will be useful for shedding light on the events of 1512 and the years that followed.” “We want to shed more light on the initial phase of the Graubünden regime,” agreed Florian Hitz, a Swiss historian. “That time has been completely overshadowed by the period of crisis and warfare that followed in the 17th century. Looking back, people have portrayed the relationship between the Graubünden overlords and their Valtellina subjects far too pessimistically, at least as regards the early decades.” He sees the historians as having to change people’s awareness. “The rule of Graubünden in the Valtellina is still weighed down with prejudices in the public mind. It was not as bad as it is made out to be.” Yet the people of the Valtellina ended the connection with Graubünden as soon as they got the chance. Would it have been a good thing for us - or for them - if they had stayed? “Probably a Swiss Valtellina would not have stayed with Graubünden for long, but would have formed a canton of its own”, thinks Hitz. “That would not have done any harm to Graubünden, and been only a plus for Switzerland. The country would just have been bigger and more beautiful.” Scaramellini archly suggests another scenario: if the Three Leagues (as the Graubünden federal state was called) had persuaded the Valtellina to stay with them as an equal “fourth league”, Graubünden would probably not have joined the Swiss Confederation, “so that still today there would be a Republic of the Four Leagues, independent and sovereign. Another miniature Switzerland - but competing with the original!”
17 June 2012
Votazioni "Risparmio per l'alloggio"
Votazione 17 giugno 2012 Iniziativa popolare "Accesso alla proprietà grazie al risparmio per l'alloggio"
17 June 2012
Votazioni Accordi Internazionali
Votazioni 17 giugno 2012 Iniziativa popolare "Accordi internazionali: decida il popolo!
17 June 2012
Votazioni Managed Care
Risultato delle elezioni del 17 giugno 2012 Modifica della legge federale sull'assicurazione malattie (Managed care)
11 June 2012
The people’s rights in an era of globalisation
Conservatives want every major international treaty to be put to a popular vote before being signed by the government. They are worried that Switzerland is relinquishing too much power over sovereign issues. In Switzerland, the government is answerable for foreign policy decisions not only to parliament, but also to the people and the cantons. All international treaties with important implications for the country, such as the enactment of new laws, can be put to a nationwide vote if at least 50,000 citizens or eight cantons so demand it. A referendum is automatically triggered where the treaty involves joining a supra-national organisation or a security partnership. But these instruments of direct democracy do not go far enough for conservatives. Supported by the Swiss People’s Party, the lobby group Campaign for a Neutral and Independent Switzerland launched an initiative in 2009 to “strengthen the people’s rights as regards foreign policy”. The text, to be put to a vote on June 17, demands that all treaties of a specified level of importance should be automatically submitted to referendum (see sidebar). Cont. www.swissinfo.ch/eng/swiss_news
23 May 2012
Massive Zurich building slides to new location
In the largest undertaking its kind in Europe, a 6,200-tonne building is being shifted in one piece 60 metres westward. The old management building of the former machine factory Oerlikon in Zurich has to make way for some new railway tracks. The brick building is 123 years old and is the last relic of Oerlikon’s 19th century industrial zone. In 1876 the Oerlikon machine factory “Maschinenfabrik Oerlikon (MFO)” began manufacturing tool machinery, weapons and electric locomotives. When its recent owner ABB announced plans to tear it down, the public handed in a petition to save it, emphasising its cultural importance for the region. Together with the new owner Swiss Prime Site and the Swiss Federal Railways, ABB came up with the alternative plan to have the 6200-tonne building moved in one piece. Preparation on the site started ten months ago (as shown in animation in video). Supporting basement walls had to be replaced by steel pillars. A concrete plate with tracks on top was constructed under the building. Finally the building was placed on special carriages. On May 22 the moving began at 11.00 a.m. Via hydraulic presses it is being moved by four metres per hour. On Wednesday evening the 80-metre long building will have reached its new location. (SF/Swiss Prime Site/swissinfo.ch)
23 May 2012
Glencore head responds to criticism against firm
Ivan Glasenberg, the CEO of Swiss-based commodities giant Glencore, insists his company is doing a lot to help the people in the places where it operates – and that it would be willing to do more. “We’d be happy to work with aid organisations,” Glasenberg told the German-language Tages-Anzeiger and Bund newspapers in an in-depth interview published on Wednesday. It was Glasenberg’s first major interview in the Swiss press since a report released last month accused Glencore subsidies of violating human and environmental rights. Glasenberg dismissed these accusations, arguing that his company had strict environmental and social standards. “We’re convinced that we’re doing good in the countries where we’re active,” Glasenberg said. He criticised non-governmental organisations for publishing reports on Glencore activities without soliciting feedback from the commodities firm. As an example, he cited the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he said Glencore would, by the end of the year, invest $3.5 billion (SFr3.3 billion) in developing new mines while providing electricity and building roads, schools and hospitals. Asked whether Glencore was in fact some sort of development aid organisation, Glasenberg said: “We’re in these countries to make a profit for our shareholders, but we also contribute to development work. It’s in our interest to contribute to the welfare of the population through taxes and the creation of jobs.” Glasenberg also downplayed the issue of corruption in poor countries. “The problem of corruption in connection with multinationals is exaggerated.” The CEO said the planned merger of Glencore with the Swiss-British mining firm Xstrata was making progress and that both sides would profit. Glencore had a turnover of $186.2 billion last year, making a profit of $4.3 billion. swissinfo.ch and agencies
18 May 2012
Swiss airline raises fares and tightens belt
Raising ticket and fuel surcharge prices and reshuffling ground staff are some of the measures being considered by Swiss International Air Lines to stave off tough competition and ever rising costs. Despite being the star performer of the Lufthansa Group, the Swiss carrier has been ordered by its German owners to save SFr100 million ($107 million) by 2015. The efficiency drive is part of an ambitious €1.5 billion (SFr1.8 billion, $1.9 billion) cost saving programme – called Synergies, Costs, Organisation, Revenue, Execution (SCORE) – announced by Lufthansa earlier this year. The reasons for the cost savings are obvious: Swiss enjoyed a stellar year in 2011 when it booked a SFr306 million ($327) operating profit. But this impressive figure still fell 17 per cent below the 2010 figure while the first quarter of this year saw a SFr4 million loss. The main culprit was fuel price inflation, but extra costs are also on the horizon in the shape of a new European Union emissions trading charge that is expected to hit the airline with an additional SFr90 million bill this year, according to observers.
