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Updated: 10 hours 59 min ago

Switzerland warms to ‘tiny houses’

Thu, 10/11/2018 - 17:00
The small house movement, an American concept that’s gaining momentum in Switzerland, offers housing that is more affordable and ecologically friendly. But in the highly regulated alpine country, getting a long-term parking permit for tiny homes can be a problem.  These structures are generally less than 1,000 square feet (93 m2), and represent a different way of living, allegedly offering more "freedom" than a regular house. Swiss Public Television, SRF, took a look inside Conny and Sandro Huber's tiny house in Affeltrangen in canton Thurgau.  It cost around CHF70,000 ($70,482) and measures 27 m2. The "bedroom" is simply a bit of roof space over the kitchen, so there is no standing room. This is not a problem for Conny Huber: "You sleep lying down, right? You just have to get used to it." Sandro says it's better than a caravan or camper van because you can choose the fixtures and fittings. You can build it, but can you park it?  Stephan Scheidegger from the Federal Office for ...
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Crypto Finance eyes Asian expansion after winning Swiss license

Thu, 10/11/2018 - 11:00
Swiss cryptoasset firm Crypto Finance says it will use its newly won regulatory approval as a platform for foreign expansion, most likely in Asia. The firm’s Crypto Fund unit was awarded an asset management license by the Swiss financial regulator on Tuesday. The license will allow Crypto Fund to sell cryptocurrency-linked collective investment schemes to institutional clients on the same footing as traditional asset managers in Switzerland. The Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA) license was the first of its kind awarded to a cryptoasset company. “Before getting the license we were a start-up. Now we are a fully-fledged member of the regulated, established financial system,” Crypto Finance CEO Jan Brzezek told swissinfo.ch. “FINMA has exacting standards that are appreciated by other regulators around the world.” This gold-plated seal of approval should give the Zug-headquartered firm enough clout to persuade other jurisdictions to allow the company to set up ...
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What happens when you die on holiday in Switzerland?

Thu, 10/11/2018 - 08:00
A fall on a hiking path or a sudden heart attack could bring your Swiss holiday to an abrupt end. How difficult is it to ensure your mortal remains reach home?  Indian retiree Susanta Mukhopadhya had no idea that his life would be turned upside down on his holiday to Switzerland. He had booked a 12-day coach trip through Europe and was on his second day in the Alpine nation when disaster struck. His 64-year-old wife collapsed on a walk near Leysin in the west of the country. The tour leader, an Indian woman, had no idea what to do.  “When my wife collapsed on the road, the tour representative was trying to call Bombay for further instructions. She had no local contacts or the phone number of a hospital,” Mukhopadhya told swissinfo.ch.  Luckily a Swiss couple noticed the commotion and called the medical emergency services. Within 15 minutes the paramedics were at the scene.  “It was only then that I realised the seriousness of my wife's situation. She had suffered a sudden, ...
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What would a no-deal Brexit mean for Brits in Switzerland?

Wed, 10/10/2018 - 17:00
If the UK drops out of the EU without a deal – what will happen to UK citizens in Switzerland? With six months to go until the UK leaves the European Union, no agreed exit plan, and no basic citizens’ rights agreement between the Swiss and British, UK citizens abroad are facing major uncertainty. An outline deal between the UK and the European Union was supposed to be agreed upon by the autumn: the clock is ticking, and what might happen in the next week or so is anybody’s guess. The British Prime Minister Theresa May’s much-discussed ‘Chequers’ proposal (so called after the Prime Minister’s country residence where the government agreed on their proposition) was declared unworkable by EU leaders in Salzburg towards the end of September and even British politicians are far from united over whether they back the proposal. And of course, while an EU deal is still outstanding, so too are bilateral agreements that have to be made between the UK and Switzerland. In August, the British ...
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When a democratic revolution rocked Swiss politics

Wed, 10/10/2018 - 15:19
One hundred years ago, a political earthquake brought about fundamental change as voters ended the dominance of the party of Switzerland’s founding fathers due to a new electoral system. Switzerland’s political system is usually seen either as slow and unspectacular or as the recipe for the country’s success and stability. Nevertheless, watershed moments also exist in Swiss history. One in particular, a century ago, happened at the ballot box – no bloodshed, no shots fired. Under a new electoral system, voters in 1919 reined in the Radical Party which had dominated the 189-seat House of Representatives since modern-day Switzerland was created in 1848. In 1918, two-thirds of voters had come out in favour of a major overhaul of the electoral system, paving the way for consensus democracy in Switzerland and a fairer representation of citizens in politics. The previous parliamentary elections, during the First World War in 1917, were held under a majority, ‘winner-takes-all’, ...
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The road to proportional representation in Switzerland

