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Women in politics and battling homophobia

Sat, 12/08/2018 - 18:00
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 last week’s stories. 2 The number of women elected to Switzerland’s seven-member Federal Council (executive body) on Wednesday. The new cabinet ministers are Karin Keller-Sutter and Viola Amherd. 3 The maximum number of years a person found guilty of homophobic acts can spend in prison after the Swiss parliament extended the scope of anti-racism laws. 40 The predicted temperature (in degrees Celsius) Switzerland is likely to record on hot summer days by the year 2060, according to new climate scenarios. Rising temperatures, drought and less snow in winter could make weather conditions in the Alpine nation look more like those of Mediterranean countries today. 120 The number of bilateral agreements currently governing relations between Switzerland and the European Union. 100 ...
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A Swiss nativity scene with a French touch

Sat, 12/08/2018 - 12:00
Joseph, Mary, and the Christ Child are joined by common folk in a priceless nativity scene on show in northern Switzerland. The nativity scene has been put together under the expert direction of art historian Rudolf Velhagen. Velhagen, head of the historical collection at the Museum Aargau, discovered the nativity figurines, 'Santons', while teaching art history in Marseille, and decided to bring them to Switzerland. Made by the late French artist Marcel Carbonel, the Santons include not only the usual nativity figures, but common folk from a cross-section of Provençal society. There's a baker, knitting grandmother, fishmonger, vagabonds and men and women in traditional costume. New home Velhagen has over 60 figurines in his collection. Each Santon has its place, representing society in its entirety and without any direct reference to the nativity story. An important source of inspiration for the figurines was the 'Lettres de mon moulin' by the French writer Alphonse Daudet ...
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Advertising tries to reach classrooms

Sat, 12/08/2018 - 12:00
Companies and aid organisations are increasingly sponsoring teaching materials in Swiss public schools, but not everyone is happy about it. In several cantons, conservative-right political parties have submitted complaints to the authorities as they are concerned about the neutrality of teaching materials.  The German-speaking Federation of Swiss Teachers (LCH) has also urged caution. Particularly problematic are company logos or products on class worksheets, it told a report by Swiss public television, SRF.  Companies maintain that their teaching materials are neutral and that they are not targeting pupils for advertising purposes. Supplementary lessons, as offered by third parties such as telecoms giant Swisscom or Swiss army knife maker Victorinox, are not subject to the same checks as normal school classes. That’s why the Federation of Swiss Teachers has drawn up a voluntary charter, setting out rules for these teaching materials. More than 40 companies and organisations ...
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Famous Swiss orchestra marks 100 years

Fri, 12/07/2018 - 18:00
As western Switzerland's symphony orchestra (the "Orchestre de la Suisse Romande") turns 100, a look back at its long legacy. OSR was once internationally famous thanks to the work and connections of its founder, Ernest Ansermet. This video from Swiss Public Television, RTS, tells the story of the great director and his successors.  Ansermet founded the OSR to counterbalance the large symphony orchestras in Zurich, Basel and Bern. He remained music director for 49 years, from 1918 to 1967, and created a vast store of recordings with the record label Decca, that made the orchestra a household name worldwide. The OSR was famous for its interpretation of the 20th-century French and Russian repertories. Ansermet was a close associate of Ravel, Rachmaninoff and Debussy, and he conducted important premieres for Igor Stravinsky.  Lady Gaga - why Nott? These days the symphony orchestra is fighting to re-establish its international reputation. The OSR, made up of 112 permanent ...
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Brexit: what would Switzerland do?

Fri, 12/07/2018 - 17:51
On Tuesday the British Parliament will vote on Prime Minister Theresa May's deal on the UK's exit from the European Union. But the deal appears likely to fail in parliament and what happens next is unclear. What would direct democracy veteran Switzerland do? Journalist Jo Fahy put this question and more to swissinfo.ch's direct democracy specialist, Renat Künzi, in a discussion broadcast live on Facebook. A tried and tested Swiss system In Switzerland citizens get to have their say on a whole range of issues, normally four times a year. An information pamphlet is produced containing detailed information: the positions of both sides of the initiative and the government and parliament's recommendation on how people should vote. The votes also take place on a number of different levels, from large national issues, to cantonal decisions, right down to very local decisions at the municipality level.  There is a system in place for which issues will be voted on and how the ...
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Swiss government wants public consultation on EU framework deal

