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Updated: 3 hours 21 min ago

People in wheelchairs can drink and drive!

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 18:00
"True Talk" puts people in front of the camera who are fighting prejudice or discrimination. They answer questions that nobody would normally dare to ask directly.  This week, we speak to Hitzi, who is physically handicapped and confined to a wheelchair. He says Switzerland is not at all wheelchair friendly, which can make life quite difficult. (SRF/swissinfo.ch)
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Drones invade arts, performance, and hearts

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 16:00
In this instalment of our opinion series, swissnex Boston Communications Manager Jake Link describes how a swarm of synchronised drones captured his imagination – and his heart – and raised his hopes for a technology that often inspires public uneasiness. The idea of a drone future, filled with omnipresent robots and buzzing skies, often feels heavy and foreboding. Much of the discussion around the drone-ification of our major industries focuses on issues like privacy, security, trust, and safety. While this new drone era is bringing rapid innovation to nearly every sector, it also brings a general sense of skepticism and concern. This apprehension is certainly something I’ve thought a lot about and discussed heavily with friends and colleagues over the past couple of years, and we all seem to share an optimistic, but slightly nervous sentiment. The explosion in drone technology prompted a new yearlong event series from swissnex Boston called “Aerial Futures: The Drone ...
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How a new kind of Swiss store changed the way we shop

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 12:28
Seventy years ago, buying groceries in Switzerland and the rest of Europe changed forever when the Swiss retailer Migros opened a new kind of store in Zurich. In March 1948, Migros founder Gottlieb Duttweiler introduced the first self-service store on Seidengasse in Zurich, a controversial move at the time. It meant that customers could, for the first time, choose their own products on shelves instead of getting them from a person behind a counter. The concept was met with hostility by long-established village and neighbourhood shops, while newspaper reports deemed that picking out one’s own products was something extremely "un-Swiss". Prior to the innovation, Swiss grocery stores always had a shopkeeper behind a counter who would pick out what the customer required. In turn, the customer had to pay before even touching what they had just bought. However, customers quickly began to appreciate being able to fill a shopping basket with goods hand-picked from the shelves quickly.
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Brexit - the view from Switzerland

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 12:00
The knock-on effects of the 2016 Brexit vote are still reverberating across Europe. In Switzerland, especially, where the government is also trying to pin down its ties with Brussels, the future shape of EU-UK relations are being keenly observed. Former British Ambassador to Bern David Moran and Cenni Najy of foraus discuss the current political situation. Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes to ensure that you don’t miss the next one.
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Watch Stephen Hawking's Swiss visit in 1987

Wed, 03/14/2018 - 12:27
Physicist Stephen Hawking, who died on Wednesday, gave a speech at the Federal Institute of Technology Zurich in 1987. Here is an excerpt.   On September 4, 1987, Hawking presented his views on the "Origins of the Universe" at the institute. He was honoured at the event as patron of a foundation doing research into the physicist's motor neuron disease.  The German-language Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper wrote this about his visit: "Hawking came at the invitation of the ALS/MND research institute, and gave two presentations which were played from a disc. It was a bit like science fiction. While many sentences were pre-programmed, it took him some time to answer unexpected questions. When a member of the audience tried excusing themselve for their poor lack of knowledge of the research field, he answered laconically, 'That goes for most people'." (SRF, swissinfo.ch)
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‘We must not impose politics on the artists’ work’

Wed, 03/14/2018 - 12:00
Philippe Bischof, the new director of the Swiss arts council Pro Helvetia, talks to swissinfo.ch about the significance of cultural exchanges abroad. He says art offers a chance for dialogue, and explains how Pro Helvetia helps support cultural projects in countries where art is under political pressure. swissinfo.ch: If you had to describe the state of Swiss art to “sell” it abroad, how would you do it? Philippe Bischof: With diversity, because this is quite specific for Switzerland. It’s a country of four official languages. There’s not just one Swiss culture but many Swiss cultures and this is appreciated in other countries, I hear that often.  Then there is the matter of quality. Switzerland is a rich country – there’s a high quality in the making [of art] and there are very good art academies. It’s an art made in excellent circumstances with good funds and infrastructure – that’s something you recognize easily. There’s as well a kind of specific innovation, with a lot of ...
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The making of a well-behaved sheepdog

