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Outgoing minister warns of ‘vulnerable’ Switzerland

Swissinfo EN - Tue, 10/02/2018 - 14:23
Last week, Doris Leuthard announced she would be leaving the Federal Council at the end of the year. The media reported that she had “struggled with tears”.  It’s important not to miss her very clear message: “Our country is strong, but it has become more vulnerable.” She was referring to international interdependence. The work of the federal councillors has changed a lot over the past 12 years. “We have many questions that we can no longer answer from a Swiss perspective,” said the longest-serving of the seven current cabinet ministers.  External forces have a very strong influence on Swiss politics, Leuthard noted. “It is a fallacy to believe that we can control everything ourselves.” Switzerland is exposed to a variety of external factors. Both the Federal Council and Parliament, she said, must increasingly familiarise themselves with more complex issues while constantly integrating these external influences on our country into finding solutions. In addition, politicians ...
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In Zurich, Syrians mobilise in bid to boost mental health

Swissinfo EN - Tue, 10/02/2018 - 11:00
The men and women gathered in a spartan room are a moving reminder of the vitality and diversity of Syrian society when the country was blooming rather than exploding. The men sport casual to semi-formal clothes. Veiled women sit across women in jeans and tank tops. Political and religious views have been left at the door. The common denominator here is a shared drive to help refugees whose struggle to integrate into Switzerland is complicated by unaddressed psychological issues rooted in war trauma. They are part of Switzerland’s first batch of peer-to-peer Syrian counsellors being trained under the STRENGTHS Project. Among them is Osama Shelleh, a 37-year-old former electrical engineer, who has high hopes and a contagious sense of purpose.  “Syrians have a lot of problems with integration in Switzerland,” he told swissinfo.ch in September. “By attending this programme, I feel that I can do something for the Syrian people, help the Syrian people with integration and solving the ...
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The Brexit effect: Brussels tries to blunt the Swiss model

Swissinfo EN - Tue, 10/02/2018 - 10:57
​​​​​​​ Switzerland: “not a model”. The text on a January presentation from the EU’s Brexit negotiators could not have been clearer. Do not seek inspiration from Switzerland for post-Brexit relations, the EU was telling the UK, we are not repeating that folly. The footnote was an unintended compliment to the affluent Alpine country with a population of 8.5 million. Switzerland has long refused to join the EU, the 500 million-strong trading bloc on its doorstep. Yet somehow through guile, patience and a touch of bloody-mindedness, it has built a web of more than 120 bilateral deals which give it many of the benefits of membership. However, with Brexit forcing the EU to rethink its relationship with neighbouring countries that are not part of the bloc, Switzerland has become a prime candidate for some unsentimental housekeeping. Negotiations on a new deal started four years ago, and the EU seems more determined than ever to impose its will on little Switzerland – not least as an ...
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Fintech firms challenged to disrupt old order

Swissinfo EN - Tue, 10/02/2018 - 09:41
Swiss fintech start-ups have been urged to raise their ambitions and shake up the established titans of the financial industry. That’s the challenge set down by insurance heavyweight Swiss Re at a Zurich conference on Monday. “There are no attackers in Switzerland coming forward to disrupt the insurance industry,” Evangelos Avramakis, Head of Digital Ecosystems at the insurance giant, told the FINTECH+ summit. “Everyone is being too relaxed and nice to each other.”  The two-day FINTECH+ conference which ends on Tuesday brings together fintechs and traditional financial companies to better understand how to make use of each other’s strengths. “I see no change in the way insurance firms are interacting with their customers. I have not seen any revolutionary new products changing the market.” More than 200 fintech start-ups are now established in Switzerland. While some have made inroads offering efficiency-boosting services to larger companies, none have come close to achieving ...
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Parliamentarians call for Aquarius to fly the Swiss flag

Swissinfo EN - Mon, 10/01/2018 - 17:01
A group of Swiss parliamentarians are calling for the Swiss flag to be hoisted on the rescue ship Aquarius. The 58 refugees aboard the ship disembarked on Malta over the weekend. But, without a flag, the ship must cease service in the Mediterranean. Chartered by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and SOS Méditerranée, the Aquarius rescues migrants in distress. It is the last remaining NGO rescue ship in the central Mediterranean. Since Italy closed its ports to humanitarian boats, NGOs have withdrawn from the area. On September 22, Panama announced it was removing its flag from the Aquarius, arguing that the ship disregarded international laws of the sea. In August, Gibraltar deleted the ship from its maritime registry. Without a flag, the Aquarius can no longer conduct rescue missions. Last week, three Swiss parliamentarians called for a humanitarian gesture by interpellation to give the Aquarius the Swiss flag. One of those is Kurt Fluri, a member of the House of Representatives ...
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Swiss TV marks 50 years of colour