Wed, 10/10/2018 - 11:00
In 1918, at a time of high political instability, Switzerland made the historic decision to move to a proportional representation system at the national level – a move that gave smaller parties a chance and broke the Liberal-Radical hegemony. Here’s how it happened. The liberal ascendency first began after the end of the civil war in 1847 and was cemented by the emergence of contemporary Switzerland under a new constitution the following year. The liberal policy of rapid social and economic development in a single national market propelled the country to become one of the most developed in Europe. However, there was a negative side to the surge: the oligarchic “Escher System”, which concentrated national power in the hands of an elite few (see box). By 1874 the system was already coming under pressure. Popular liberal movements emerging in the cantons led to the first revision of the new constitution, granting the people the right to challenge (by referendum) laws already ...
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Why Swiss expats vote differently when they go abroad

Tue, 10/09/2018 - 17:00
Ties between Switzerland and the European Union are the main concern of nearly half of expat Swiss citizens, while these same bilateral relations are only considered a priority for one in four voters at home. The findings by the Sotomo research institute show major differences in political preferences between the Swiss Abroad community and respondents resident in Switzerland, but they confirm previous research on the issue. The findings of the online poll, published last week, were the first ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections. A list of the six main concerns of expat Swiss almost reverses the order of the overall barometer. For details see two graphics below. While 47% of expats in the survey consider Swiss relations with the EU a priority, only 28% of the overall respondents share this view. The percentage is slightly higher in the French-speaking part (30%), but below average in the main German- and Italian-speaking regions. Top of the list overall, as well as ...
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Insurers act on climate change exposure

Tue, 10/09/2018 - 11:24
Insurance companies, like Zurich-based Swiss Re, are dealing with climate change impacts in the form of direct claims related to volatile weather conditions, writes The Financial Times' Oliver Ralph. First it was fierce storms in northern Europe. Since then there have been wildfires in California, a drought in Australia and more storms, this time in the US and Asia. Extreme weather of one sort or another has been a regular feature of 2018. It was the same last year, when hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria as well as wildfires in California inflicted devastation on millions of people. Insurance companies are on the front line as they are exposed to extreme weather and the impact of climate change in a variety of ways, most obviously via direct claims related to volatile weather conditions. Half of damage not covered by insurance Whether it is paying to replace roofs torn off by high winds, repairing flood damage, or compensating farmers for the impact of drought, insurers have ...
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How great is the student experience at a Swiss university?

Tue, 10/09/2018 - 11:00
Can Swiss universities offer the kind of support and vibrant student life that attracts many to the US and UK? A good student experience begins with a warm welcome. New university arrivals in Switzerland get support when it comes to practical issues. Typically, the days preceding the start of the academic year are considered orientation days, a time when new students get a crash course in navigating life both off- and on-campus. Students can expect valuable assistance, such as a tour of campus, tips on learning strategies, or a run-down of the various administrative, social and cultural services available to them.  Orientation programs for international students at UK universities also help provide basic information about life at the university, finding your way around, and such useful things like opening a bank account.    In the US, new students, especially international students, are not expected to have a strong support system in place, so universities will often have ...
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UN consultants could fall below poverty line

Tue, 10/09/2018 - 08:00
After years of administrative uncertainty, short-term employees at the United Nations in Geneva are now being told to pay Swiss taxes or face fines. Consultants say that may send some of them below the national poverty line, if that’s not already the case.  “To me, the UN was my dream job, but for years now, it has become a vicious cycle of difficulties,” Laila* (not her real name) explains.  The 38-year-old came to Geneva three years ago after receiving an H-type permit, accorded to international consultants, for a three-month position at the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) that paid CHF2,000 ($2,015) a month.  As a non-European, non-North American national, she says she took the risk of staying illegally in Switzerland after her contract expired awaiting the next UN opportunity. Like many other consultants working at the global body in the Swiss city, her goal was to obtain a full-time position and play her part in bettering the world.  Being ...
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Disaster relief: what really works?