Fri, 12/07/2018 - 17:30
The Swiss government says it wants to carry out a public consultation before taking a final position on an “institutional framework” agreement negotiated with the European Union aimed at cementing future ties between Switzerland and its biggest trading partner.   The seven-member Federal Council (executive body) said on Friday that it had asked the foreign ministry to carry out a national consultation with relevant actors – political parties, cantons, parliament and associations.  “These consultations will serve as a basis for a thorough analysis of the political interests with a view to a possible signature of the agreement,” it said.  According to former diplomat Paul Widmer, there was too much divergence in opinion among Swiss stakeholders to conclude the negotiations.  “Putting the dossier through a new hoop is the only solution that remains. The Federal Council cannot accept the draft. Domestic resistance is too strong. Nor can it reject it outright without snubbing ...
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Swiss regulation of commodity trade long overdue

Fri, 12/07/2018 - 12:58
Several global commodity traders that call Switzerland home have been repeatedly accused of violating human rights and environmental standards. Andreas Missbach of the NGO Public Eye believes the Responsible Business Initiative is necessary for reining them in. Five years after releasing its background report on commodities, the Swiss government published a reassessment of the situation at the end of November – “The Swiss commodities sector: current situation and outlook”. Despite numerous scandals involving commodity firms in Geneva and Zug, the Federal Council has once again missed the opportunity to adopt effective measures against corruption and ward off other risks. Yet again, it seems to be content with asking the Swiss multinational commodity trading and mining company Glencore and its pals “to act with integrity and responsibility”. In 2013, at least the Federal Council’s message was clear. It talked about “serious challenges regarding human rights and ...
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Swiss commodity traders at the forefront of best practices

Fri, 12/07/2018 - 12:58
Switzerland is at the forefront of best practices when it comes to addressing modern supply chain challenges, argues Stéphane Graber of the country's trading and shipping association.  In 2013 the Federal Council published the Background Report on Commodities, underscoring the economic importance of commodity trading for Switzerland, an activity representing 3.8% of the Swiss GDP and numerous jobs in all regions of Switzerland. It also underlined some of the challenges faced in commodity trading and the criticism from some advocacy NGOs, revealing a gap in understanding of the role and function of commodity trading. In the five years following the publication of the Background Report, the Swiss Trading and Shipping Association (STSA) has walked the talk. Relying on the expertise of all its members, STSA has proactively engaged in a constructive approach and participated in a multi-stakeholder initiative for the elaboration of a Guidance on Implementing the UN Guiding Principles ...
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‘The more we take democracies for granted, the less prepared we are to defend them’

Fri, 12/07/2018 - 12:00
Switzerland’s foreign minister says defending human rights and democracy building remain at the heart of Switzerland’s agenda, even as the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights – now 70 years old – has come under pressure internationally. Ignazio Cassis also spoke to swissinfo.ch about populism, arms exports and Switzerland’s place in the world today. swissinfo.ch: Do your foreign colleagues often ask you about direct democracy in Switzerland? Ignazio Cassis: I hardly ever get asked up-front about direct democracy. This is for the simple reason that the term “direct democracy” is not widely known in other countries and societies. However, I often refer to our popular rights when I try to explain the Swiss system What actually makes the Swiss tick? This is a question we often put to ourselves. I think that every answer involves direct democracy. It’s a cumbersome system that requires a lot of energy. At the same time, directly involving Swiss citizens contributes to solid ...
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The capital of the Helvetians

Thu, 12/06/2018 - 18:00
What is today the town of Avenches, in canton Vaud, used to be a Roman metropolis. It was known as Aventicum, the capital of the Helvetians, and it became an important economic, spiritual and cultural centre.  Throughout history, thousands of men and women have shaped Switzerland's territory and society. The stories of who they were, the battles, revolutionary ideas or quiet but significant changes have been handed down through generations, and now fill the pages of Swiss history books. The traces of this rich heritage are many, some hidden and unknown. In this series by Swiss Public Television, RSI, seven places have been chosen that are linked to historical events, myths and legends, that are part of the country's cultural heritage. In the fifth episode of the series we visit what's left of Aventicum, the remains of which are to be found beside the modern town of Avenches in canton Vaud. In its heyday, the town had several public baths, a theatre, a forum, a temple, ...
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New ministers: big news at home, indifference abroad