Swissinfo EN - Mon, 10/01/2018 - 11:12
It’s been 50 years since Swiss public television switched from black-and-white to colour. In the early days of colour TV, hosts felt obliged to describe the vivid innovation to viewers with older TV sets.  In an era where screen size, resolution, and download speeds dominate the viewing experience, it’s easy to forget that people used to make do with monochromatic moving pictures – small and firmly rooted to a box.  The United States introduced colour TV in 1950 and featured it permanently from 1953. Countries like Japan, Mexico, Canada, and the Philippines had been enjoying colour TV for years when Switzerland decided to up its palette on October 1, 1968 – the same year as Bermuda, Iraq and Denmark, and exactly one year after the Soviet Union. Early shows In fact, the Swiss got their first taste of colour TV during a test run of a quiz show called “Dopplet oder nüt” (Double or nothing), broadcast by Swiss public television, SRF, on August 29, 1968. A few days later, viewers ...
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With Rousseau on his 'Thrill Walk'

Swissinfo EN - Mon, 10/01/2018 - 11:00
Whenever a new suspension bridge or summit viewing platform is planned in the Alps, objections are soon raised about commercialising the mountains and selling them out to the events industry. However, tourist experiences require complex technical infrastructure and the pioneers of alpine pursuits also sought thrills and spills. It doesn’t have to be a drive-in chapel for skiers on the piste, a penguin zoo on a 2,500-metre-high peak or the longest staircase in the world. Even far less outlandish projects provoke discontent. Rigi Plus, an organisation representing two dozen companies in the tourism sector, unveiled its master plan last summer. The 200-page document focused on the Rigi as a location for experience-based activities and its “sustainable positioning”. It aims to provide more appealing offers for visitors to the mountain that boasts panoramic views and a rich history as well as better economic prospects for operators. Its proposals include a new website, a booking ...
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Crypto exchanges must face up to responsibilities as they mature

Swissinfo EN - Mon, 10/01/2018 - 10:49
Cryptocurrency exchanges are developing to look more like their traditional peers as the market matures, but some warn the pace of change is more baby steps than giant leaps. Most crypto exchanges offer retail investors a level of access to crypto assets they may not have gained with other assets, such as shares — often with little to no paperwork and just a few clicks of a button. “The difference between traditional finance and crypto-finance is that someone with just 10 bucks can access the market,” says Alexis Roussel, co-founder and chief executive of Swiss crypto broker Bity. Towards the end of last year, some cryptocurrency exchanges were generating more turnover than all but the biggest exchanges, as speculators rushed to take advantage of rocketing crypto prices. Estimates from Bloomberg put the fees generated by some of the largest players at millions of dollars a day. Still, the crypto market is only at the early stages in its maturation. It is possible, for ...
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Are political parties ready for the big race?

Swissinfo EN - Sun, 09/30/2018 - 15:00
Switzerland’s political parties are gearing up for parliamentary elections in October 2019. The first trends are taking shape. But compared with other countries, stability dominates in Switzerland. Will there be no surprises this time?  So far, no major shifts are on the horizon. The leftwing Green Party is winning back what they lost in 2015. The conservative right Swiss People’s Party is falling back after being the big winner in the last election.  It’s highly possible the parties will keep their ranking in 2019, and that changes in the proportion of votes will all be smaller than 1.5 percentage points.  Here are some details on the current form of the parties:  The Radical Party  The centre-right Radicals are  the only party to have won an additional 35 seats in cantonal elections since 2015. With these, it managed to stop the exodus of voters to the People's Party. Petra Gössi, the new party president, has been buoyed by her victories.  Its overall record in referendums ...
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UN consultants, rare goats and Chinese whispers

Swissinfo EN - Sun, 09/30/2018 - 12:00
Here are the stories we’ll be following the week of October 1, 2018: Monday  Tourist attractions on Swiss mountains bring in much needed revenue but almost always attract criticism and opposition from locals. Is there a clear line between selling Switzerland’s natural beauty and selling out?  Tuesday Up to half of United Nations agencies in Geneva resort to consultants to perform specialist, time-bound tasks. After taxes and social contributions, some of these temporary employees can find themselves struggling to stay afloat financially.  Wednesday  The term biodiversity conjures up images of wild animals in diverse ecosystems. We take a look at man-made agricultural biodiversity that is also in danger of vanishing. Join us on a visit to a farm that is part of the Pro Specie Rara network working to keep rare breeds in business. Thursday What’s it like to be a top trade negotiator in the age of Donald Trump and Brexit? Does it help to be a discreet, Swiss, career diplomat?
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Realigning fintech to match the needs of bankers