16 May 2012
Eurostar eyes line to Geneva
Eurostar, operator of the Channel Tunnel passenger train services, plans to expand its network out of London by adding as many as ten destinations in four European countries – including Switzerland – over the next five years. Eurostar Chief Executive Nicolas Petrovic told the Financial Times on Monday he wanted his company, which currently carries 9.7m passengers a year, to pose a competitive challenge for airlines. Petrovic said he aimed to use the creeping liberalisation of European rail markets to launch services across western European cities like Geneva, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Cologne, Lyon and Marseille. “By 2016 and 2017 we would like people when they are thinking about travelling to these cities to consider taking Eurostar rather than flying,” he said. Swiss travellers who want to go by train to London currently have to board Eurostar in Paris or Brussels, with non-stop trains taking two hours 15 minutes and one hour 51 minutes respectively. swissinfo.ch
16 May 2012
Language programme aims to boost integration
The Federal Migration Office has launched a language training system specifically defined around the integration needs of migrants. The course will be gradually introduced in collaboration with the cantons from the summer. Called “FIDE – learn, teach and assess French, Italian and German in Switzerland”, the training system will become the nationwide norm for immigrant language training. Its focus will be on giving immigrants the language competence needed to undertake such ordinary tasks such as consulting a doctor or attending parent-teacher meetings. “Mastering the language is an essential condition for successful integration. Anyone who wishes to get around successfully in the country they have chosen to live in must be able to understand what is going on around them and to make themselves understood,” Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said in a statement. “The objective is not to pass an abstract written test, but to be able to cope with daily challenges. So FIDE is suitable even for people who have no schooling or little formal training.” The language training system was developed in collaboration with the Institute of Multilingualism at Fribourg University and designed on the basis of a survey of more than 300 immigrants and professionals from all walks of Swiss life. It is based on the common European framework of reference for languages (CEFR) and adapted to the specific needs of Switzerland, where the situation is complicated by the fact not only that it has four national languages, but that the spoken and the written language can differ considerably, especially in the German-speaking areas.
9 May 2012
Bern and Rome return to negotiating table
Switzerland says neighbouring Italy has agreed to resume negotiations on a comprehensive fiscal accord, including a crackdown on tax cheats. The move is part of Swiss efforts to get rid of its image as a haven for hidden assets. Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said she would travel to Rome for talks with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti. However, she refused to give a date. At a news conference on Wednesday, Widmer-Schlumpf welcomed the breakthrough, but warned of too much euphoria. “Italy showed its willingness and we will see what the negotiations will yield. I’m confident that we can make progress,” she explained. Widmer-Schlumpf said negotiations would cover a broad range of fiscal issues, including a withholding tax but also a controversial blacklist of Swiss companies and people compiled by Italy 20 years ago. Bilateral relations with Italy have been strained for years not only over tax issues, but also about easing access for Swiss companies to the Italian market and a dispute over a 1974 accord on cross-border workers from the Lombardy and Piedmont regions with two Swiss cantons of Ticino and Valais. The announcement about negotiations with Italy comes in the wake of tax agreements with Germany, Britain and Austria earlier this year. These deals still need approval by the respective parliaments. Observers point out that France might be interested in following suit to try to get hold of additional revenue from its tax payers who have stashed away assets in off-shore accounts in Switzerland.
30 April 2012
Business oasis...
An Italian and a Chinese firm move to Switzerland. Switzerland is expensive. The franc is too strong for the industrial sector to be competitive. Some Swiss companies have had to move their production abroad because of this. But there are also many foreign firms which relocate to Switzerland, mainly because of tax cuts but also because they want a good business environment and the “Swiss made” label. (SF-ECO-swissinfo.ch) The mechanical, engineering and electrical industry is very important for the Swiss domestic economy. Tornos, in canton Jura, which has been operating since 1880, is one of the leading machine tool manufacturers in the country. (Raffaella Rossello, swissinfo.ch/ TSR archives)
27 Febraury 2012
Recession-hit nations owe pharma firms billions
As austerity measures across Europe lead to healthcare spending cuts, hospitals in Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain are delaying paying for drugs by up to three years. Swiss pharmaceutical giants Roche and Novartis are examining whether to limit supplies to some of the worst culprits. While European finance ministers shuttle between crisis meetings, the consequences of the debt problems continue to extend across the eurozone. “The on-going financial crisis and its resultant drag on economic growth continues to impact the debt burden of many economies, most notably in Europe, where Greece is facing possible default of its sovereign debt obligations, and countries such as Spain and Italy have had their sovereign debt obligations downgraded,” said Novartis spokeswoman Isabel Guerra. The debt crisis has also given rise to concerns that some countries may not be able to pay for Novartis’ products, she added. Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain – the so-called PIIGS nations which face similar economic challenges – have agreed with Brussels to implement draconian austerity programmes to lower public debt, requiring the elimination of all non-essential expenditure. “If you have cutbacks in the public sector, one way to save is not to pay or to delay payment of your bills,” Peter Zweifel, an economics professor at Zurich University who specialises in health matters, told swissinfo.ch. “But if you do that in the medical field, there will be a political backlash. It is assumed that international pharma companies have deep pockets.” This view is shared by Ignazio Cassis, vice-president of the Swiss Medical Association, and a centre-right Radical parliamentarian. “For the past two or three years the situation has become more dramatic as the debt levels of some countries have become unsustainable. A number of public hospitals and state insurance schemes are close to bankruptcy. But before being unable to pay staff salaries they stop paying suppliers,” he explained. According to the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), European states owe €12-15 billion (SFr14.4-18 billion) to the pharma industry, which includes groups like Roche and Novartis. “On December 31, 2011, the group’s combined trade accounts receivable with public customers in southern Europe [Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal] was equivalent to SFr2.1 billion,” Roche spokeswoman Claudia Schmitt told swissinfo.ch. The number of unpaid bills from Spain, Portugal and Italy increased last year, while those from Greece fell as a result of ‘zero coupon bonds’ issued by Athens, she explained.
31 January 2012
Rich Greeks balk at financial aid for homeland
Wealthy Greeks living abroad, including in Switzerland, are extremely wary about investing in their cash-strapped homeland to help create jobs and boost the economy. Switzerland is home to several ultra-rich Greeks, like the granddaughter of the legendary shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, billionaire Spiros Latsis, who made his money through oil, housing and banking, and the heirs to shipping tycoon Stavros Niarchos. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation funds a number of social programmes in Greece, including food aid schemes, to help people hit by the financial crisis. But few rich Greeks living abroad are rushing to invest in their homeland. George Koukis, a successful software entrepreneur who lives on the shores of Lake Geneva, told German television he was proud to be Greek but he was not considering investing in his country. “Why should I give my money to people I consider useless? Others here think like me, although they might not say so,” he said. No place to invest “It’s an honest answer,” Greek lawyer Ilias Bissias, an expert in cross-border legal cases between Switzerland and Greece, told swissinfo.ch. He is also the legal advisor to the Swiss embassy in Athens, and works in Zurich. “Maybe rich Greeks living in Switzerland should feel morally obliged to help their country. But at the moment there is a great deal of suspicion and caution over every investment project,” he said. Harris Dellas, who has worked for 13 years at the Economics Institute at Bern University, said nobody was keen to invest in the current hostile environment. more on www.swissinfo.ch/eng/politics...