Thu, 12/06/2018 - 14:44
The day after Switzerland elected two new members of its seven-member cabinet, the gap between domestic excitement and international indifference is striking. Why? ‘Historic’ – the word bounced across a breathless Swiss press on Thursday after two women, Viola Amherd and Karin Keller-Sutter, were resoundingly chosen by Parliament to join the country’s seven-member government, the Federal Council. And historic it was, with the pair becoming just the eighth and ninth female ministers on a body that has hosted 110 men since 1848; a clear “triumph” for women, as the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper headlined, and a symbolic leap for a country often called out for its slow progress (women earned the right to vote in 1971). All the fanfare and excitement, however, seems not to have crossed the Alps. Although Switzerland regularly garners international attention for its financial sector, economics, diplomacy and humanitarian issues, this time reaction from abroad has been minimal. The two ...
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A special relationship: The US military and Swiss universities

Thu, 12/06/2018 - 12:00
From aerial surveillance cameras to autonomous reconnaissance drones: Swiss universities are participating in projects funded by the US military. What are the guidelines when it comes to such sensitive collaboration?  Argus Panoptes is a giant in Greek mythology who has a hundred eyes. He was tasked by the Goddess Hera to guard her priestess Io from being seduced by Zeus. The hundred-eyed Argus is ideally suited to keep watch on Io. No wonder that the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) named its first gigapixel (one billion pixels) surveillance camera project ARGUS-IS (Autonomous Real-Time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance Imaging System).  Meant to be mounted on drones, the cameras could scan an area half the size of Manhattan and track moving vehicles and people. It was first tested in 2010 and operationalised in 2014. At around the same time (2011-12) the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) was working on a DARPA-funded project called ...
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Switzerland faces stark choice on EU integration deal

Thu, 12/06/2018 - 09:26
The Swiss government on Friday faces a stark choice on its future relations with the EU that is likely to resonate far beyond its borders — particularly in Brexit Britain. The seven-member federal council, or cabinet, of the non-EU member state must decide whether to accept a new “institutional framework” agreement with Brussels, under which the Swiss would adopt many EU rules automatically. It will be a decision fraught with tension. As Brexit approaches in the UK, the EU wants to recalibrate relations with “third party” countries — nations that have close ties to the bloc but are not members.  The Swiss cabinet must choose whether to accept a deal that would align the affluent Alpine country even closer with the EU and, in critics’ eyes, undermine the country’s independence. Swiss recalcitrance could trigger penalties: Brussels has “weaponised” interactions with non-EU financial institutions by threatening action against Switzerland’s stock exchange. Why is Switzerland ...
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Switzerland labels homophobia a criminal offence

Wed, 12/05/2018 - 16:24
The Swiss parliament has extended the scope of anti-racism laws to include discrimination based on sexual orientation. Intersexual (people born with male and female chromosones and/or sexual organs) and transgender people, on the other hand, will not enjoy the same level of protection. Both houses of parliament have now approved a motion to criminalise homophobia. Switzerland now joins the likes of France, Austria, the Netherlands and Denmark in taking criminal action against such discrimination. Homophobia can now be combated in the same way as racism. For example, a person who publicly declares that "all homos should be imprisoned in camps" can be prosecuted. This has not been the case so far. Homophobic bodily injuries can now also be properly recorded. This makes it possible to meet the demands of LGBTIQ organisations of keeping statistics on homophobia. Anyone who violates the law, either with racist or homophobic acts, can be sentenced to up to three years in prison. The ...
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Two women for government: who are Switzerland’s new ministers?

Wed, 12/05/2018 - 13:31
On Wednesday morning, Karin Keller-Sutter and Viola Amherd were elected to Switzerland’s seven-member executive body – who are the new Federal Councillors? After months of debates around gender, geography, language skills, and a healthy dose of party politics, the race to replace two outgoing Federal Councillors – ministers, in other words – came to an end in parliament on Wednesday. The clear winners, who will become just the eighth and ninth women to sit in government since 1848, are Radical-Liberal Karin Keller-Sutter (who replaces Johann Schneider-Ammann) and Christian Democrat Viola Amherd (replacing Doris Leuthard). From interpreter to minister Who are they? Gender, approximate age, competency, and a concern for the environment link the two, according to Nenad Stojanovic of the University of Geneva. But aside from this, their political profiles (Keller-Sutter on the right, Amherd in the centre) differ. Keller-Sutter, a 54-year-old trained translator from canton St ...
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Viola Amherd and Karin Keller-Sutter elected to government

