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Do the Swiss have a weakness for surveillance?

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 15:02
On Sunday, almost two-thirds of Swiss voters approved the use of private investigators by public and private insurance companies to catch fraudsters. A lawyer and a sociologist discuss whether the Swiss have a natural tendency towards keeping tabs on each other.  The legislation, drafted following a 2016 rebuke of Switzerland by the European Court of Human Rights, will give detectives hired by social insurance bodies the right to follow – and record – welfare recipients whom they suspect of cheating the system. They will be able to do this anywhere in public and without authorisation.  + What was at stake in the social detectives vote, in detail  Emotions have been heated, with lawyer Philip Stolkin warning of a Big Brother-like police state and announcing he wanted to fight the new law in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.  But why did such a clear majority of voters back something that limits protection of the private sphere and potentially affects almost every ...
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Swiss make slow progress returning Nazi-looted art

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 09:20
Progress in Switzerland has been patchy since the country endorsed the Washington Principles - a set of guidelines to encourage museums to find and identify Nazi-looted art.  Switzerland was one of 44 governments and organisations to agree to the principles 20 years ago. The stated goal was to uncover Nazi-looted art in their collections and seek “just and fair solutions” with the heirs of the original Jewish owners. Alain Monteagle fought for more than a decade to recover his family’s painting by the British artist John Constable from the Musée des Beaux Arts in La Chaux-de-Fonds, a small city in Switzerland’s Jura mountains near the French border.  “Dedham from Langham” had been looted from the Nice home of his Jewish great-great-aunt, Anna Jaffé, after her death in 1942 – along with everything else she owned. The La Chaux-de-Fonds museum received it as part of a bequest.  When Monteagle first approached city officials, they refused to relinquish it, even while acknowledging ...
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Swiss expats clearly reject ‘Swiss law first’ initiative

Mon, 11/26/2018 - 16:33
Swiss citizens living abroad came out even more strongly against a rightwing proposal to put the Swiss constitution above international law than voters at home, who also clearly rejected the initiative.  In a preliminary breakdown of Sunday’s results, between 66% and 79% of the Swiss Abroad said no to the “Swiss law first” proposal. Overall, 66.2% of Swiss voters turned the initiative down.  The conservative right People’s Party said its initiative was aimed at preserving Swiss sovereignty and direct democracy, giving citizens the final say on any international treaty.  Under the proposal, the powers of the government, parliament as well as the courts would have been restricted. International accords not in line with the Swiss constitution would have been cancelled or be subject to new negotiations.  The analysis and survey of how the Swiss abroad voted on the issue found that Swiss voters abroad rely more heavily on information obtained online than do people in Switzerland, ...
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Medicines: Is Switzerland too rich to save money?

Mon, 11/26/2018 - 12:00
Switzerland could save millions of francs by prescribing low-priced biotech drug copies, known as biosimilars, instead of expensive biologicals - expensive drugs produced in living cells. However, there are disincentives which are typical of the ailing Swiss system.  Emily Whitehead was suffering from leukaemia. The six-year old American girl had undergone numerous chemotherapy treatments, but nothing worked. The doctors told her parents it was time to find a place in a hospice, but then, a miracle happened. The doctors treated the girl with experimental genetically-modified human immunodeficiency viruses. Emily is now 13 and completely healthy.  This is just one of many stories about seriously ill patients undergoing treatment with new drugs called biologicals, which are produced through a biological process rather than chemical synthesis (see infobox). Such drugs, often produced involving biotechnology methods, are currently shaking up the drug industry, especially in the ...
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‘Swiss law first’ initiative given short shrift at polls

Sun, 11/25/2018 - 20:07
Voters have rejected a right-wing proposal to put the Swiss constitution above international law. The ballot came after months of public debate on the divisive issue. The initiative was defeated with 66.2% of the vote, dealing a blow to the People's Party which had launched the proposal. It also failed to win a majority in any of the country’s 26 cantons. The People's Party, which was pitted against all other major parties, the government, the business community and civil society, admitted defeat on Sunday. It argued that opponents had created uncertainty among citizens in the run-up to the vote through a campaign funded with "unlimited financial means". For its part, a broad alliance of civil society groups said common sense had prevailed to defend basic human rights. The business community also welcomed the result saying voters wanted "a country open to the outside world". Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said Sunday’s result confirmed previous decisions by voters to ...
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No bonuses for horned cows, decide Swiss voters