22 January 2012
New foreign minister braces for EU headache
All political eyes are on Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter from the centre-right Radical Party as he takes up his position and the many accompanying challenges. After nine years of Micheline Calmy-Rey, a member of the centre-left Social Democrats, the centre-right parties are eager for a change in style and substance. Top of the agenda is the European Union. Relations with the country’s main trading partner are fraught and opinions on how to deal with the EU differ wildly: the left is looking for closer harmony and “proactive trading”, while those on the right want to see greater steadfastness and more stability. “If we do not deal [with the EU] proactively, our room to negotiate will become much smaller,” Social Democrat parliamentarian Carlo Sommaruga told swissinfo.ch. “The EU will soon come with its demands for an institutional agreement and a tax deal. Personally, I think we will have to conclude a global institutional agreement with the EU.” Sommaruga’s centre-right colleagues in the parliamentary foreign policy committee disagree. “We shouldn’t be too hasty in obediently implementing the EU’s wishes. I expect Minister Burkhalter to stand firm against this pressure,” said Pirmin Bischof of the Christian Democrats. According to Christoph Mörgeli of the rightwing and Eurosceptic Swiss People’s Party, “the big question is how the pressure develops from Brussels to automatically accept new laws and to recognise common judges, when we’re essentially talking about Brussels judges”. “This is the challenge for the new foreign minister,” he said.
22 January 2012
Geneva to blow out 300 candles to Rousseau
Geneva is this year celebrating the 300th anniversary of the birth of philosopher, writer and composer Jean-Jacques Rousseau. swissinfo.ch talks to François Jacob, the organiser of the busy Rousseau programme, about the influence of the Enlightenment thinker and why celebrations in 2012 extend well beyond Geneva. swissinfo.ch: What impact has Rousseau had on modern-day Europe? François Jacob: Europe is perhaps not the best term to use when talking about Rousseau’s impact, as it’s a contemporary creation; Europe today doesn’t really correspond to the 18th century Europe of the Enlightenment. In those days the international language was French and culture circulated in a different fashion. It was reserved for small elite groups living in France, Switzerland and Russia, who read Rousseau without worrying about linguistic barriers or different ways of thinking. swissinfo.ch: How far did Rousseau contribute to defining the notion of nationality? F.J: In the 18th century countries were very much defined by the reigning families. Catherine II of Russia was German, members of the Spanish Bourbon dynasty were partly French, for example. So national sentiments didn’t really exist as such. What changed with Rousseau was that he gave those kind of feelings a framework that took into account all the social, educational and political aspects that shape a population. When he wrote “Essay on the Origin of Languages” he described how humans were shaped by the place they were born and the group culture in which they grew up. For Rousseau, places of origin were fertile sources of development for everyone. The French Revolution later drew on this totally new concept of identity, which in turn gave birth to the notion of homeland. www.swissinfo.ch
12 October 2011
Wonderful modern apartment for SALE in Lugano-Collina d'Oro
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5 October 2011
Furnished apartment for rent
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10 August 2011
Foreign firm strategy taxes cantons
One of the key questions for cantons competing to attract foreign firms is not just tax rates, but whether to join forces or go it alone with promotional campaigns. Just one year after joining a cantonal alliance, Fribourg is already wondering whether the expense of joint marketing is worth it. Aargau decided to exit a promotional bloc last year, but other cantons are reaping huge benefits. Marketing business locations in far flung countries is an expensive operation. Swiss cantons compete with many countries, that have sophisticated promotional platforms, to convince firms from China, India and the United States to set up regional headquarters inside their borders. The process requires permanent representation in the target countries and frequent visits from officials. It is little wonder that some cantons choose to pool know-how and financial clout to flex their muscles to greater effect around the world. The Greater Geneva and Bern Area (GBBA) economic development agency was set up at the start of 2010 to promote the wares of cantons Geneva, Bern, Valais, Vaud, Neuchâtel and Fribourg. Each canton contributes to a central fund worth SFr4 million ($4.3 million) a year. Unripe fruit After one year, the region attracted 54 new foreign companies – two thirds of which went to Geneva or Vaud, and only four to Fribourg. This had led to Fribourg threatening to exit the alliance. “We are not satisfied with the initial results,” cantonal economic director Beat Vonlanthen told Swiss public radio. “We must decide if, and how, to continue working [in the GBBA].” GBBA director Philippe Monnier said that Fribourg had a “legitimate complaint” but urged the canton to persevere rather than come to a hasty decision. The 54 firms that came to the area last year were not a result of GGBA’s activities, he said, which have not yet had time to bear real fruit. “We only started our promotional activities in the middle of 2010 and it will be a long term endeavour,” Monnier told swissinfo.ch. “It will take two or three years before we see concrete results.” Monnier agreed that his organisation should work to spread out the distribution of incoming companies. With this in mind it is targeting foreign nanotech and IT companies that would match the existing strengths of Fribourg. Cont. www.swissinfo.ch(eng/specials
12 July 2011
Lake dwellings make world heritage list
The prehistoric lake dwellings of the alpine region are to be added to the Unesco World Heritage List, as proposed by Switzerland and five other European countries. These sites provide a unique glimpse of life in the earliest agricultural settlements from 5,000 to 500 BC. They lie deep in lakes or buried in sand on lake shores. Yet for Unesco, they qualify as part of the cultural heritage of humanity: the pile-dwelling sites (as they are called) constitute some of the most important archaeological evidence of the ascent of man between the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. The water and the sand of the lakes have created exceptional conditions in which this immense record of prehistory has been preserved. The organic material used by our distant ancestors – wood, leather, bone, cloth and even left-over food – is preserved much better than anywhere else in this aquatic environment, protected as it is from exposure to air, inclement weather and the forces of human destructiveness. First discovered a century and a half ago, the pile-dwelling sites of the alpine region have provided specialists with a unique opportunity to reconstruct what life was like in early societies of farmers and herdsmen during the millennia before Christ. These sites point to the missing link in the chain between the hunter-gatherers of pre-history and the first European civilisations. www.swissinfo.ch/engl/special
9 June 2011
Swiss women celebrate 40 years of suffrage
Swiss women have come a long way since 1971, the year they were granted the right to vote at the federal level. Exactly 40 years after their first chance to do so, around 125 representatives of the Swiss political, social and economic scenes celebrated the milestone in Bern on Monday. On February 7, 1971, 66 per cent of Swiss men voted in favour of allowing women to vote as well. The first opportunity came on June 6 of that year – when nationwide issues included environmental protection and financial regulations. Many women who remember that momentous year were at the Bernerhof on Monday to reminisce and discuss what still needs to be done. “This is a very important event because we still have a number of problems and challenges in terms of equality. Some examples include equal pay for equal work and the glass ceiling,” said former parliamentarian Rosmarie Zapfl-Helbling, president of alliance F, an umbrella organisation for 140 women’s groups in Switzerland. “We know how difficult it is for women to advance to higher management positions in business and science,” she told swissinfo.ch. “This awareness is important, especially for young women who have no idea that this wasn’t even possible 40 years ago – and in Appenzell, just 20 years ago. It’s really a very short time. And despite that, we’ve really come a long way with four ministers in the cabinet. That’s certainly very special this year.” “Women and men are exactly equal. I would like to see more women in politics and business,” he said, encouraging young women to pursue business apprenticeships rather than taking the academic track. “This would definitely be in the interest of the economy.” more www.swissinfo.ch
9 June 2011
Recovery in sight for foreign banking sector
Foreign banks in Switzerland believe 2010 marked a revival in fortunes despite the souring of Italian relations, tax amnesties and stolen data still doing the rounds. The 153 banks that make up the sector also put a brave face on falling margins due to low interest rates and the high Swiss franc. The Association of Foreign Banks in Switzerland (AFBS) revealed that profits had risen six per cent to SFr1.965 billion ($2.35 billion) while withdrawals of client assets slowed to a trickle last year. Making up nearly half of all banks in Switzerland and managing nearly SFr1 trillion ($1.2 trillion) of assets, foreign institutions form an important part of the Swiss financial market place. With an emphasis on private banking, several members of the association bore the brunt of a crackdown on tax evasion by European neighbours in the past two years. Italian row “Ticino was particularly exposed because of its geographical situation. We have been through several tax amnesties over the last 15 years that have reduced the amount of Italian money deposited in Ticino,” he told swissinfo.ch.
