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Updated: 11 hours 3 min ago

Crypto exchanges must face up to responsibilities as they mature

Mon, 10/01/2018 - 10:49
Cryptocurrency exchanges are developing to look more like their traditional peers as the market matures, but some warn the pace of change is more baby steps than giant leaps. Most crypto exchanges offer retail investors a level of access to crypto assets they may not have gained with other assets, such as shares — often with little to no paperwork and just a few clicks of a button. “The difference between traditional finance and crypto-finance is that someone with just 10 bucks can access the market,” says Alexis Roussel, co-founder and chief executive of Swiss crypto broker Bity. Towards the end of last year, some cryptocurrency exchanges were generating more turnover than all but the biggest exchanges, as speculators rushed to take advantage of rocketing crypto prices. Estimates from Bloomberg put the fees generated by some of the largest players at millions of dollars a day. Still, the crypto market is only at the early stages in its maturation. It is possible, for ...
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Are political parties ready for the big race?

Sun, 09/30/2018 - 15:00
Switzerland’s political parties are gearing up for parliamentary elections in October 2019. The first trends are taking shape. But compared with other countries, stability dominates in Switzerland. Will there be no surprises this time?  So far, no major shifts are on the horizon. The leftwing Green Party is winning back what they lost in 2015. The conservative right Swiss People’s Party is falling back after being the big winner in the last election.  It’s highly possible the parties will keep their ranking in 2019, and that changes in the proportion of votes will all be smaller than 1.5 percentage points.  Here are some details on the current form of the parties:  The Radical Party  The centre-right Radicals are  the only party to have won an additional 35 seats in cantonal elections since 2015. With these, it managed to stop the exodus of voters to the People's Party. Petra Gössi, the new party president, has been buoyed by her victories.  Its overall record in referendums ...
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UN consultants, rare goats and Chinese whispers

Sun, 09/30/2018 - 12:00
Here are the stories we’ll be following the week of October 1, 2018: Monday  Tourist attractions on Swiss mountains bring in much needed revenue but almost always attract criticism and opposition from locals. Is there a clear line between selling Switzerland’s natural beauty and selling out?  Tuesday Up to half of United Nations agencies in Geneva resort to consultants to perform specialist, time-bound tasks. After taxes and social contributions, some of these temporary employees can find themselves struggling to stay afloat financially.  Wednesday  The term biodiversity conjures up images of wild animals in diverse ecosystems. We take a look at man-made agricultural biodiversity that is also in danger of vanishing. Join us on a visit to a farm that is part of the Pro Specie Rara network working to keep rare breeds in business. Thursday What’s it like to be a top trade negotiator in the age of Donald Trump and Brexit? Does it help to be a discreet, Swiss, career diplomat?
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Realigning fintech to match the needs of bankers

Sun, 09/30/2018 - 11:00
The rapidly expanding cohort of fintech start-ups can better meet the demands of the established banking system, according to a vision from the President of the Swiss Finance + Technology Association. The answer, he says, is to shift focus from a tsunami of fintech ideas to the needs of companies and investors. Former Credit Suisse banker John Hucker has therefore embarked on a new venture, FINTECH+, which aims to better match the questions posed by traditional finance with the solutions offered by technology. “In a sense, we want to do less structured farming and foster a more fertile, jungle-like environment capable of fostering the commercialisation of new innovations” says Hucker. On the one hand, Hucker thinks the traditional financial sector cannot break free from the shackles of its old way of thinking. “Today, the Swiss financial center operates on a well-established business model but it is in decline and increasingly vulnerable to disruption. New solutions are needed ...
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Burka ban, dual nationality and politicians bowing out

Sat, 09/29/2018 - 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. 73,830 The number of people in the northern Swiss canton of St Gallen who voted in favour of a ban on burkas in the region. St Gallen thus becomes the second of Switzerland’s 26 cantons, after Ticino in 2016, to ban the burka. The Swiss government has come out against a similar proposal at a national level. 2 The number of Federal Council members who announced their resignation in the space of a week. The Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann was first to wave goodbye, followed a couple of days later by Doris Leuthard, the minister for transport, energy, communications and the environment. Both of them will step down from the seven-member executive body by the end of the year. 17 The percentage of Swiss residents above the age of 15 that have dual ...
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A Swiss dental clinic on wheels

