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Updated: 9 hours 47 min ago

The local club as a school of democracy

Tue, 01/02/2018 - 12:00
There are tens of thousands of them, all around the country: clubs and associations. Often these are very local groups. The classic example is the village rabbit-breeders’ club. In Switzerland these groups are important for learning democracy, says Fanni Dahinden of the Vitamin B centre in Zurich, which advises and supports volunteer boards and knows what the issues for clubs and associations are. Its name is based on a slang expression in German for the power of networking. #Dear Democracy This text is part of #DearDemocracy, a platform on direct democracy issues, by swissinfo.ch. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of swissinfo.ch. Clubs and associations affect people’s lives in Switzerland from cradle to grave: from the birthing centre to the playgroup, from the choir and the sports club to, finally, the Panther Club for seniors – behind everything there seems to be an organised group. Even when we ...
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Telling the world about historic peacekeeping efforts

Mon, 01/01/2018 - 18:00
On 1 January, 1942, a document was signed by 26 states, coining the term "United Nations". The Declaration of the United Nations  pledged that their governments would continue fighting together against the Axis Powers. Swiss Public Television, RTS, takes a closer look at attempts to make historic documents like these available to a wider public. (RTS/swissinfo.ch) The Geneva archives are testament to efforts to establish peace through diplomacy. The League of Nations was the predecessor of the United Nations, and was the first international organisation that set out to achieve world peace. The 26 years of the League's history are summed up in 15 million pages.  These documents will soon be available on the Internet, thanks partly to students at the University of Geneva. They are busy deciphering and indexing the documents with the help of thousands of Internet users via an online research platform. The project is part of a crowdsourcing project and it's like a social media site ...
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Youngest Swiss president in 84 years takes office

Mon, 01/01/2018 - 12:00
At 45, Alain Berset is the youngest politician to become Swiss president since 1934. He holds the rotating post for 2018. In an interview with swissinfo.ch, Berset remains cautious about a change in Swiss-EU relations and talks about whether Switzerland is experiencing its own ballot box protests.    swissinfo.ch: A few days after you were elected president, you wrote to an unhappy naturalisation candidate in Nyon, canton Vaud, to express your support. Why did you do that?   Alain Berset: I can’t imagine being involved in politics without emotion. Co-existence, mutual respect, dialogue and human contact are integral to the political action I’ve been engaged with for the past 15 years.  Alain Berset Alain Berset became one of the youngest cabinet ministers in history when he was elected to the cabinet in 2011 at the age of 39. He has since headed the Home Affairs ministry, where he is responsible for health, social insurance and culture. He is a member of the leftwing Social ...
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How Swiss direct democracy marked 2017

Sun, 12/31/2017 - 16:00
Health matters were top of the list of people’s concerns in Switzerland over the past 12 months, as an overview of political efforts outside parliament shows. Under the country’s political system of direct democracy, legislation is not a privilege of the elected representatives and the government. Citizens have the right to challenge laws in referendums and they can propose changes to the constitution by collecting at least 100,000 signatures over 18 months to force a nationwide vote on an issue.  + What is a people’s initiative + How to challenge a law to referendum Looking back over the past year, a few facts stand out. No initiative came to a nationwide vote, but the democratic tool has again gained in popularity. Reversing a trend of the two previous years, 2017 saw a growing number of people’s initiatives, ten in total, being launched at a nationwide level. It is striking that four of them focus on health issues: health premiums, the role of health insurance companies in ...
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A young president and the cost of Swiss meat revealed

Sun, 12/31/2017 - 13:00
Here is a selection of stories we're looking ahead to in the week of January 1, 2018. Monday Is direct democracy hindering Switzerland's progress? Why hasn't any money from Arab Spring dictators made its way back to the people of the countries affected? Can the Swiss-EU deadlock be resolved in 2018? These are just some of the questions we put to Alain Berset, home affairs minister and Swiss president for 2018.  Tuesday The organised group of rabbit-breeders is just one of tens of thousands of clubs and associations in Switzerland. We hear from a person who believes joining a club is an important lesson in democracy. Wednesday You can lose the battle but still win the war – or at least a partial victory. That's the conclusion of political scientist Lukas Leuzinger, who looks at the long-term impact of initiatives that were defeated at the ballot box.   Thursday Forty-one hours and ten minutes. We've done the maths to reveal how much the average ...
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Everything’s a question of perspective