3 May 2011
For rent 5,5 room apartment
Situated at one of the most exclusive parts of Lugano, green and silent with view at the surrounding mountains, 5 min. by car to the central Lugano. Direct entrance to common swimming pool. Private garden. The condominium has only 5 apartments and every with separate entrance. The apartment is adapted to disabled, covered terrace, one garage with 1 outside parking. Spacious and light living-room with fireplace. 2 shower.bath and WC, 3 bedrooms, kitchen and TV room. Total 120 m2. Please call 079 935 58 55 or the owner direct 076 37 37 941
29 April 2011
Has hydroelectric hit its high water mark?
The development of Switzerland’s main renewable resource, hydroelectric power, seems to have reached its limit – not least for environmental reasons. The nuclear disaster in Japan last month has reopened the debate on the use of alternative energies, and Switzerland – which has five reactors – is now considering the possibility of abandoning atomic energy. The Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant has been leaking radiation after a March 11 earthquake and tsunami wrecked its power and cooling systems. Even the Swiss political parties traditionally favourable to atomic energy, such as the centre-right Radicals, have announced their intention of studying alternative solutions. It was reported in the Sunday press on April 17 that an inter-party alliance put together by the Radical parliamentarian Otto Ineichen is proposing a step-by-step exit from nuclear power by 2050. More on www.swissinfo.ch (SWISS NEWS)
16 April 2011
SMEs need to be more innovative
The new director of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs says priority should be given to improving business conditions abroad. Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-Fleisch, who started in the job this month and is the first woman to hold the post, tells swissinfo.ch that this included creating better access to markets and more free trade agreements. Among those expected to benefit are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which form the backbone of Switzerland’s export economy. They must, however, keep up with the times by staying innovative and diversifying, she says. swissinfo.ch: What are your priorities? Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-Fleisch: Seco has a wide range of tasks. After the economic crisis, we should give priority to improving the business environment abroad. That includes creating better access to markets and expanding the network of free trade agreements. The relationship with Europe will also be a priority. Located in the middle of Europe, we must further develop our relationship with our neighbours and with the EU. more on www.swissinfo.ch (politics - Internal Affairs)
16 April 2011
Keeping pace with the population boom
A million more people will be living in Switzerland by 2035, all expecting to enjoy high standards of living, affordable housing and quality transport links. Federal and cantonal authorities are adopting new strategies to cope with the rising tide of residents, driven by increasing numbers of foreign workers, as house prices spiral upwards and complaints mount about crowded trains. Switzerland is hardly about to fall apart at the seams and has coped with large influxes of migrants in the past. But the latest batch of entrants, mainly taking advantage of open borders between Switzerland and the European Union, have sparked a debate about the merits of having so many people arrive at one time. One of the key words in the debate is “balance”: the balance of finding more living space without eroding green space, providing housing for all income groups, of serving business and leisure interests. Geneva has found itself at the sharp end of population growth, attracting large numbers of new businesses and workers to the city. Property prices have been driven up six-fold in the Lake Geneva region in the past 24 years while traffic jams have grown longer. Cont. www.swissinfo.ch/eng/swiss_news
2 April 2011
Romansh revels in language status
Why is Romansh - spoken by 0.5 per cent of the Swiss population - considered a language, whereas Swiss German, spoken by almost 64 per cent, is classed as a dialect? The answer lies not only in linguistics, but also in issues of culture, identity and politics. Swiss German is a German dialect used on an everyday basis by the majority of people in Switzerland. High, or standard, German is learned in schools and used as a written language. But it is so different to Swiss dialect that many pupils find it almost like learning a foreign language. It therefore seems strange that Romansh, which is only spoken in the southeastern canton of Graubünden, is classified a national and official language, while Swiss German is not. Romansh has a long history and has been considered a language by linguists since the mid 19th century. "Romansh kept the use of 's' in the plural, which is not the case in any Italian dialect," Romansh expert Chasper Pult told swissinfo. "This also applied in France and Spain, but Romansh was not in contact with these regions. So the linguistic criterion is pretty convincing here." Opposition Nevertheless, there was some opposition to Romansh being considered a language, and this came to a peak during the First World War and the fascist era in Italy. At the time Italian linguists regarded Romansh as a dialect close to Alpine Lombard, and therefore a relation of Italian. But even Italy found it hard to place Dolomitic Ladin and Friulian, Rhaeto-Romance variants from the north of the country and sister languages to Romansh. Yet linguistics alone was not enough to give Romansh its language status. "Once linguists had prepared the ground by noting the linguistic specifics of Romansh, there was a cultural renaissance, a movement which led to the recognition of Romansh as the fourth national language in 1938," said Pult. Added to this was the fact that the five different variants of Romansh that developed in Graubünden were already standardised through translations of the Bible, literature and schoolbooks, says Georges Lüdi, a professor of languages at Basel University. "The problem was that these standardised variants covered a territory that was far too small to be really viable. Therefore the variants were recognised as one whole language, but it was accepted that each variant had its own spelling and pronunciation." The slogan, in dialect, of a Bernese hockey club (bernernordfront) The slogan, in dialect, of a Bernese hockey club (bernernordfront) () Swiss German Could not these criteria also be applied to Swiss German, especially as the differences between Germany and Switzerland are not only linguistic but also cultural? "In the German-speaking area, the standardisation process started during the Reformation. Luther