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Updated: 5 hours 57 min ago

Polarisation of Swiss parliament continues

7 hours 57 min ago
The left and right wings in the Swiss parliament are moving further apart with politicians increasingly sticking to the party line, according to an analysis of the Senate and the House and Representatives.  The trend of a polarising Swiss political landscape has existed for around 20 years, since the spectacular rise of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party. In the 1990s, the smallest (at the time) of the four parties in government began leaning further to the right and winning broader support from voters with its anti-EU and xenophobic stance.  These gains were above all at the expense of the two large centrist parties, the Radical Party and the Christian Democratic Party.  Since 2003 the People’s Party has been the largest party in parliament, ahead of the leftwing Social Democratic Party. There followed a long period of squabbling over the seven seats in the Federal Council (cabinet) which until then had been allocated according to the so-called “magic formula”: two for the ...
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A piece of Swiss democracy down under

7 hours 57 min ago
After years of dispute, the Australian parliament recently passed the same-sex marriage bill. But it was the Australian people themselves who paved the way by voting ‘yes’ for the first time in a popular vote in 40 years. This has also whetted the appetite for more reforms, which in the past have been rejected – due to a democracy model imported from Switzerland. This text is part of #DearDemocracy external link, a platform on direct democracy issues, by swissinfo.ch. In 1913, Canberra was founded as the capital in this region which expands over 2,300 square kilometres. This is where the federal government of the country of 25 million people has its seat and where the two houses of the national parliament conduct their sessions. Recently, the House of Representatives witnessed history being made. Tim Wilson was standing at the speaker’s desk, but the representative of the ruling liberal party did not talk about same-sex marriages, as listed on the agenda. Instead, Wilson ...
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What to do if sexual harassment happens to you

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 18:00
When allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour by the Swiss parliamentarian,Yannick Buttet, emerged a few weeks ago, the discourse on sexual harassment in Switzerland shifted from could this happen here to what should we do about it. Although a government commissioned study found that 28% of women in Switzerland experience sexual harassment over the course of their professional lives, rarely do these cases grab headlines in the same way the Harvey Weinstein scandal and subsequent cases have in the United States. However, the Buttet affair and recent allegations against professor Franco Moretti alongside the global #metoo social media campaign have helped bring, what has largely been viewed as a private matter into the public consciousness. What should you do if you experience sexual harassment in a workplace in Switzerland? What practical resources and legal channels are available to you and how effective are they? Swissinfo.ch answers key questions about employee rights and ...
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Navigating health insurance plans as a Swiss abroad

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 18:00
What type of health care coverage should you take out when moving to a new country? In this installment of our series, we offer a few tips for those contemplating an extended or indefinite stay outside Switzerland. People who move their permanent residence to another country are no longer obligated to take out basic health insurance in Switzerland, although there are exceptions to this rule. Those moving on a temporary basis and holding on to Swiss residency, however, can continue with their Swiss health coverage. To illustrate these basic rules, let’s look at a couple of cases sent in by our readers, along with coverage options for those moving to the United States. A Swiss pensioner Someone receiving a state pension who moves to a country outside the European Union or European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA) zone falls under the category of people no longer subject to Swiss health insurance law. So they must obtain coverage in their new country of residence. Pensioners ...
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Perfectly prepared pistes: at what cost?

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 12:00
A lack of snow in mountain regions has become a real problem for some Swiss ski resorts. People's livelihoods rely on the business that comes with skiing, and mountain regions are forced to make artificial snow to ensure the pistes can open. But this process comes at a cost. (SRF/swissinfo.ch) The production of artificial snow uses a lot of natural resources and energy. Some ski resorts have been using a different technique to try and make artificial snow production more efficient in terms of both natural resources, and money. Gstaad, for example, is now using a snow depth measuring system. Every time a snow groomer (the truck that prepares the pistes) drives over the snowy surface, the depth of snow is measured, and the data sent back to a database. Drivers can see the information on the spread of snow on screens inside their cabins, and can react, based on how deep the snow should be. They then focus artificial snow production on specific areas. The management of snow levels ...
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Can low-cost ski passes help lure back visitors?