Sun, 12/31/2017 - 12:00
Some stumbled, others reached new heights. The past 12 months in Switzerland have been filled with impressive images and odd scenes – from sport and traditional customs to political events. swissinfo.ch looks back at 2017 in pictures. Things always get wild in canton Valais on the last weekend of August – that’s when up to 1,000 sheep are driven from their summer pastures over the Aletsch glacier to Belalp. The Schafscheid (sheep-sorting) then returns the sheep to their owners. Every year on St Martin’s Day (November 11) a curious – and rather gruesome – tradition in the village of Sursee near Lucerne attracts locals and visitors: the “Gansabhauet”. A dead goose is suspended and participants – blindfolded by a pointed cap and a golden sun mask and wearing a red cloak – try to sever its neck with a blunt sabre. Whoever manages to do this can keep the mangled bird. Some regions also host the “Räbeliechtli”, a night-time procession of lanterns made from turnips. In Fribourg, the ...
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Reaching the peak of 2017

Sun, 12/31/2017 - 10:00
​​​​​​​ Looking into the New Year? Not quite: ski tourers take in the Alpine world around them after making it to the top of the Bishorn, in this image by Swiss photographers, Dan and Janine Patitucci. The Bishorn is one of the Alps easiest 4,000 metre peaks to climb. What makes it easy for climbers makes it ideal for ski tourers, and that is a very long, evenly angled approach.  The summit is a quick scramble up steep snow with an impressive view of the Weisshorn’s North Face.  Here, Bruno Schaub and Stefano Girolimetto enjoy the rewards of a very long day. 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 Each week over the next few months, ...
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Does limiting urban sprawl mean bad architecture?

Sat, 12/30/2017 - 18:00
The town of Schwyz recently tore down some medieval buildings with beautiful wall paintings in order to create space for some multi-storey buildings. According to the 2014 federal zoning law, Swiss municipalities are obliged to limit urban sprawl. However, building new, incongruous structures in historic town centres can often change the local character. (SRF/swissinfo.ch) Free space is getting scarcer in Switzerland. The equivalent of eight football pitches is covered with new buildings every day. In order to prevent green spaces from disappearing, the Swiss government revised the federal zoning law in 2014. Since then, communities have been obliged to limit urban sprawl. + Learning how to improve life in the suburbs However, the ruling has sparked a debate over the quality of modern architecture. Some new multi-storey buildings are significantly changing the appearance of traditional villages. The Swiss Heritage Society is asking for more consideration when planning new units ...
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How biomass could help Switzerland reach its energy goals

Sat, 12/30/2017 - 12:00
There is vast energy potential locked up in biomass – like wood, farm manure and food waste – all over Switzerland. But accessing it will take more than just technological innovation. Currently, biomass is Switzerland’s second-most-important source of domestic renewable energy (the first being hydropower). Biomass – meaning plant or other organic matter – can be used for energy in a variety of ways: for example, wood can be burned to produce heat, plant residues can be chemically processed to produce liquid biofuels, and even farm manure can be digested by bacteria to release biogas, which in turn can be used to generate electricity. Now, researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) say that the amount of sustainable energy obtained from biomass could be twice what it is today. Their argument is based on the first comprehensive calculation of potential energy from all types of Swiss biomass – whether it’s wood from the forest, manure ...
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Is there hope for diplomacy in 2018?