Wed, 03/14/2018 - 11:35
When hikers come across herding dogs in the Swiss countryside, the animals can appear aggressive and  threateneding The Swiss authorities have decided new measures are needed to make these dogs more human-friendly. (SRF, swissinfo.ch) Christian Mühlethaler from Meinisberg, canton Bern is one of 20 breeders in Switzerland working with livestock guarding dogs. At the end of December 2017, one of his dogs had a litter of 12 puppies. As part of new measures introduced by the authorities, Mühlethaler’s dogs will have to undergo training before they are one year old, after which they will be tested on how well they interact with humans. As recently as five years ago, it was common practice for herd protection dogs to be separated from their mothers when still puppies. They were growing up exclusively among sheep, and only rarely coming into contact with people. As a result, such dogs were unaccustomed to human contact and in certain situations could react aggressively to people such ...
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Is Switzerland about to follow Russia's legal lead?

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 18:00
International treaties or national law – what takes precedence? In Switzerland, a people’s initiative wants to decide this once and for all, but is coming up against strong resistance in parliament and civil society. Switzerland has signed over 5,000 international treaties with other states. But those behind the people’s initiative “Swiss law instead of foreign judges” want to ensure that in the future Swiss law takes precedence over the international. Launched by the conservative-right Swiss People’s Party, the initiative proposes that the federal constitution should take precedence over international law, and that the country cannot take on international obligations that run against it. If this was to be the case, it says, Switzerland would have to either modify or leave the international treaty in question. “Here, it’s us that decide”, the initiators say. Whatever the Swiss electorate chooses should be applied – regardless of what has been agreed with other countries or ...
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Swiss NGOs on frontline of South Sudan’s forgotten war

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 12:00
As the United Nations Human Rights Council hears a new report on abuses in South Sudan, we look at how two Swiss non-governmental groups are working against the odds to help alleviate the suffering of the population. On Tuesday, the Human Rights Council is discussing a UN commission report documenting new abuses against civilians in South Sudan, including gang rapes, beheadings and blindings. “We talk of a crime against humanity of persecution with an ethnic dimension,” says commission member Andrew Clapham, professor of international law at the Graduate Institute in Geneva, “and in those instances we felt there was a deliberate attempt to humiliate people because of their ethnicity and to get them to move on or move out.” The commission says there is enough evidence to launch judicial investigations against more than 40 senior South Sudanese officers and officials for war crimes and crimes against humanity (see box for more on our interview with Andrew Clapham). Speaking at ...
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Weeding out smokers of illegal cannabis

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 11:35
A new test makes it possible for Swiss police officers to find out whether someone is smoking an illegal substance. The test is reliable and cheap to carry out, and quickly allows the police to see if someone is in possession of legal, industrial hemp or a banned type of cannabis. (RTS/swissinfo.ch)  Legal cannabis has become a flourishing business in Switzerland, which changed its laws in 2011 to let adults buy and use cannabis with up to 1% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the active ingredient that gets smokers high. It is used alongside another active ingredient, cannabidiol (CBD), in a growing range of cannabis-related products, from cosmetics to drinks.  Under a 2013 law, like a simple traffic offence, anyone over 18 caught in possession of up to ten grams of illegal cannabis will receive a CHF100 ($105) fine and the offence will not show up on their criminal record.  In 2008, Swiss voters rejected an initiative to decriminalise cannabis. At the same time they approved a new ...
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Swiss drive demand for big and powerful cars