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 12:00
Swiss resorts are hoping that a combination of heavy discounts on season passes and a weaker franc will bring skiers back to the slopes after a series of poor winters.  For the second year in a row, the high-altitude resort of Saas-Fee is offering an 80% discount by marketing a cut-price crowd-funded season pass (CHF233) aimed at boosting domestic demand; so far it has sold over 77,000 “WinterCard” tickets. Last year, the figure was 75,000, which generated a +15% increase in the number of nights people spent there in accommodation.  “The entire valley benefited last year,” declared Claudine Perrothon, in charge of public relations for Saas-Fee. “There was an increase in the number of people skiing, and business for the hotels, apartments and shops.”  Their scheme appears to have inspired others. Right now, everyone is talking about the new single season “Magic Pass”, offering 1,000 kilometres of skiing in about two dozen big and small resorts across western Switzerland and parts ...
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When the going gets tough, get out of bed!

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 12:00
(To view video subtitles in English, click on the gear icon and turn captions "on"). Tama Vakeesan was born in Switzerland to Tamil parents from Sri Lanka. In this week's vlog, she tells us how to stay motivated. She says, "When the going gets tough, don't take a nap. Get out there and pursue your goals."(SRF Kulturplatz/swissinfo.ch) 
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Crypto start-ups build alternative Swiss finance system

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 18:00
The value of bitcoin is skyrocketing but Swiss banks have no appetite for cryptocurrencies, citing the risks of bursting bubbles and criminal activity as a reason to stay clear. A new breed of start-up is filling the void, setting up an alternative financial ecosystem in Switzerland. However, they are likely to run into quite some resistance from the traditional financial players in Switzerland. The likes of SCX Exchange, Smart Valor, Melonport, Lykke, Swissborg and Crypto Finance appear to be timing their arrival to catch a wave that has propelled bitcoin through the $10,000 (CHF9,900) and $15,000 barriers in a matter of days. They will join the “old” guard, Bitcoin Suisse and Bity, which have been servicing the Swiss crypto market for the past four years. The new players promise to bring competition with new funds and exchanges, wealth and asset management services and a gateway to alternative investments for the person on the street. “The more alternatives you have, the ...
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Bitcoin and cash cast a shadow over banks

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 18:00
It does not feel coincidental that the bitcoin frenzy lifted the cryptocurrency to new highs this week as HSBC escaped the threat of criminal prosecution for having allegedly laundered at least $880 million (CHF873 million) for Mexican drug barons. The fiercer the regulatory squeeze on banks, the greater the demand for other means of storing and moving money. Cryptocurrencies traded peer to peer rather than being settled through banks have so many uses that it is impossible to know how much demand is driven by criminality. One thing is clear: banks face growing rivalry from a shadow payment system that ranges from cryptocurrencies to electronic platforms including Alipay and mobile wallets such as M-Pesa in Kenya. The old way to transfer money without having to go through a bank is cash, which is obstinately persistent. Despite the expansion of credit, debit and contactless cards, nearly everyone uses cash regularly. The drug smuggler who launders money across borders in ...
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The pioneers of Switzerland’s ‘Chocolate Revolution’

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 12:00
How did a country without a single homegrown cocoa bean become one of the world’s leading chocolate manufacturers? swissinfo.ch explains how the history of chocolate as we know it is the history of Swiss innovation, immigration, luck – and love.  The $100 billion (CHF100 billion) global chocolate industry has certainly come a long way since the days, some 3,000 years ago, when inhabitants of central and southern America would gather around the fire with a bitter, grainy drink called “xocolātl”. While it’s true that Europeans have been drinking chocolate since the 17th century, chocolate as we know it today is largely thanks to a handful of 19th-century Swiss confectioners and entrepreneurs, many of whom remain household names around the world. Let’s meet some of the main figures in this Chocolate Revolution and their claims to fame.  1819: Queen Victoria is born, James Monroe is in the White House … and the world’s first mechanised chocolate factory is opened. François-Louis ...
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‘Together’ quiz app answers newcomers’ Swiss questions