Fri, 12/29/2017 - 16:00
“One year ago I said I thought this year had to get better, and I thought it would. But I was wrong. In many respects 2017 got even worse.”   These were the words of Jan Egeland, the chair of the UN’s humanitarian taskforce for Syria, just before Christmas. Emerging from a taskforce meeting he said he has asked key UN member states (the US, Russia, China, Egypt, Turkey, the UK and half a dozen more) to do more. “I think…they should be able to have influence commensurate with their military and economic investment in Syria and at times I wonder really why isn’t there more influence?” It’s a very good question, and one many are asking. What has happened to traditional diplomacy? How has the brutal conflict in Syria been allowed to drag on for seven long years? Vacuum where influence should be  A key issue may not be a genuine lack of influence, but a lack of interest in using it. The United States, once the world’s chief proponent of 'soft power', is mostly diplomatically absent ...
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Switzerland in motion: 2017 in review

Fri, 12/29/2017 - 12:00
Looking back, 2017 has been a year of motion. Technology has put movement into the economy, heat has created disturbances in nature, and the country has been shaken by cases of sexual abuse. Politics is the only area to have remained calm: progress has stalled on some major issues. Politics: Big projects shelved Health insurance premiums are rising again, the pensions system is still a work in progress, and corporate tax reform remains blocked. 2017 has been a lost year for Swiss politics. Well, almost – there is also some new energy. The political right logged its first defeat of the year with plans to reform corporate taxes. Switzerland must tax its companies in line with international standards. But if Swiss taxes on companies that operate internationally are too punishing, these businesses will move elsewhere, taking jobs with them, the advocates of the tax reform proposal argued. Yet if taxes are too low, small and medium-sized companies will end up bearing the brunt of the ...
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What’s being done to bring down high drug costs?

Thu, 12/28/2017 - 18:00
If you compare pharmaceutical costs across countries, you, no doubt, will experience a bit of sticker shock without understanding how prices are determined. In this article, we try to unravel the tangled web of players and factors that influence costs. Let’s start with some examples: if you needed a 30-day supply of a drug called Xarelto to prevent or treat blood clots, you’d shell out about CHF100 ($102) in Switzerland. In the United States you’d be out an average $292. Or maybe you’re prescribed the painkiller Oxycontin. In Switzerland a 30-day supply costs $95, and in the US it would be $265. (Also, this is a drug with a controversial history.)  Swiss per capita spending on drugs is among the highest in Europe, but not nearly as high as in the US, which spends roughly double the amount that Switzerland does, and more than any other country, based on the latest OECD data.  A major factor behind these astronomical costs is price, but that’s not all. Why are prices so high?  ...
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Gays and lesbians can now adopt stepchildren

Thu, 12/28/2017 - 15:00
From January 1, same-sex couples and de facto spouses may adopt stepchildren in Switzerland. In addition, the secrecy surrounding adoption will be loosened so adopted children and their biological parents will be able to get in contact more easily.  Until now, only married people have been able to adopt their spouses’ children from a previous relationship. In Switzerland, homosexuals have been able to enter into a civil partnership since 2007, but gay marriage is not recognised. From 2018, however, adoption of stepchildren will be possible for anyone in a civil partnership or a longterm relationship.  Swiss law will thus align itself closer to that of other western European countries and the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.  + Rainbow families start to colour Swiss media That said, a couple in a civil partnership will still be unable to adopt a child who is biologically unrelated to both parents. This means a gay person can adopt if single, but not when in a civil ...
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‘Town hall meetings are the archetype of democracy’

Thu, 12/28/2017 - 12:00
The Swiss comedian and actor Mike Müller is touring Switzerland with a show devoted to town hall meetings. In his stage performance, he displays his fascination for how the Swiss govern themselves on a local level, but he also says it’s scandalous that some people can vote on who gets naturalised.  A few times a year, the locals of some small and medium-sized Swiss communities get together to discuss the community’s budget, the annual accounts, tax rates, a new school building or anything else that’s going on. The discussions are often heated, and afterwards the people cast their votes by raising their hands.  + How can communities improve the appeal of town hall meetings? Four-fifths of Switzerland’s communities still have this tool of direct democracy which forms the legislative arm instead of having a parliament.  In his comedy “Town Hall Meetings Today”, Müller turns these gatherings into an entertaining and full-length evening performance. Who’s Mike Müller? Mike Müller ...
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The village teacher with the foreign name