and Zwingli were the driving forces behind this, so that everyone could read the Bible," Lüdi told swissinfo. "There was therefore a movement towards a homogenisation of written German. German-speaking Switzerland participated in this and a consensus was established from north to south. "In the 17th century, the Germans started speaking this variant but Switzerland did not. This effectively means the Germans started to speak as they wrote, while the Swiss started to speak and write differently." Dutch is essentially a German dialect which has become the national language of the Netherlands. Could a similar thing happen with the Swiss German dialects? "The Swiss German identity comes from the fact that people from Lucerne or Bern speak differently and that therefore there is a Lucerne or Bern identity but not really a Swiss German one," said Lüdi. "To have something like Dutch, you'd have to standardise these dialects, and nobody wants that." Lüdi added that Swiss German dialects were in no way comparable to the Romansh idioms. "There used to be five standard Romansh languages, but no standard written form, whereas for Swiss Germans, German is the standard written version." In this context, the recent creation of a standardised Romansh - Rumantsch Grischun - may prove to be for the five Romansh variants what German is to the Swiss German dialects. swissinfo, Bernard Léchot
18 March 2011
Yawning drivers urged to power nap
Driving while tired is as dangerous as drink-driving, campaign organisers said on Thursday, ahead of the first “turbo siesta” day in Switzerland on March 14. Up to 20 per cent of accidents are believed to be caused by drivers drifting off while at the wheel, according to the Swiss Council for Accident Prevention. The Council has teamed up with motoring and road safety organisations for a three-year campaign to make people think twice about driving when tired. To launch the campaign a national day of turbo siestas has been declared, with drivers urged to powernap for 15 minutes. “Tiredness is not an easy subject to tackle as everyone knows it’s dangerous to drive while tired, but it’s not always clear at what degree of fatigue we shouldn’t take the wheel,” Magali Dubois, spokeswoman for the Council, told swissinfo.ch. “We’ve launched this campaign because it’s a priority that hasn’t been addressed yet. We’ve talked about alcohol and other issues, but not about fatigue.” In a media blitz during the campaign’s first year, comical television advertisements are being rolled out showing a driver napping in unusual places – in the middle of a football pitch or a skate park. Later on, businesses with staff working irregular hours will be targeted, as well as young people and the elderly. Tiredness is dangerous at different times of day, depending on people’s ages. Most accidents during the weekend or at night involve drivers under the age of 40, whereas for people aged over 40 the afternoons are more problematic. But the warning signs are the same for all: sore eyes, heavy eyelids, constant yawning, blurred vision, shaking, body jolts. www.swissinfo.ch
18 March 2011
Raw materials trade takes off in Switzerland
The well established commodities industry in Switzerland is reaching new heights with rising prices and an influx of new foreign companies, particularly in Geneva. Geneva is fast becoming the raw materials distribution hub in the world, dominating the market in coffee, sugar, cotton and grains and oil seeds and set to overtake London as the number one oil trading centre, according to insiders. In addition to Geneva, oil, gas and metal traders have a large presence in Zug. Zurich, Ticino and other outlying areas are also represented to a lesser degree. The success of these areas has recently persuaded Russia’s biggest oil giant Rosneft to set up trading operations in Geneva and compatriot oil producer Bashneft to set up shop in Zurich. The mighty oil concern Trafigura is also rumoured to be moving its traders from London to Geneva. “Twenty years ago when I started in the commodities industry it was a rather sleepy business that did not operate at the speed it does today,” Credit Suisse head of commodity finance Konrad Wälti told swissinfo.ch. “The business has developed upwards enormously in the last ten years.” More on www.swissinfo.ch
3 March 2011
Russian subs plumb depths of Lake Geneva
Two deep-sea Russian submersibles will dive to the bottom of Switzerland’s largest body of water in the summer to gain a better idea about its geology and physics. The elemo project, coordinated by the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), will bring together researchers from around the world to explore the lake’s abysses with the aim of better understanding and protecting it. “Our lake is special – and not just because of its beauty,” Andrew Barry, professor of ecological technology at EPFL and part of the elemo project, told swissinfo.ch. “Most lakes are quite small and Coriolis [the effect of the earth’s rotation on, among other things, ocean flow patterns and plughole water] has no effect. The Great Lakes in the United States are actually like small seas. Our lake is the magic size for interaction between certain forces,” he said. Some 1.5 million people live near Lake Geneva, which provides drinking water for half of them. But despite its importance, there is still much to learn about the complex workings of the ecosystem. www.swissinfo.ch
3 March 2011
Libyan diplomat refuses Gadaffi posting
swissinfo.ch has obtained exclusive information that the diplomat named by Libya to the United Nations headquarters in Geneva has refused to represent Moammar Gaddafi. Muhammad Murad Hamimah said he would not take up the post. He accused the Gaddafi regime of "committing acts of violence against the people, and the use of mercenaries". He said he “stood by the Libyan revolution", which is attempting to overthrow the dictatorship. swissinfo.ch received a statement from the Libyan envoy – who was appointed by the Libyan authorities as Permanent Representative to the Mission of Libya to the United Nations in Geneva on February 26, 2011. In it, Hamimah says he "rejects the mandate from the government, which has lost its legitimacy as a result of the commission of acts of violence, intimidation and random murder against masses of innocent people”. The use of force against the peaceful population “constitutes a flagrant violation of the principles of human rights and international humanitarian law”, the statement said. “I stand by the Libyan revolution, and support my people's brave uprising to obtain freedom and democracy and the eradication of corruption." Hamimah had served as Vice President of the Libyan Mission to the United Nations in Geneva for several years before being called back to Tripoli to serve in different capacities.