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 17:27
​​​​​​​ Is tipping required at Swiss restaurants? Can my kids attend a Swiss public school even if they don’t speak a national language? An app for those new to Switzerland answers these questions and many more, submitted by its more than 20,000 users. “Together” is a smartphone app from swissinfo.ch and the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation that can be downloaded for free on the Apple and Google Play stores in seven languages: English, German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Arabic. It allows users to test their knowledge of Switzerland, learn new information and challenge other players in more than 20 quiz categories ranging from jobs to Swiss landmarks and sports. Users can also access more information about any of the questions and categories with the ability to share or save what they’ve learned for future reference. The app, which just achieved 20,000 downloads, contains more than 700 questions with more categories released every month. Most recently, categories ...
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Why small ponds have enormous value

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 12:00
Ponds may not seem as glamorous as rushing rivers or majestic lakes, but they’re indispensable when it comes to biodiversity and ecosystem health. In Switzerland natural ponds have all but vanished with the rise of agricultural intensification. Only 12 kilometres to the east of the bustling city of Geneva at the Lullier Horticultural School, a cattail-shrouded pond blends in so perfectly with the bucolic surroundings that the eye passes right over it. But as Beat Oertli, a professor of aquatic ecology at the University of Applied Sciences of Western Switzerland (HESSO) explains, this pond isn’t just part of the landscape: it’s been strategically placed to protect a natural stream that lies downhill from one of the school’s fruit orchards. “This is not a nice-looking pond, but its function isn’t to look nice,” Oertli says. “We’ve constructed it to protect the stream, because here at our school we use some fertilisers. All the rainwater flows into the pond first, where it is ...
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Lonely in Switzerland?

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 11:10
The American Alexandra Dufresne lives in Zurich with her family. She describes what it is like to experience loneliness as a foreigner, especially during the holiday season, and offers her advice on how to combat it. The loneliness foreigners often experience in Switzerland is like a bad neighbor: surprisingly fun to complain about and always getting in the way. Many foreigners describe Switzerland as extraordinary in terms of safety, beauty, infrastructure, healthcare, education and work-life balance. But they also report having trouble making friends here. The holidays are an especially hard time to be lonely. Switzerland during the Christmas season is a magical place, unless you are lonely. If you are lonely, the coziness can feel like someone else’s Facebook posts - another reminder that while others have tight social circles, you are an outsider. It can be hard to make friends as an adult, even in your own country. Work, children, life get in the way. People move; ...
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ICRC president warns over ‘explosive mix’ of urban conflicts

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 12:00
​​​​​​​ Thousands of migrants drown every year in the Mediterranean Sea, tens of thousands are locked up in Libya, war and suffering prevail in Syria and Yemen, and ethnic cleansing goes on in Myanmar.  The list of trouble spots is long for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which is active in over 80 countries. In an interview with swissinfo.ch, ICRC President Peter Maurer looks back at 2017, and dares a glimpse into 2018.  swissinfo.ch: Was 2017 a particularly bad year for the ICRC?  Peter Maurer: No. The situation did not escalate in 2017, however, it did not ease either. It’s the development of the past five years that causes reason for concern. Wars are extremely cruel, they violate international humanitarian law and are increasingly waged in cities. Aleppo in Syria and Mosul in Iraq are good examples of this development. The fact that the political causes of conflicts increasingly combine with violence driven by criminals, terrorists and interethnic ...
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Syria: what will it take to make peace?

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 12:00
​​​​​​​ It’s a cold December afternoon and I am hanging around outside Door 15 at the Palais des Nations. My colleagues are there too, and we are starting to shiver. But we are used to it: this is the cold hard slog of covering the Syria talks. Lots of waiting, with very little outcome. The Syrians themselves could say the same thing, only, I would hope, more loudly, and more angrily. After a while, the Syrian opposition team sweeps in; a few nods to the cameras, a couple of shouted questions, a couple of bland answers about being united, and then they are gone. Not to negotiate face to face with the Syrian government team, of course not, that has never happened in all the years of this appalling war. No, they are off to talk to the UN’s long suffering special envoy, Staffan de Mistura. Once again, the process seems headed for the rocks. The Syrian government is not even here. Emboldened by the ground they have retaken, with Russia’s support, President Assad’s team ...
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The decline of the Swiss private bank