Swissinfo EN - Sun, 09/30/2018 - 11:00
The rapidly expanding cohort of fintech start-ups can better meet the demands of the established banking system, according to a vision from the President of the Swiss Finance + Technology Association. The answer, he says, is to shift focus from a tsunami of fintech ideas to the needs of companies and investors. Former Credit Suisse banker John Hucker has therefore embarked on a new venture, FINTECH+, which aims to better match the questions posed by traditional finance with the solutions offered by technology. “In a sense, we want to do less structured farming and foster a more fertile, jungle-like environment capable of fostering the commercialisation of new innovations” says Hucker. On the one hand, Hucker thinks the traditional financial sector cannot break free from the shackles of its old way of thinking. “Today, the Swiss financial center operates on a well-established business model but it is in decline and increasingly vulnerable to disruption. New solutions are needed ...
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Burka ban, dual nationality and politicians bowing out

Swissinfo EN - Sat, 09/29/2018 - 17:00
Almost every article published by swissinfo.ch contains a percentage, an age, an amount of money or some other figure. Here’s a round-up of the most interesting statistics to appear in the past week’s stories. 73,830 The number of people in the northern Swiss canton of St Gallen who voted in favour of a ban on burkas in the region. St Gallen thus becomes the second of Switzerland’s 26 cantons, after Ticino in 2016, to ban the burka. The Swiss government has come out against a similar proposal at a national level. 2 The number of Federal Council members who announced their resignation in the space of a week. The Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann was first to wave goodbye, followed a couple of days later by Doris Leuthard, the minister for transport, energy, communications and the environment. Both of them will step down from the seven-member executive body by the end of the year. 17 The percentage of Swiss residents above the age of 15 that have dual ...
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A Swiss dental clinic on wheels

Swissinfo EN - Sat, 09/29/2018 - 11:00
Since 2014, Michael Keller’s mobile clinic has been offering invaluable dental care to elderly residents in central Switzerland.  After his studies, Keller wanted to open a dental surgery in Andermatt, canton Uri in central Switzerland, in a new health centre. However, he was delayed by lengthy construction work. That was when he discovered that a growing number of elderly people living in remote alpine valleys or in old people's homes in the mountains needed dental treatment. He thus decided to take his skills on the road.  Keller found that many elderly people were neglecting their teeth. Home visits were not only in demand, but a necessity. His “Geriadent” project aims to raise awareness about the issue among other dentists, mobile nurses and old people's homes. The Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts is supporting his project, and canton Uri is considering whether to help fund it.  Keller treats two to four patients a day. He finds his work extremely creative as ...
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Seven ways to circumvent the will of the Swiss people

Swissinfo EN - Fri, 09/28/2018 - 11:00
Curtailing immigration, protecting the Alps, paid maternity leave: in Switzerland, successful referendums may lose out during the implementation stage. Government, parliament, courts and official agencies often find creative ways of getting around the will of the people, when it does not suit them. swissinfo.ch summarises the main tricks elected politicians resort to in order to fend off undesired, problem-creating and contradictory decisions by the voters. Trick 1: Water it down On February 9, 2014 the voters said yes to the “limiting mass immigration initiative", which demanded (among other things), that Switzerland limit the number of residence permits to foreigners from the EU area each year by means of caps and quotas. That created a problem for the parliament. On the one hand, the initiative had to be implemented by February 2017, because the wording of the initiative specified that period of time. On the other hand the introduction of caps and quotas went against the ...
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How homophobia manifests itself in everyday Swiss life

Swissinfo EN - Fri, 09/28/2018 - 09:00
Switzerland may soon be able to penalise discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity, a problem that in 2018 remains all-too-common for members of the LGBTIQ community. This week the House of Representatives in Bern voted in favour of including homophobia in an article of the Criminal Code, known as the “anti-racism norm”. The move, which must still be approved by the Senate, would allow authorities to more effectively combat homophobic attacks and statements, like these five recent cases. A “tax” on homosexuality The far-right Swiss Nationalist Party PNOS (Partei National Orientierter Schweizer), which operates in German-speaking Switzerland, has proposed introducing a “tax” to forbid homosexuality in public places and to encourage gays and lesbians to “seek treatment”. In a text published last month, party strategist Florian Signer stated that homosexuality “has degenerated into a quasi-religion” that was spreading. He is also convinced that ...
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Finding hidden traces of Switzerland in the US