Mon, 10/08/2018 - 17:00
Seven years ago, I landed on the island of Haiti, part of a group of journalists who had been invited by United Nations and European Union agencies to look at relief efforts over a year after a major earthquake had devastated the country.  Large parts of the capital Port-au-Prince were still in rubble and 700,000 people were still living in makeshift camps. Tents and tarpaulins that had been rushed in after the earthquake were starting to rot in the fierce sun and torrential rain.  In other parts of town, vast mounds of clothing lined the roadsides: faded ‘My Little Pony’ shoes, endless pairs of wrinkled jeans, a Henley Regatta polo shirt, another with the badge of Kent County Cricket Club. Here and there, young men half-heartedly tried to sell these things.  In the central market, business was brisker: bags of USAID rice and flour were stacked up in pyramids, like the clothes, not humanitarian gifts as had originally been intended, but for sale.  Where’s the aid?  In the ...
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Why the Swiss feds are OK with these fake passports

Mon, 10/08/2018 - 11:55
Talk about artistic license. With his installation called “Swiss Passport Office”, a New York sculptor has put his own stamp on one of the world’s most coveted travel documents. The Swiss authorities don’t mind. It’s the kind of thing you’d normally get into big trouble for: producing and selling counterfeit IDs. At first glance, the handiwork of artist Tom Sachs looks almost legit, but the Swiss federal police are taking a relaxed view. “It is a rough representation of an official document, presented as such during an artistic event,” Federal Office of Police spokeswoman Anne-Florence Débois told swissinfo.ch. “This means it takes place in a special and artistic context. This rough representation can absolutely not be mistaken with a real passport.” + Here’s how to get a real Swiss passport Indeed, the four and a half million Swiss passports in circulation are loaded with security features like watermarks, security threads, perforation and ultraviolet fibres, not to mention ...
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When Spanish flu hit Switzerland

Mon, 10/08/2018 - 11:00
The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919 was one of the most devastating events in Swiss history. Around 25,000 people died and half of the population was infected. The deadliest wave struck in October 1918. The flu first appeared in the Alpine country at the beginning of July 1918 among frontier troops near the Jura village of Bonfol, where the Swiss border touched the French-German front line. Between 40-80% of soldiers who had manned the Swiss frontiers fell sick. Commanders cancelled most of the training camps and sent the troops home. The disease spread quickly through western Switzerland but by September, seemed to have fizzled out. Little did they suspect that a second, deadlier wave was on the horizon, which spread quickly throughout the entire country between the end of September and the end of November 1918. A third, milder wave was observed in January 1919, after which the virus finally petered out. Little was known about the nature of viral diseases. In this video, we ...
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Automation doesn’t always mean job cuts

Sun, 10/07/2018 - 17:00
As far as the Swiss government is concerned, digitalisation is the future; it wants to give new services and technologies freedom to develop without regulation. Automation is often synonymous with job cuts, but for one company in central Switzerland, it has meant hiring more staff. Alpnach Norm, a cabinet maker in Obwalden in central Switzerland showed Swiss Public Television, SRF, how they managed to modernise without sacking people.  Embracing ‘Industry 4.0’ In a 2018 study of more than 650 Swiss and German companies carried out by the consulting firm EY, almost half of the Swiss companies interviewed said that, like Alpnach Norm, they had embraced “Industry 4.0”, which encompasses automation, data exchange in manufacturing technologies, cyber-physical systems, cloud and cognitive computing. The Swiss companies surveyed invest an average of 4.9% of their turnover in Industry 4.0 solutions. One third plans to increase spending by more than 5% in 2018. However, the majority ...
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Spanish flu and Romansh cinema

Sun, 10/07/2018 - 12:00
Here are some of the stories we’ll be following the week of October 7: Monday The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919 was one of the most devastating events in Swiss history. The deadliest wave struck in October 1918.   Tuesday Non-academic facilities can sometimes make the difference between a good and a great university experience. We compare Swiss, US and UK institutions in the small things that count like extra-curricular activities, class size and cultural acclimatisation.   Wednesday In 1918, at a time of high political instability, Switzerland made the historic decision to move to a proportional representation system at national level. Opponents saw PR as a “foreign pest”, but the move gave smaller parties a chance. Here’s how it happened.  Thursday A fall on a hiking path or a sudden heart attack could bring your Swiss holiday to an abrupt end. How difficult is it to ensure your mortal remains reach home?   Sunday Amur Senza Fin is the first professional feature ...
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‘If you are open to change, everything becomes simpler’