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 11:00
Laurent Gagnebin does not fit the traditional image of a Swiss private banker. Fifteen years ago, he worked as a manager at a luxury hotel in Gstaad. Now he is putting his hospitality skills to work as head of Rothschild’s Swiss private bank. “We had a Swiss client who needed a lawyer in Tehran urgently. Within an hour, we had enlisted the help of a colleague in Dubai who was able to recommend one he knew well,” Gagnebin recalls at Rothschild’s sleek offices in a smart Zurich suburb. “Being a Swiss banker, a lot of it is still about soft factors.” Gagnebin’s career shift underlines the pressures that the Swiss banking sector is facing. Even a decade ago, clients from all over the world flocked to Switzerland to find a discreet home for cash that they wanted to hide from the taxman. These customers did not worry about the returns on their portfolios and profits were easy. “Clients told you ‘don’t call me, or anything’,” recalls one banker. Thanks to the US-led global clampdown ...
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Swiss chocolate, cheaper skiing and not-so-lonely expats

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 18:00
Here is a selection of stories to look ahead to on swissinfo.ch in the week of December 11, 2017.  Monday  In an interview with swissinfo.ch, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) President Peter Maurer looks back at 2017, and dares a glimpse into 2018. He weighs in on the refugee situation in the Middle East, and Europe’s role.  Tuesday  How can Switzerland solve the conflict between preserving its crucial water resources and maintaining a healthy agricultural sector? We look at why ponds may hold the key.  Wednesday How did a country without a single homegrown cocoa bean become one of the world’s leading chocolate manufacturers? A look at how the history of chocolate as we know it is the history of Swiss innovation, immigration, luck – and love.  Thursday Switzerland is known for its expensive skiing. But after several difficult winter seasons and pressures due to the strong Swiss franc, numerous Swiss resorts are offering cut-price ski passes. Why ...
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The forgotten story of Swiss au pairs in Britain

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 16:00
In the inter-war and post-war years, Britain was a popular destination for Swiss women. Working as au pairs, they learned about life in Britain and many fell in love with the country and its people, as a new book describes. (SRF/swissinfo.ch) In the book, author Simone Müller describes how young women at the time fought bravely against the confines of Swiss society and for more vocational possibilities. When the Second World War broke out, a mass repatriation scheme took place and many hundreds of the women were brought back to Switzerland.  Two of the people mentioned in the book are Myrtha Parsons-Biedermann, who's 90 and lives in Shepperton near London, and Mina Rui-Oppliger, aged 98, who lives in Laufen, Basel Country. Myrtha arrived in Britain in 1947 as an au pair. She says, "There was nothing going on at home. That's why I was so interested in everything that was different. Something had to happen." Like Mina, Myrtha travelled by train through France and then crossed ...
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‘I am American. I write from my American soul’

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 12:00
Susan Tiberghien came late to writing, but she’s made up for lost time. The founder of the Geneva Writers’ Group (GWG) is the author of several books and despite living most of her life in Europe, says she is still very much an American writer.  I came to Europe to do graduate work in Contemporary Literature. I was 21, just out of university, with a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and Literature and a minor in French. I had studied French for three years in high school and four years at college, but when I arrived at Grenoble University in the French Alps, I realized that I couldn’t make myself understood, nor could I understand.  For the first two months I learned more French in intensive classes. And as it happens, suddenly I was able to take notes at lectures in French instead of English! It just switched.   Susan Tiberghien will be retiring in 2018, as the Geneva Writers’ Group celebrates its 25th anniversary. Her story is the sixth in our series on US expats in ...
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‘We called it the Horny Tour’

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 10:00
In the relatively dry winter of 2017, Christoph Moser and I decided to do one of the absolute classic ski tours of the Bernese Oberland, a tour that serves as an endurance test for mountain guides.  We called it the ‘Horny Tour’ as it links up the Wetterhorn, Mittelhorn and Rosenhorn. Combining ski mountaineering with easy alpine skills, the route is never hard but quite long. In the end, we climbed 3600 meters over the course of 26km. Here, Christoph passes through the crevasse and serac zone on the Rosenlaui glacier while on the way to the Wetterhorn.  As a photographer I enjoy working on glaciers and trying to contrast their beauty with the very real danger that is present when moving on them. At work and play We are fortunate to call the mountains our workplace and still marvel at what we get to do on any given work day, be it in the Alps or Himalaya. After all these years, the passion we have for life as mountain sport athletes and photographers hasn't faded.
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