3 Febraury 2011
Romansh revels in language status
Why is Romansh - spoken by 0.5 per cent of the Swiss population - considered a language, whereas Swiss German, spoken by almost 64 per cent, is classed as a dialect? The answer lies not only in linguistics, but also in issues of culture, identity and politics. Swiss German is a German dialect used on an everyday basis by the majority of people in Switzerland. High, or standard, German is learned in schools and used as a written language. But it is so different to Swiss dialect that many pupils find it almost like learning a foreign language. It therefore seems strange that Romansh, which is only spoken in the southeastern canton of Graubünden, is classified a national and official language, while Swiss German is not. Romansh has a long history and has been considered a language by linguists since the mid 19th century. "Romansh kept the use of 's' in the plural, which is not the case in any Italian dialect," Romansh expert Chasper Pult told swissinfo. "This also applied in France and Spain, but Romansh was not in contact with these regions. So the linguistic criterion is pretty convincing here." see www.swissinfo.ch
29 January 2011
Negotiations between Switzerland an China
Free Trade negotiations between Switzerland and China officially launched Bern, 28.01.2011 - Federal Councillor Johann N. Schneider-Ammann, Head of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, met today at the World Economic Forum in Davos with the Chinese Minister of Commerce Chen Deming to officially launch negotiations between Switzerland and the People's Republic of China in view of concluding a Free Trade Agreement, and to discuss other issues of common interest. During their meeting, Federal Councillor Johann N. Schneider-Ammann and Minister of Commerce Chen Deming signed a Memorandum of Understanding officially launching the negotiations on a Switzerland-China Free Trade Agreement with a broad scope. Within weeks, negotiating teams from the two countries will convene to conduct the negotiations. At the press conference, both Ministers expressed their belief that the Free Trade Agreement will provide mutually beneficial framework conditions, contribute to increased bilateral trade and economic exchanges, and reinforce cooperation in a variety of areas. They also underlined their wish to see the negotiations proceed swiftly. Federal Councillor Schneider-Ammann stated that the negotiations are foreseen to cover trade in goods, trade in services and other relevant issues and areas of cooperation such as intellectual property rights and the promotion of investments, with a view to enhance bilateral relations and promote sustainable development. Besides launching the negotiations, the two Ministers reviewed bilateral economic relations and discussed issues of common interest. China is since 2002 the most important trading partner of Switzerland in Asia and trade between Switzerland and the People's Republic of China is growing faster than overall Swiss external trade. In the first eleven months of 2010, Switzerland has exported 6,7 billion CHF worth of goods to China (+ 34%) and has imported in the same period 5,6 billion CHF (+ 18%). Switzerland is one of the few Western countries to enjoy a positive trade balance with the People's Republic of China. see www.ch.ch
26 January 2011
Swiss seek Davos boost China trade talks
Switzerland will use this week’s World Economic Forum annual meeting to help move along Free Trade Agreement (FTA) talks with China during behind the scenes talks. Swiss Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann said he will meet China’s trade minister, Chen Deming, on Friday as Switzerland seeks to beat the European Union to a lucrative deal with the fastest growing world economy. “The chances are good that we can conclude a free trade agreement with China before the EU,” Schneider-Ammann said. “This would present Switzerland with a big competitive advantage.” A feasibility study published last year suggested that Switzerland’s gross domestic product (GDP) could be boosted by 0.23 per cent while firms could make annual savings of SFr290 million ($304 million) per year if trade barriers are lifted. China is Switzerland’s third-biggest export market after the EU and the United States, with some 300 Swiss firms located in the Asian powerhouse economy among a total of 700 companies that are active there. Talks to bring about an FTA with China have been going on for several years and a framework for formal negotiations was established during a visit by former Swiss Economics Minister Doris Leuthard in August of last year. Both sides will begin thrashing out specific details this year. www.swissinfo.ch
31 December 2010
Happy New Year!
29 December 2010
New equality chief faces overflowing in-tray
Switzerland’s equality chief leaves her post on December 31. On her successor’s to-do list are the continuing female-male wage gap and the problem of domestic violence. After 16 years at the helm of the Federal Gender Equality Office, Patricia Schulz is taking up a job at the United Nations. She will be replaced by canton Vaud’s head of equality, Sylvie Durrer, on March 1. Ahead of her departure, Schulz told swissinfo.ch that gender equality in Switzerland had improved over the past two decades. In particular, “great progress” had been made against domestic violence following the creation in 2003 of a specially dedicated service under the Equality Office. In Switzerland 9,761 people were victims of domestic violence in 2009, of which 771 were children. Domestic violence is the most widespread human rights violation, according to the international campaign, “16 days against violence against women”, held earlier this month. Schulz said legislative changes at the federal level meant domestic violence was now more commonly prosecuted and offenders could be removed from joint homes. "What used to be a private concern has become a public and political theme and much less taboo," she said, noting that the state now recognised it as a phenomenon that should be addressed. "Statistics are finally available, police have been trained, nearly all cantons have structures in place for dealing with victims and offenders.” The cabinet is also currently implementing a series of new measures against domestic violence. But Schulz warns the problem will continue for a long time because it is “deeply rooted” in a lack of equality. “The spiral of violence is a relationship mechanism rooted mainly in a desire for domination,” she said. In her new job, Schulz will become the first Swiss to be appointed as one of 23 members on the UN Committee on the Elimination of the Discrimination against Women, which oversees implementation of the 1981 convention of the same name. www.swissinfo.ch
29 December 2010
Prominent voices silenced in 2010
The year 2010 will be remembered by many Swiss for the number of leading personalities who passed away, leaving behind a flood of memories. They all had their own particular talents that were recognised both in and outside Switzerland. The uncrowned king of Swiss watchmaking, Nicolas G. Hayek, died in June of heart failure at his Swatch Group headquarters in Biel in June. Feted by many a university for his entrepreneurial skills and his tireless efforts for Swiss industry, Hayek, aged 82, was small in stature but a great visionary. He preached that people should always keep the imagination they had as a six-year-old child to keep creativity alive. Widely regarded as having saved the Swiss watch industry, he turned his companies, including Breguet, Blancpain, Omega, Longines, Swatch and a host of other brand names, into the largest watchmaking concern in the world. More than 1,000 people turned up to pay tribute to him at a public memorial in Bern. The 2010 Swiss president, Doris Leuthard, praised him as an ambassador for Switzerland and a source of inspiration for politicians. Other speakers who paid tribute included Swiss astronaut Claude Nicollier and the president of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge. Also in attendance was Hollywood actor George Clooney. swissinfo.ch
7 December 2010
Slice of Russian goes under the hammer