Thu, 12/28/2017 - 12:00
Tama Vakeesan was born in Switzerland to Tamil parents from Sri Lanka. This week she talks to Driton Idrizi, an ethnic Albanian from Macedonia. At school he encountered racism and nearly dropped out, but he was brought back on track by his private tutor, who inspired him to also become an educator. Driton now works as a secondary school teacher in the mountain village of Sigriswil in canton Bern.  (SRF Kulturplatz/swissinfo.ch)
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Qualified refugees find new paths to jobs

Wed, 12/27/2017 - 18:00
The job prospects for qualified refugees in Switzerland are poor. Many are on welfare, even after living in the country for years. A PR agency in Zurich wants to draw attention to the untapped potential of qualified refugees and has taken on a refugee as a member of its own staff. (SRF/swissinfo.ch) Speaking at an integration conference earlier this year, Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga laid out the advantages of better integrating refugees in the job market.  “If you have a job, you don’t need welfare,” she said.  The justice and finance ministries, along with three cantonal government conferences, set out to define a more concrete plan and budget for such integration while determining how to better utilise the professional potential of refugees.  A 2014 study from the United Nations agency UNHCR showed that, despite many training offerings at a cantonal level, only about one in five refugees had found work in the first five years after their arrival, during which ...
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On-the-job training: a Swiss calling card

Wed, 12/27/2017 - 12:00
2017 was an exceptional year for the Swiss vocational model on the world stage. So what sets the country’s job training apart from the competition? A young woman who took home the top prize at an international skills contest provides some insights. “Some people from other countries trained for two years just for this competition,” says Irina Tuor, a young woman from eastern Switzerland, of the WorldSkills contest where she recently won a gold medal in her field. Tuor met competitors from China and Brazil, for example, who were laser-focused on learning and re-learning material they might be asked to present at WorldSkills.  But the Swiss team of 38 candidates in 36 different fields continued to work in their everyday apprenticeships and jobs right up until the competition. It paid off: in the end, Switzerland came in as the best European country in the competition in October out of 59 nations represented. The Swiss team was second overall, behind China, and won 20 medals.  That ...
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Switzerland thrives on apprenticeship tradition

Wed, 12/27/2017 - 12:00
As Europe’s economy recovers, companies and investors across the continent are gearing up for new opportunities by taking advantage of its hidden strengths: education, skills and innovative people. Here we look at how the Swiss vocational training system helps it to top global competitiveness tables. A cavernous brick workshop behind the main train station in Zurich is one place where, at 8am on a dark winter’s morning, it is possible to find teenagers beaming with enthusiasm and professional pride. At work benches under fluorescent lights, 13 apprentices are in their second year of training to become Swiss federal railway automation engineers. “In Switzerland, if you do an apprenticeship, you can also get a very good job,” says Robin Witschi, 17. “In lots of countries, you have to go to university.” Switzerland’s long-established apprenticeship system, combining classroom and workplace learning, is widely seen as one of the affluent country’s greatest economic strengths, ...
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Unravelling the mysteries behind the Gurlitt art collection

Tue, 12/26/2017 - 15:00
A collection left to the Museum of Fine Arts in Bern by the son of a Nazi art collector is now on show in the Swiss capital. At first, little was known about the ownership history of these pieces, but painstaking work has been carried out to discover where the artwork came from, before it was confiscated by the Nazi party under Hitler for being “degenerate art”.  You can contact the producer of this podcast on Twitter or Facebook. 
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2017 by the numbers

Tue, 12/26/2017 - 12:00
Almost every article published by swissinfo.ch over the past year has contained a percentage, an age, an amount of money or some other figure. Here’s a look back at a few memorable statistics.  In 2018, swissinfo.ch will introduce “The week in numbers” column to inform, surprise and entertain you.  January 17 5,000 To guarantee ground and air security during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, the defence ministry could employ up to 5,000 of its staff, roughly double the number of participants. January 27 69 Army officials said 69 military weapons had been reported permanently or temporarily lost the previous year, most of them stolen or “misplaced”. Between 1969 and 2015, some 5,155 weapons went AWOL (reassuringly – or not – 317 were later recovered).  February 28 87 The government admitted its measles eradication strategy had failed. The measles vaccination rate in Switzerland lies at 87%, below the 95% that the World Health Organization deems a ...
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