Sun, 11/25/2018 - 18:34
After 54.7% of voters said ‘No’, the Swiss constitution will not grant subsidies for livestock with horns. The proposal was one of the more unlikely issues in recent years to be put to a nationwide vote.  In order to pass, it would have required a majority of yes-votes among people as well as a majority of cantons. Six cantons approved the initiative, while 20 rejected it. Despite the postcard and advertising images suggesting otherwise, about three quarters of cows and a third of goats are hornless in Switzerland, either because of their breed or a painful procedure to de-bud young animals as their horns start to grow. Many farmers don’t want horns because of the risk of injury and the fact that horned animals require more space, and hence larger barns. If voters had accepted the initiative, it would have been up to lawmakers to decide how much to pay farmers with horned animals, and how to finance the subsidies. “It was an initiative for cows and goats. By voting ‘No’, ...
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Swiss voters give strong backing to ‘social welfare detectives’

Sun, 11/25/2018 - 18:27
Should detectives be allowed spy on insurance claimants to weed out fraud? Yes, say Swiss voters, who on Sunday largely opted for probity over privacy in sanctioning a new law to this effect. The results were resounding: voters, as predicted, clearly backed the government-proposed law to give public and private insurance companies a means of tracking down beneficiaries they suspect of cheating the system. Some 64.7% of voters nationwide said “yes” to the detectives, with a turnout rate of 47%, slightly above average. Almost all cantons gave their approval: Geneva, where 58.6% of voters came out against the plan, and Jura were the only exceptions. The legislation, drafted following a 2016 rebuke of Switzerland by the European Court of Human Rights, will give private detectives hired by social insurance bodies the right to follow, and record, welfare recipients anywhere in the public space. Home Affairs Minister Alain Berset welcomed the result, saying it showed the desire ...
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Glaciers frozen in time

Sat, 11/24/2018 - 12:00
Photographer Daniel Schwartz has long been preoccupied with climate change. The exhibition "Glacier Odyssey" in the Museum of Fine Arts in Chur is now showcasing pictures that reveal what is happening outside the museum doors. The inspiration for Schwartz’s latest work was a stroll taken with his father to a place of childhood memories in the mountains of canton Valais. The view of today's Rhone Glacier compared to a photograph of a trip 50 years ago made the theme tangible: the ice flow that had grown over thousands of years was retreating - and practically dissolving before their eyes.  In the beginning was curiosity  After this excursion Schwartz returned home to Solothurn, in northwestern Switzerland. He worked methodologically, studying maps and contacting glaciologists. Each project starts with research, curiosity and the desire to join the dots. The exhibition ties in with Schwartz’s own life – his personal exploration of the Alps -  and is therefore biographical. He ...
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Household income, ancient treasures and Airbnb

Sat, 11/24/2018 - 12:00
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. 280,000 The average annual gross salary (in Swiss francs) of an executive working in the pharmaceutical industry in Switzerland.  30 The percentage of monthly household income that Swiss people spend on mandatory payments like taxes, social contributions and health insurance. 6 The number of prominent Swiss women who have resigned from the Catholic Church in protest against Pope Francis’s remarks equating abortion with the hiring of a contract killer. 26 The number of ancient treasures Switzerland recently returned to Egypt, which had been confiscated in the context of two criminal cases in cantons Lucerne and Valais. The treasures include a statuette of the god Anubis, 12 funerary figurines known as uchabti and various amulets. 900,000 The number of ...
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‘Invest money’ to stop violence against women

Fri, 11/23/2018 - 18:00
One person dies every two weeks from domestic abuse in Switzerland; most often, it’s a woman. The Swiss authorities must do more to implement the Istanbul Convention to combat this scourge, say campaigners.  Since last year, the #MeToo and #BalanceTonPorc movements have put the spotlight on the problems of sexual abuse and harassment. Violence against women is not a new phenomenon, but it is a widespread and persistent human rights violation.  Non-governmental groups place a great deal of hope in the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (better known as the Istanbul Convention), which entered into force in Switzerland last April.  Ahead of the United Nations-supported International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25, swissinfo.ch talked to Simone Eggler of Terre des Femmes about the scale of the problem in Switzerland and possible solutions. Eggler belongs to a new civil society ...
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How young Swiss choose their profession