Swissinfo EN - Thu, 09/27/2018 - 17:03
Over the next few months we'll be uncovering how Switzerland has left its mark on the United States. From small place names to forgotten monuments and distant communities, we're tracking down 'Swissness', far from home. Tim Neville is our journalist on the ground. Do you know of a Swiss connection in the US? Tell us! If you say the word “Engelberg” fast enough and Anglicise it a bit, you end up with something that sounds a lot like Angel-berg—a fitting name for a town in central Switzerland known for its 12th-century monastery. Twist the name a bit farther, and knowing that “Berg” means “mountain” in German, you end up with Angel Mountain.  Run it all through the word wringer once more and you get Mount Angel, a town in the American Pacific northwest that’s indeed named after Engelberg, though it's better known for its annual celebration of beer. Mount Angel, like its Swiss namesake, also has a monastery.  Today home to about 3,500 people, Mount Angel, Oregon, is located ...
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‘I never defend an act, just the person behind it’

Swissinfo EN - Thu, 09/27/2018 - 17:00
Lawyers are seen by some for being unscrupulous money-grabbers who would step over corpses to win their cases. Valentin Landmann says he is no such creature. He defends fringe groups, such as the Hells Angels and people working in the red light district.  Landmann is a bit of a maverick and doesn't own a suit. In court he wears a blazer and a tie with jeans. Most of the time, he leaves his briefcase at home because "there is no time during the trial to pass around documents". He admits that he is sometimes confronted with the dark side of the human psyche. But he says he has been able to maintain a positive attitude towards life and has kept his faith in human nature. (SRF/swissinfo.ch)
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I’m an expat and I lost my job. What now?

Swissinfo EN - Thu, 09/27/2018 - 13:23
Thousands of people relocate to Switzerland every year to work for the more than 25,000 multinationals in the country. Losing a job is difficult enough, but when it happens in a foreign country, it can be devastating.   The announcement that Novartis plans to slash about 2,200 jobs by 2020 is a wake-up call for many foreign nationals working in large multinationals in the country. Some 70% of Novartis employees in Switzerland are not Swiss nationals. While the company has indicated it plans to relocate around 700 positions in its “managerial and transactional capabilities” to its five global service centres, many others will be dismissed from the company entirely. Many skilled foreign workers are part of a privileged group in Switzerland: no queues for a permit, a nice package of relocation perks and attractive compensation to help ease into life in a foreign country. But, in the unfortunate case that an expat loses their job, it can turn their world upside down. They are often ...
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Getting in: University admissions in Switzerland, US and UK

Swissinfo EN - Thu, 09/27/2018 - 11:00
Should you start planning your university admission strategy two years in advance?  We look at how application deadlines, qualification requirements, and proof of language proficiency can make finding a university spot complicated.  There is no centralised admission system in Switzerland, which means that prospective students must apply directly at one of the country’s ten universities and federal technology institutes. Some basic requirements are nevertheless relevant to all schools: to enter a bachelor’s degree programme, students usually need to hold the equivalent of a matura, the Swiss school-leaving certificate; and to study at the masters’ level, they must have a bachelor’s degree from an internationally recognised university, in some cases in a related discipline.  Deadlines for applications vary and sometimes are set earlier for international students who require a visa. Some programmes begin only in the autumn, with application deadlines anywhere between the end of ...
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Swiss environment minister to step down

Swissinfo EN - Thu, 09/27/2018 - 10:35
Swiss Environment Minister Doris Leuthard is stepping down at the end of this year. “I look forward to the last three months, and I will commit myself right up to the last minute,” Leuthard promised at a media conference in Bern on Thursday morning. As one of the seven members of the Swiss Federal Council, Leuthard  was also responsible for transport, energy and communications issues. She held the rotating Swiss presidency in 2010 and 2017. "I was very happy to do this job,” she said, her voice full of emotion. Speaking in German, French and Italian, she thanked her colleagues and paid tribute to their professionalism. “Switzerland is an economically powerful country. It has changed a lot in ten years. It is important to keep a balance between the different interests and not to seek confrontation,” said Leuthard, hinting that this would be one of the challenges of the next legislature. The next parliamentary elections are scheduled for October 2019. Longest-serving minister ...
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