A recently discovered treasure trove of unpublished letters written by the brothers and sisters of Russia’s last tsar smashed estimates at auction in Geneva on Monday. The recipient, Ferdinand Thormeyer – Siocha to his imperial correspondents – came from the Geneva district of Carouge, and was appointed French tutor to the children of Alexander III in 1886, when he was 28. Twenty telegrams from future tsar Nicholas II and his mother, estimated to fetch SFr300-500 ($307-511) went for SFr22,000 - not including auction costs. A cigarette case belonging to Nicholas fetched SFr27,000 (estimate: SFr5,000-8,000) and nine menu cards headed with Grand Duke Michael's monogram reached SFr6,000 (estimate: SFr400-600). A lot of 4 letters written by Grand-duchess Olga fetched SFr14,000 (estimate: 4,000-6,000). Royal tutor Thormeyer stayed with the royal family until 1899 and remained close to them, and to Russia, in spirit and through letters for the rest of his life. “We really see that he is at their total and utter disposal; he’s available to them emotionally, he’s available to them compassionately. He always has kind words to say to them and advice to give them,” Christina Robinson, specialist, valuer and appraiser at the Hôtel des Ventes auction house, told swissinfo.ch at a preview ahead of the sale. Thormeyer died childless in 1944; his collection only came to light when an heir started to clear out his attic and brought some of the things he found to the auction house, including 20 letters from a certain Olga Koulikovsky. The auction house recognised this as the married name of the Grand Duchess Olga and asked the vendor if he had any others. Robinson told of the growing excitement. cont. www.swissinfo.ch
22 November 2010
Swiss grandmas keep New Yorkers warm
As the grey, cold, darks days of winter begin to take hold, the time for warm sweaters, scarves, and hats is drawing near. For fashion-conscious New Yorkers eager to look hot even when the weather is cool, the Swiss company Ikou Tschüss has an unconventional solution – high fashion hand knitted by Swiss Omas. “We work with Swiss grandmothers because they know how to knit really well. I can't knit the way a grandmother can,” Carmen D'Apollonio, a co-founder of Ikou Tschüss, told swissinfo.ch. D'Apollonio has just set up shop in the trendy Nolita section of New York City with hopes of cracking the American market. The store, designed by the Swiss artist Urs Fischer, is as colourful as the yarns that D’Apollonio quickly knits together as she speaks. She started the fashion label Ikou Tschüss, which specialises in handmade knitwear and crochet, as well as hand-printed garments, with her longtime friend Guya Marini in 2007. For the duo, stitching together the unlikely combination of avant garde fashion and Swiss Omas was entirely design: “Swiss grandmothers know exactly how a pattern works and their quality is the best,” D'Apollonio said. www.swissinfo.ch
20 November 2010
Swiss dreamagain of hosting Winter Olympics
Switzerland, home of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), is once again thinking of holding a Winter Olympics – something it hasn’t done in more than 60 years. It has two Games to its name, in 1928 and 1948, as well as several bid rejections. Officials, who are discussing the issue on Friday, are hoping the latest plans – for 2022 at the earliest – will this time strike lucky. Both times the Winter Olympics were held in the luxury resort of St Moritz. But bids by Valais in 1976, 2002 and 2006 failed. Anger and disappointment were particularly high when the 2006 games went to Turin in neighbouring Italy. Swiss Olympic, the umbrella association of Swiss sport organisations, has now decided it is time to revive the dream. The general assembly met on Friday and decided by 381 votes to two abstentions to “mandate the executive council to work towards presenting an eventual candidacy”. Jörg Schild, the president of Swiss Olympic, told swissinfo.ch before the vote that it was the end of the first phase. “If there is a yes for preparing a bid then we will prepare a concrete project which would be put to vote at the end of 2011,” he said. Switzerland must put its name forward, he believes. “We can’t keep wanting to win medals but always let others organise the Games.” www.swissinfo.ch
20 November 2010
Temperatures rise as rich face tax vote
The impending nationwide vote on forcing cantons to set minimum income tax rates for high earners has descended into a war of threats and stinging rebukes. The centre-left Social Democratic Party launched its “fair tax” initiative to help level the playing field for all income earners. But the government and business leaders fear a yes vote on November 28 will damage the Swiss economy. A recent poll by the gfs.bern institute predicting that 58 per cent of voters will support the initiative has clearly rattled the business community. Continuation www.swissinfo.ch
15 November 2010
Retail scene changes as Coop overtakes Migros
Switzerland’s supermarket landscape is shifting, with Coop nudging ahead of its only rival Migros for the first time. But what does this mean for consumers? Retail experts discuss the main challenges for Swiss supermarkets expanding abroad and explain not only why Swiss consumers have to pay more than their neighbours but also why the “thrifty is nifty” mentality in Germany hasn’t taken off in Switzerland. Last week Coop, which together with Migros accounts for about 70 per cent of the market share for food and drinks in Switzerland, announced it had bought out transGourmet, a European wholesaler, for an undisclosed sum. As a result, the Coop Group’s turnover jumped some SFr8 billion ($8.25 billion) to just under SFr27 billion, almost SFr2 billion more than Migros (see box). “People eat everywhere!” said Coop CEO Hansueli Loosli, eying the rapidly growing purchasing power of eastern Europe, where transGourmet is active. Loosli, who stands down in the spring to become head of telecoms provider Swisscom, said there was a pent-up demand in the eastern bloc states which promised high growth. www.swissinfo.ch
10 November 2010
G20 to tackle discordant financial plans
The world’s most influential economies will gather in Seoul this week to thrash out a common path towards making the financial system more secure. Switzerland is planning to introduce new measures to reduce the risk of big banks bringing down the economy if they go bust. But there is a lack of harmony on how to tackle the problem on a global scale. With many countries introducing a range of different remedies for the same issue, there are fears that it may prove difficult to produce coordinated regulation of a financial system that knows no national boundaries. In such an event, Swiss banks – already committed to beefing up their capital reserves against risk – may find themselves at a competitive disadvantage to international peers. UBS and Credit Suisse banks have been told to apply the Basel III global regulations plus extra safeguards, known as the Swiss Finish, by 2018. Some other countries, including the United States, have introduced their own measures. But it is not yet known how many countries will implement Basel III, to what timescale and exactly what qualifies as top-quality capital reserves. “International standards are not as strong as we would like,” Mario Tuor, spokesman for the Swiss State Secretariat for International Financial Matters (Sif) told swissinfo.ch. “Being the first to implement regulations is only an advantage if others follow suit. If not everyone agrees to implementation, then it could turn into a disadvantage.” www.swissinfo.ch
10 November 2010
Swiss plan to splash out at Christmas
While most Europeans will be cutting costs this Christmas, retail studies have shown the Swiss will be spending more than last year. Swiss consumers are set to spend around 1.2 per cent more than last year on gifts, food and going out at Christmas. The biggest spenders, however, are the Luxembourgers, who will fork out 2.4 per cent more than last year. According to a French study by accountancy firm Deloitte, their budget on end of year celebrations is €1,200 (SFr1,605) per person. In a parallel study, Ernst&Young show the Swiss budget for presents only is now SFr301 ($310) per head, 13 per cent more than last year (SFr267). Most European countries are expected to cut costs where Christmas is concerned. The Deloitte study showed the French would reduce their spending by about 4.4 per cent, while the worst hit by recession, the Greeks, will reduce expenses by 21 per cent, with a budget of just €420 a head. According to Ernst&Young, this year the most popular presents are expected to be vouchers and money, followed by books, clothes and food or chocolate. www.swissinfo.ch
1 November 2010
Has Switzerland saved banking secrecy?