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 12:37
In Switzerland large, powerful vehicles make up almost half the fleet. But thanks to technological progress, the environmental impact of this trend is lighter than expected.  The trend for big cars continues this year at the Geneva Motor Show, as well as on Swiss roads. American-style pick-up trucks are no longer as rare a sight as before. However, it is the Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) that has found fertile ground in the Alpine nation. According to the Federal Roads Office, SUVs now account for almost half of all private vehicles, compared with the average European share of around one third.   In terms of engines, “with a car fleet 25% more powerful than the European average, Switzerland is fond of horsepower”, François Launaz, president of auto-suisse, the umbrella organisation for car importers, told Swiss public television, RTS.  But this trend towards larger and more powerful vehicles has not necessarily had catastrophic effects in terms of the environment, because under ...
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Swiss multinationals step up US lobbying

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 12:00
Swiss multinational corporations in the United States have ramped up efforts to influence American policy making, spending nearly CHF22 million ($23.3 million) on lobbying last year.  From tax reform to repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), Swiss multinationals – especially those in the pharmaceutical and financial sectors – have left nothing to chance.  While it is not unusual for multinationals, via their US-based subsidiaries, to engage in lobbying, the amounts of money spent by Swiss firms on lobbying in 2017 rose markedly compared with previous years, according to data from US transparency organisation Center for Responsive Politics (CRP).  Spending by pharmaceutical manufacturer Novartis on lobbying rose from CHF6.4 million in 2016 to CHF8.11 million in 2017. On a smaller but equally ambitious scale, industrial digital technology company ABB Group doubled its spending on lobbying to CHF500,000.  According to the CRP, the lobbying spend of these ...
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Centre-left parties dominate Switzerland’s biggest cities

Sun, 03/11/2018 - 18:00
Zurich, Geneva, Basel, Bern, Lausanne, St Gallen: Switzerland’s largest cities are dominated by parties on the political left. Meanwhile, most small towns in peripheral regions are governed by parties on the right, with the left slowly gaining ground in some locations. Why is that?  Elections to the Zurich city council and the local parliament at the beginning of March saw the political left boosting its power at the expense of centrist and rightwing parties. In Switzerland’s biggest city, the leftwing Green Party secured a clear majority (six seats) in the nine-member executive and won a majority in the parliament.  An electoral alliance of centre-right parties clearly failed to break the centre-left’s 28-year grip on the city government.  Since the 1990s, the leftwing Social Democratic Party has grown into the strongest political force in Switzerland’s big towns and cities. In recent years, this shift to the left has been witnessed in smaller towns, such as Aarau, Olten, Baden ...
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Lobbying in the US, human rights and Brexit

Sun, 03/11/2018 - 13:00
Here are the stories we’ll be following the week of March 12, 2018: Monday Swiss multinational corporations in the United States have ramped up efforts to influence American policy making, spending more than CHF20 million ($21 million) on lobbying activities last year. We’ll look into where that money goes, exactly. Tuesday As the UN Human Rights Council hears a chilling new report on South Sudan, we look at how the four-year civil war has affected the population and how Swiss NGOs are trying to help. Wednesday Philippe Bischof, the new director of Swiss cultural foundation Pro Helvetia, tells us about the significance of cultural exchanges abroad. He says art offers a chance for dialogue, and he explains how Pro Helvetia helps support culture in countries where art is under political pressure. Thursday Switzerland – which isn’t a part of the European Union – has been watching with interest ever since the people of Britain decided to drop out of ...
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Robert Woodrich: ‘Switzerland still appears a political oasis of sorts’

Sun, 03/11/2018 - 12:00
Born and raised in Canada, 32-year-old Robert Woodrich now lives in Thailand, where he runs a business. But because of his Swiss ancestry, he sees Switzerland as a third “home away from home”. swissinfo.ch: Your name doesn’t sound Swiss. What’s your connection to Switzerland, and when did you start to identify with your Swissness?  Robert Woodrich: I was born abroad, in Windsor, Canada – due south of the US city of Detroit. My Swiss citizenship passed to me from my ‘Oma’ [grandmother] on my mother’s side, who hailed from Zurich and Schwyz during a time when women could not yet vote. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of swissinfo.ch. I learned about my nationality at a young age; my parents used to joke about being able to send me to Switzerland should conflict erupt during the Cold War. I really began to feel a strong connection to the country during my youth, when I visited sites such as the original ...
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Expats between bank accounts and welfare benefits