Sun, 10/07/2018 - 11:00
Swiss photographer Sabrina Maniscalco has lived in several different countries - she now resides in Lisbon, Portugal. Far from Switzerland, the 31-year-old has discovered that, despite cultural differences "we are all alike". swissinfo.ch: What were your reasons for leaving Switzerland? How did it come about? Sabrina Maniscalco: After completing my university studies in Lausanne in 2014, I got the chance to work as a camera assistant in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on a documentary about a football team, Atletico Mineiro. I had never been to South America – so I jumped at the chance.  After that, I continued working as a stills photographer, and worked with a humanitarian organisation in Senegal, Africa, on a photography project about public schools.  Then I returned to Brazil and lived with my boyfriend for about a year on a farm in the middle of the forests in Minas Gerais, 250 km from Brasilia. There, I did a photography project about local farmers. After Brazil, I lived in ...
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‘Spay as you go’ campaign and record train travel

Sat, 10/06/2018 - 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. Monday 400,000,000 People aged over 55 are swindled out of around CHF400 million a year in Switzerland via classic robbery or various scams.   Tuesday 3 The number of meteorites found in Switzerland which have been recently admitted by the Meteoritical Society, the international body that registers them. One was discovered in 1959 by a 16-year-old boy, but it was only in 2017 that he realised the potential importance of his find.    Wednesday 1,400,000 A campaign launched by the Swiss Animal Protection organisation is encouraging the owners of Switzerland’s estimated 1.4 million domestic cats to help stop the proliferation of strays via sterilisation and microchipping.    Thursday 33,000 The number of staff working for the United Nations, international ...
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Mixing tradition and passion to make modern Swiss wine

Sat, 10/06/2018 - 11:00
Organic wine is gaining popularity and in Switzerland, some viticulturists like Jean-Denis Perrochet are also coupling this with traditional processes that have been in families for generations. Jean-Denis Perrochet has made a name for himself making Swiss biodynamic wine and for his passionate engagement in promoting organic wine growing. In 2012, he and his wife and son started making biodynamic wine because of what he believes are its health and ecological benefits. Situated a short distance from the city of Neuchâtel, the oenologist and his family at Domaine de La Maison Carrée harvest Swiss native Chasselas grapes before the cold temperatures reach the vines surrounding the village of Auvernier.   By using the same processes and equipment that have been in his family for seven generations, Perrochet believes that his business has benefited from the knowledge of his ancestors who started making wine in 1827. This equipment includes an old vertical press shown in the photo ...
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GRU revelations shatter spies’ code of silence

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 11:03
For decades Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU, lived in the shadow of Moscow’s other better-known spy organisations like the KGB and, since the end of the cold war, the FSB. But in the space of a month, the agency has been thrust firmly into the spotlight as western governments and security services line up to blame it for a string of malign operations, which have taken Moscow’s relations with the west to a new low. On Thursday, in a carefully choreographed international diplomatic effort, the British, Dutch and US governments took the unprecedented step of shattering the code of silence that traditionally characterises the world of intelligence, publishing painstaking details of cyber-attacks and covert international operations carried out by the GRU’s Unit 26165. The UK’s Foreign Office went first, using technical assessments from Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre, part of communications intelligence service GCHQ, to point the finger of blame at the GRU for ...
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Switzerland ponders response to China’s expansion

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 11:00
China is in the fast lane towards becoming the leading world power. This has consequences for other nations, including Switzerland, which some people say demands a response. In Switzerland, there is mounting criticism of Bern’s perceived domestic, economic, and diplomatic compromises.  Barbara Gysi, a centre-left Social Democratic Party parliamentarian, is concerned. Some of her colleagues didn’t want to sign her parliamentary motion this spring -- because they were afraid of China. “They feared a telephone call from the Chinese Embassy in Bern, or didn’t want to ruin their relationships with Beijing,” she says. That gave her food for thought – after all, it was just a harmless initiative. In her motion, Gysi called for an appraisal of the human rights dialogue that Switzerland has conducted with China since 1991 “in confidentiality.” She asked the government to evaluate the results of this dialogue and publish a report. In June this year, the 16th round of this dialogue took place.
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