Fri, 11/23/2018 - 15:41
Getting professional, on-the-job training in Switzerland is made easier in Switzerland due to the country's vocational school system. The biggest Swiss trade fair is currently underway in Geneva. Around 300 different professions and further training courses in a diverse range of fields are presented at the 'Cité des Métiers', giving young people an insight into the world of work. A young person today is faced with different challenges than youth from previous generations: How has digitisation changed job prospects? Which professions have a secure future? At the fair, visitors are introduced to the various teaching professions and further training opportunities. The presence of vocational training coaches and apprentices provides young people with the opportunity to obtain information about dream jobs from their peers.
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Champions League finals for modern direct democracy

Fri, 11/23/2018 - 12:00
Should the government financially support cows with horns? What should an Olympic delegation be called? What about spending taxpayer money to host ski races? These are just some of the questions 30 million citizens across four countries will have to answer this weekend. It amounts to the most interesting referendum weekend of 2018. That’s following a year of headline-making democratic exercises, from local elections in Tunisia and Indonesia to ballots in Mexico and Brazil as well as key votes in Russia, Italy and the United States.  Historic referendums also took place in Ireland, New Caledonia and Colombia. On this last weekend in November, eligible voters across four jurisdictions will be involved in examples of genuine citizen-lawmaking. British Columbia, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Taiwan will see probably the most comprehensive simultaneous exercise of modern direct democracy in history – a showcase for observers of the initiative and referendum process across the globe.
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The art of publishing art books, independently

Fri, 11/23/2018 - 12:00
A Zurich art publishing fair is proving the printed book isn’t dead. The “Volumes” event is more popular than ever, attracting publishers from the world over.  Switzerland has a long tradition in independent publishing. In the early modern age, many scholars and artists, such as Erasmus von Rotterdam and Albrecht Dürer, would come to Basel to print their works, considered offensive by the Catholic Church. With the Reformation, after the 1520s, protestants, anabaptists and other anti-clerical authors also sought refuge in the Swiss city attracted also by its printing presses. They were eventually followed by anarchists, socialists and revolutionaries from further afield. Today's independent publishing market has very little to do with politics or religion. Rather, it is a niche increasingly explored by visual artists, with or without renown, as well as for designers who work this medium as an art form in its own right. “Independent publishing is not just about ...
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Bizarre or idealistic? Swiss initiatives come in all forms

Thu, 11/22/2018 - 18:00
As part of the country’s direct democratic system, Swiss voters have a say on cow horns, hiking paths or even minarets: issues that may appear exotic and that sometimes attract worldwide attention. It’s often said that other countries look to Switzerland with a mixture of envy and admiration because of the possibility to bring a wide variety of issues to a nationwide vote. Indeed, the people’s initiative is a tenet of Swiss democracy that gives citizens – in theory – the right to have the final say even on issues that can range from the seemingly minor to the utopian or revolutionary. The cow horn initiative, which will come to a vote on November 25, is just the latest example. Who would have thought that a mountain farmer might force a nationwide vote on a constitutional amendment after collecting the necessary 100,000 signatures within 18 months? For political scientist Marc Bühlmann from Bern University, the horn cow initiative is proof of the functioning of the direct ...
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Swiss president chosen as ‘Sign of the Year’ by deaf society

Thu, 11/22/2018 - 14:52
Humour is a universal language. This is reflected in the Swiss Sign of the Year, which pokes gentle fun at Alain Berset, who holds the rotating Swiss presidency this year. But what is the status of sign language in Switzerland?  In order to describe the Swiss president accurately, you only need two things: a thumb and an index finger. The gesture symbolises his lack of hair. Since 2016, the Swiss Deaf Association has awarded a Sign of the Year in the German-speaking part of the country. Donald Trump was the inaugural winner, with Roger Federer receiving the honour last year. The sign for Alain Berset has established itself among Swiss signers since his speech on Swiss National Day, August 1, on the Rütli meadow. For the first time, the speeches and national anthem were interpreted in sign language.  This is a good example of the increased awareness for such needs. But where does sign language currently stand in Switzerland?  Sign languages are independent visual speech ...
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Switzerland: home to one of Europe's oldest monasteries