Barely two years ago Swiss banking secrecy appeared to be on the rocks with little prospect of it surviving a battering from the United States and Europe. The impending negotiations of tax accords with Britain and Germany now appear to have lifted the pressure from the Swiss financial centre’s most prized asset. But to what extent has the threat really been lifted? Konrad Hummler, head of Switzerland’s oldest private bank Wegelin, believes that talks with the two powerful countries – which centre on withholding tax as opposed to an automatic exchange of tax information – will leave banking secrecy intact. “The protection of privacy through banking secrecy has been strictly separated from the issue of taxation,” he told the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper. “Banking secrecy has therefore been strengthened because it is no longer under suspicion of protecting injustice.” The perceived injustice was that the anonymity of Swiss banking clients was preventing Britain, Germany and other countries from obtaining information from Switzerland during tax evasion investigations. Now the German and British authorities appear to accept Swiss banks collecting back-dated and future taxes from offshore accounts and self-policing tax evasion in Switzerland, instead of offering the names and data of such clients. www.swissonfo.ch
1 November 2010
Military bunkers face their Waterloo
Switzerland’s secret military bunkers should be closed since they no longer correspond to threats the country faces today, according to Defence Minister Ueli Maurer. But not everyone thinks spending a billion francs on shutting down a modern defence system makes sense. “The nature of the military threat has changed,” Maurer told the 10vor10 television news programme on Thursday. “The bunkers are in the wrong place and the weapons will only last for another ten to 20 years. It’s not worth maintaining something that you’re not going to need in the future. Plus we no longer have the money.” Switzerland’s bunker system is found all along the border and at key positions inland. A secret construction programme of 100 high-tech bunkers with mortar cannon, which cost a billion francs, was completed only in 2003. Maurer admitted that while it would be expensive to keep the bunkers open, it would be even more expensive to close them. “We’re talking about hundreds of millions of francs – the amount could well cross the billion mark,” he said. “But [keeping them open] would just delay the problem,” he said, calling for “an honest debate” on the issue. For environmental reasons the doors can’t just be locked and then forgotten about – the bunkers have to be rebuilt. Maurer said it was perfectly possible that a private organisation could get involved. Indeed, some bunkers already serve as high-security data storage centres for banks or other financial organisations or as vaults or even hotels (see related story). www.swissinfo.ch
25 October 2010
Leuthard calls Francophone talks "fruitful"
Swiss Economics Minister Doris Leuthard says the work of the Francophone summit in Montreux has been “fruitful” and that a final declaration “fulfilled expectations”. She was speaking in the Lake Geneva resort on Sunday after two days of meetings in which about 70 delegations from French-speaking countries took part. The declaration deals with the challenges and visions for the future of the Francophone countries in three areas. One is their role at the international level and in world governance, the second treats sustainable development and the third deals with the French language in education in a globalised world. A Swiss foreign ministry statement at the end of the meeting said that Switzerland welcomed the “concrete and constructive results” achieved in Montreux. It was a summit that had also opened doors for people to see literary and cultural achievements in the French language. Joseph Kabila, president of the Democratic Republic of Congo that will host the next summit in Kinshasa in 2012, said the Montreux meeting had been “one of the most memorable” in the history of the International Francophone Organisation. The secretary-general of the organisation, Abdou Diouf, thanked the heads of state and government for re-electing him to a third term in office. www.swissinfo.ch
19 October 2010
World's highest lighthouse shines in the Alps
The Swiss have just set two world records: they have built the longest rail tunnel, and above it they have erected the highest lighthouse. A lighthouse isn’t what visitors expect to see on a mountain pass – and that’s exactly why it’s there. The Disentis-Sedrun tourist office, which covers the Oberalp area, wants it to be a talking point. The Oberalp pass, 2,046 metres above sea level, which links the central Swiss tourist resort of Andermatt with the Surselva region of canton Graubünden, lies close to the source of the Rhine, and locals are keen to make the most of it. “People drive over the pass and they probably don’t have the faintest idea that this is where the Rhine’s catchment area begins,” Andreas Pfister, head of the building department of the local commune of Tujetsch, explained to swissinfo.ch. “This lighthouse is supposed to send a message, so people will stop and wonder: What do they need a lighthouse here for? They probably don’t get a lot of ships.” www.swissinfo.ch
14 October 2010
Russian energy shift encourages Swiss firms
Swiss firms could profit from Russia’s drive to upgrade its energy infrastructure and diversify into clean-tech alternatives, a business conference has heard. Russia has embarked on a push to upgrade its electricity grid and its oil- and gas-dependent energy infrastructure. The 2014 Winter Olympics project and the creation of a Silicon Valley near Moscow could also offer lucrative contracts. Trade between Russia and Switzerland has nearly tripled in the past five years, reaching SFr2.8 billion ($2.9 billion) in 2009. The two countries signed a new three-year trade deal in August to boost economic links. Business Network Switzerland (Osec), the government organisation that promotes Swiss exports, brought together Swiss and Russian business leaders in Zurich on Thursday. Uwe Krüger, president of Osec’s Cleantech Switzerland export platform, believes Switzerland’s cutting-edge technology in the field of alternative energies, particularly photovoltaics, will be in high demand. “There is an enormous drive currently to invest more in clean technology, specifically in the high-tech segment. Swiss companies – big and small – can make a significant contribution in a wide range of technologies,” he told swissinfo.ch.
7 October 2010
Solar boat heads into the sunset
The first-ever round-the-world voyage by a boat powered only by solar panels – which is travelling under a Swiss flag – is now underway. The MS TÛRANOR PlanetSolar left the port of Monaco on Monday. The project is aimed at raising awareness of solar mobility and renewable energies. Swiss project founder and crew member, Raphaël Domjan, told swissinfo.ch from onboard the catamaran that the boat was making excellent progress. “On the whole, after six years of work, it is hard to find words to explain the feeling of finally sailing. Let me point out it feels great to be sailing at night with the energy of the sun,” he said in email comments. The boat is driven by a silent, pollution-free electrical engine, using only the sun’s energy. www.swissinfo.ch
7 October 2010
Treasures from Ancient Greece
Basel’s Antikenmuseum is exhibiting unique Greek treasures whose discovery owes a lot to Swiss archaeologists. Swiss archaeologists have been in Eretria since 1946, when the co-founder of the Antikenmuseum Basel und Sammlung Ludwig was first involved in the excavations at the Ancient Greek city on the island of Euboea.. The exhibition Cité sous terre (Underground city) presents stunning objects in a setting composed of real-size images allowing you, for instance, to walk on “real” Eretrian soil without dirtying your shoes or step on a fourth century BC mosaic with a clear conscience. Eretria was an international centre where the Greeks developed their alphabet. It was recently shown to be the birthplace of the myth of Narcissus. www.swissinfo.ch
29 September 2010
Women hail feminine cabinet majority
After the “extraordinary” election of a first female majority in the Swiss cabinet, women’s rights campaigners hope it will resonate in areas where inequality remains. Parliament’s choice on Wednesday of 50-year-old consumer advocate and Social Democrat Simonetta Sommaruga as the fourth woman in the seven-seat cabinet tipped the gender balance in women’s favour for the first time in Swiss history. The result has been hailed as a symbolic moment for women’s rights in a country that only gave women the vote in 1971 – long after Afghanistan, Syria and Iran had done so. Switzerland now becomes only the fifth country in the world to have a female majority in government, along with Norway, Spain, Finland and Cap Verde. www.swissinfo.ch
29 September 2010
Heading to university in retirement
In Switzerland, like across Europe, an ever-greying population is creating greater demand for late adult education. Courses for the over-60s in the country, which are run by the University of the Third Age (U3A), have been receiving record numbers of applications. Typically attached to established universities, Switzerland has nine such institutions. Each offers a programme of around 30 lectures spread over the academic year. At Bern University’s German branch of the U3A, applications have nearly doubled in the past ten years. There were 950 applicants for the 2010-2011 academic year. www.swissinfo.ch
 

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