Wed, 12/05/2018 - 10:56
Viola Amherd and Karin Keller-Sutter have been chosen by parliament to join Switzerland’s seven-person executive, the Federal Council.  Amherd, a member of the centrist Christian Democratic Party, replaces party colleague Doris Leuthard, who is standing down at the end of the month after a 12-year stint in cabinet.  Also on Wednesday morning, the Federal Assembly – the 200 members of the House of Representatives and the 46 members of the Senate – picked Karin Keller-Sutter from the centre-right Radical-Liberal Party to replace Johann Schneider-Ammann, who is retiring after eight years in cabinet.  + Who are the two new Federal Councillors? + Federal Councillor: from election to departure  Amherd, a 56-year-old lawyer from canton Valais in southwest Switzerland has sat in the House of Representatives since 2005. She defeated party colleague Heidi Z’graggen by receiving 148 votes out of the 240 cast in the first round of voting. In her acceptance speech, Amherd said she would ...
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Four candidates, two seats: who’s next for the Swiss government?

Tue, 12/04/2018 - 17:04
On Wednesday, December 5, parliament meets to elect two new members of the seven-seat Federal Council, Switzerland’s executive body. Four candidates are in the running – three female, one male. After months of debates about gender, geography, language skills, and a healthy dose of party politics, the race to replace two outgoing Federal Councillors – ministers, in other words – comes to a conclusion in parliament on Wednesday. Within the ranks of the centre-right Radical-Liberal party, whose current Federal Councillor Johann Schneider-Ammann announced his imminent departure in September, one name emerged almost straight away as a possible replacement: Karin Keller-Sutter. A translator and teacher from canton St Gallen, Keller-Sutter was elected to the Senate in 2011 after more than a decade spent directing the police and justice department of her home canton. Since then, at the national level, she has won admiration from right and left for her competence, and no substantial ...
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Regulator warns banks over Brexit moves out of City

Tue, 12/04/2018 - 12:03
The UK’s financial regulator has urged a group of international banks in the City of London to limit the number of clients they move overseas as part of their Brexit preparations. The Financial Conduct Authority wrote to the banks last week warning them to make “the minimum necessary changes” to where their clients are based. It said it was “prepared to intervene where we see steps being taken which could expose clients or markets to unacceptable execution risks”. In the letter, first reported by Financial News, the FCA added that it expected the banks to concentrate on “day one readiness” for Brexit and to limit disruption “to avoid harm to the clients they serve or markets in which they operate”.  It added: “Clients should not be moved out of the UK until the FCA is satisfied that the relevant UK boards and/or senior managers have fully considered the impact of their firms’ proposals on every category of client, including whether their proposed changes are in each client’s ...
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Torrid time predicted for Switzerland by 2060

Tue, 12/04/2018 - 08:50
Over 40°C in the cities, long periods of drought and little snow in winter: in forty years’ time, Switzerland might look like one of the Mediterranean countries today. What effect would this have on society, tourism in the Alps, and the environment? "Today the mercury hit 45 degrees in Geneva. The Swiss Plateau and the Alpine valleys had their twentieth day of tropical weather since the year started. The heatwave gripping the south side of the Alps and Valais for the past month will continue on into the coming weeks. Due to the ongoing drought, people are being asked to keep water consumption to a minimum." By the year 2060, it could be the typical national weather forecast on a summer’s day. This is based on new climate scenarios for Switzerland devised by MeteoSwiss, the federal department of meteorology and climatology, and the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETHZ), published in mid-November. "Switzerland will be a hotter and a drier place,” summarised Peter Binder, ...
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Solving crimes with the help of virtual reality

Mon, 12/03/2018 - 18:00
Law enforcers in Zurich are using virtual reality to help witnesses recall details from crime scenes. Realistic-looking crime scene visits are now possible through VR, even if the scene itself has already been changed. A witness wears the VR glasses and describes how the crime unravelled, while his or her view of the reconstructed crime scene is recorded. "It's thought that it's easier for a witness to remember things when he or she is at the scene, either in reality or virtually", says VR engineer Till Sieberth. The technology was developed by the 3D-Zentrum Zurich (3DZZ), which is operated by the Institute of Legal Medicine of the University of Zurich (IRM-UZH) and the Forensic Institute Zurich (FOR), part of the Zurich cantonal police department.  Closed case rebuilt virtually  In one example of how VR has been used so far, a closed case from August 2006 was visualised in a virtual space. Police raided an internet cafe as they suspected a man there was a drug dealer. The ...
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