Thu, 11/22/2018 - 13:00
In the east of Switzerland, in Val Müstair, is one of the oldest churches in Europe. Here, in the Middle Ages, Charlemagne was venerated as a saint. 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 third episode of the series, we visit the Abbey of St John, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983. The site's origins have been lost somewhere between reality and legend. (RSI, swissinfo.ch)
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Taiwan’s young democracy has Swiss genes

Thu, 11/22/2018 - 12:00
On Saturday, Taiwan will experience a first: Voters on this Asian island face more than ten national referendums. This is the story of a direct-democracy bridge that straddles half the world, from Switzerland to Asia.  The last metres are always the hardest. Legs heavy as lead, lungs struggling for air. But in the end, Yu Mei-nu, a member of the Taiwanese parliament, gets right to the top of the peak. “It’s almost like home,” she says, exhausted but happy.  On a beautiful autumn day, Mei-Nu Yu is standing on the Rigi, a mountain in central Switzerland also known as the “Queen of the Mountains.” “We have mountains like this at home, where you can almost see the whole country,” she says enthusiastically.  Live from the television studio This Taiwanese expedition to conquer the peak of the Rigi took place on the afternoon of the September 23 referendum in Switzerland. Before that, the Taiwanese delegation of politicians, officials, researchers and journalists had visited a polling ...
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Switzerland’s global status is in jeopardy

Thu, 11/22/2018 - 11:34
Three recent Swiss diplomatic controversies have raised questions about whether the small Alpine country can still be considered a moral voice in world affairs, one that traditionally has been said to punch above its weight. Switzerland has always prided itself on being able to establish a place among larger countries because of its successful economy, historical neutrality and moral positions, including Geneva’s being host to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations Human Rights Council. The comparative advantage of Switzerland, particularly international Geneva, as a unique platform for discussions such as the Reagan-Gorbachev summit during the Cold War or the Syrian peace talks have enhanced the Swiss image in human rights and humanitarian issues. But three recent controversies have challenged this identity in global affairs: the refusal to sign a treaty banning the future use of nuclear weapons; a decision concerning selling arms to ...
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Switzerland’s first female ambassador in Paris

Wed, 11/21/2018 - 15:55
It’s still rare for top diplomatic postings to go to women, but things are changing. Livia Leu, who since September has represented Switzerland in France and Monaco, agrees. Swiss public television, RTS, accompanied her during her first day at work in Paris.  Men cover the portrait wall of Leu’s predecessors. She is the first woman to get the job in the city where she did her apprenticeship in the diplomatic services almost 30 years ago.  Leu is well-known in the Swiss diplomatic corps. She is one of the few women at the top level. In 2009, the then Foreign Affairs Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey sent her to Tehran, where she represented the interests of Switzerland and the United States, because Switzerland has served as the United States’ protecting power in Iran since 1980.  She also is the Federal Council’s delegate for trade deals and head of the bilateral economic relations section in the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO). There are currently 155 ambassadors ...
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How Swiss cities could still improve rankings

Wed, 11/21/2018 - 12:00
Swiss cities often rank highly in global quality-of-life surveys. But when their urban policies come under closer scrutiny, how do they compare? A recent study by the liberal think tank Avenir Suisse has taken a closer look at the urban policies of Switzerland’s ten biggest cities and ranked them based on 47 indicators in eight specific areas, ranging from the quality of local administrative services to mobility and life-work balance.  Avenir Suisse “City Monitoring” urban policy ranking (2018)  1. Zurich: 64.7% of possible points; 2. Basel: 62.8%; 3. Bern: 62.7%; 4. Lucerne: 58.3%; 5. St. Gallen: 53.8%; 6. Winterthur: 52.8%; 7. Lausanne: 49.3%; 8. Biel: 48.9%; 9. Lugano: 43.1%; 10. Geneva: 38.8% As in the 2018 Mercer quality-of-life survey, Zurich came out top (with 64.7 points out of a total of 100) in the Avenir Suisse ranking. It said Zurich excelled in managing state budgets, and praised its cultural offerings and education policy, the city’s work-life balance and its ...
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