Sat, 03/10/2018 - 22:04
The Council of the Swiss Abroad has called on parliament to reject a proposal linking welfare benefits to residence status in Switzerland or contributions to the country’s social security system. In a resolution, adopted unanimously on Saturday, the assembly criticised the proposals of a committee of the House of Representatives as a breach of legal equality set down in the constitution. “The proposals are tantamount to a blatant discrimination of all those Swiss citizens who live abroad [notably in countries outside the European Union and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA)] for whatever reason,” the resolution says. It also contradicts the international mobility of citizens, according to the resolution. In the same vein, council member François Baur, a representative of the Swiss Business Federation, said the proposals of the parliamentary committee were not at all in the interest of the Swiss economy, notably the export-oriented sector and companies with subsidiaries ...
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Fifty years of going flat out on frozen Swiss lakes

Sat, 03/10/2018 - 12:00
Switzerland’s largest cross-country ski race is turning 50. On Sunday 14,200 athletes will take part in the Engadine Ski Marathon.  Images of endless lines of skiers snaking across frozen lakes have become a trademark of Switzerland as a winter sport location. The 42-kilometre (26-mile) race is the most popular in the country – to the extent that organisers have been forced to limit the number of places in order to guarantee the event’s quality.  When a group of stalwarts got together in 1969 for the first Engadine Ski Marathon, they were probably unaware that they were real pioneers. Today, similar events pop up everywhere in all endurance sports. The aim is always to attract thousands of hobby athletes to the region where the event is being held.  The images document the development of the marathon from a local cross-country run for a few people bitten by the cross-country skiing bug to a massive sporting and logistical event, which attracts not only hobby skiers but also the ...
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When the Alps become your place of work

Sat, 03/10/2018 - 10:00
Swiss photographer Dan Patitucci spends months each year in the Alps and other mountain ranges of the world, on assignment. In this last image in his series, we see him checking his gear. For long periods each year, I literally live in the mountains.  Sometimes it's in huts throughout the Alps, other times it's tents in the Himalaya.  The gear I use is critical for my work, communication, comfort and safety.  Here, I've set up office in the Finsteraarhorn Hut during a ski tour magazine assignment. 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. Experiencing the Alps on so many levels keeps us motivated for what comes next. Grandiose landscapes Since December, swissinfo.ch has been publishing a series of Dan and Janine Patitucci’s pictures: images ...
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By the numbers: the Geneva passport boom

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 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 the past week’s stories. Sunday 71.6 The percentage of voters who rejected a proposal to scrap the mandatory licence fee for Switzerland’s public broadcasters.  Tuesday 5,789 Almost 5,800 foreigners living in Geneva were granted Swiss citizenship in 2017 – a big jump from 2016 as applicants raced to meet the end-of-year deadline, when stricter rules came into force.  Wednesday 57,000,000 Switzerland exported steel products worth CHF57 million to the US last year. The Swiss and 17 other members of the World Trade Organization have expressed concerns over Donald Trump’s decision to slap tariffs of 25% on steel imports. Swiss aluminium exports, worth CHF30 million, could also be affected.  Thursday 60 Authorities in Geneva have ruled that private apartments or houses can be rented on ...
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Ten arguments for and against e-voting

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 15:25
Is voting online a big step forwards or backwards? Opinion in Switzerland about the use of electronic voting is divided.  The Swiss have more chances to express their opinions at the ballot box than anyone else in the world thanks to their extensive system of direct democracy. Wouldn’t it be more practical if you could do so with the click of a mouse?  The Swiss government is convinced. From 2019, two out of three cantons (26 in total) could have e-voting in place. But data protection campaigners and IT experts warn of the dangers; opponents will probably launch a people’s initiative on the issue.  These are the ten most commonly heard arguments for and against e-voting: Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) The issue of e-voting has been on the agenda of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) for many years.  The OSA’s assembly, the Council of Swiss Abroad, is meeting on Saturday in the Swiss capital, Bern. A panel discussion is taking place, entitled "E-Voting:
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