Sat, 09/29/2018 - 11:00
Since 2014, Michael Keller’s mobile clinic has been offering invaluable dental care to elderly residents in central Switzerland.  After his studies, Keller wanted to open a dental surgery in Andermatt, canton Uri in central Switzerland, in a new health centre. However, he was delayed by lengthy construction work. That was when he discovered that a growing number of elderly people living in remote alpine valleys or in old people's homes in the mountains needed dental treatment. He thus decided to take his skills on the road.  Keller found that many elderly people were neglecting their teeth. Home visits were not only in demand, but a necessity. His “Geriadent” project aims to raise awareness about the issue among other dentists, mobile nurses and old people's homes. The Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts is supporting his project, and canton Uri is considering whether to help fund it.  Keller treats two to four patients a day. He finds his work extremely creative as ...
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Seven ways to circumvent the will of the Swiss people

Fri, 09/28/2018 - 11:00
Curtailing immigration, protecting the Alps, paid maternity leave: in Switzerland, successful referendums may lose out during the implementation stage. Government, parliament, courts and official agencies often find creative ways of getting around the will of the people, when it does not suit them. swissinfo.ch summarises the main tricks elected politicians resort to in order to fend off undesired, problem-creating and contradictory decisions by the voters. Trick 1: Water it down On February 9, 2014 the voters said yes to the “limiting mass immigration initiative", which demanded (among other things), that Switzerland limit the number of residence permits to foreigners from the EU area each year by means of caps and quotas. That created a problem for the parliament. On the one hand, the initiative had to be implemented by February 2017, because the wording of the initiative specified that period of time. On the other hand the introduction of caps and quotas went against the ...
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How homophobia manifests itself in everyday Swiss life

Fri, 09/28/2018 - 09:00
Switzerland may soon be able to penalise discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity, a problem that in 2018 remains all-too-common for members of the LGBTIQ community. This week the House of Representatives in Bern voted in favour of including homophobia in an article of the Criminal Code, known as the “anti-racism norm”. The move, which must still be approved by the Senate, would allow authorities to more effectively combat homophobic attacks and statements, like these five recent cases. A “tax” on homosexuality The far-right Swiss Nationalist Party PNOS (Partei National Orientierter Schweizer), which operates in German-speaking Switzerland, has proposed introducing a “tax” to forbid homosexuality in public places and to encourage gays and lesbians to “seek treatment”. In a text published last month, party strategist Florian Signer stated that homosexuality “has degenerated into a quasi-religion” that was spreading. He is also convinced that ...
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Finding hidden traces of Switzerland in the US

Thu, 09/27/2018 - 17:03
Over the next few months we'll be uncovering how Switzerland has left its mark on the United States. From small place names to forgotten monuments and distant communities, we're tracking down 'Swissness', far from home. Tim Neville is our journalist on the ground. Do you know of a Swiss connection in the US? Tell us! If you say the word “Engelberg” fast enough and Anglicise it a bit, you end up with something that sounds a lot like Angel-berg—a fitting name for a town in central Switzerland known for its 12th-century monastery. Twist the name a bit farther, and knowing that “Berg” means “mountain” in German, you end up with Angel Mountain.  Run it all through the word wringer once more and you get Mount Angel, a town in the American Pacific northwest that’s indeed named after Engelberg, though it's better known for its annual celebration of beer. Mount Angel, like its Swiss namesake, also has a monastery.  Today home to about 3,500 people, Mount Angel, Oregon, is located ...
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‘I never defend an act, just the person behind it’

Thu, 09/27/2018 - 17:00
Lawyers are seen by some for being unscrupulous money-grabbers who would step over corpses to win their cases. Valentin Landmann says he is no such creature. He defends fringe groups, such as the Hells Angels and people working in the red light district.  Landmann is a bit of a maverick and doesn't own a suit. In court he wears a blazer and a tie with jeans. Most of the time, he leaves his briefcase at home because "there is no time during the trial to pass around documents". He admits that he is sometimes confronted with the dark side of the human psyche. But he says he has been able to maintain a positive attitude towards life and has kept his faith in human nature. (SRF/swissinfo.ch)
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I’m an expat and I lost my job. What now?

Thu, 09/27/2018 - 13:23
Thousands of people relocate to Switzerland every year to work for the more than 25,000 multinationals in the country. Losing a job is difficult enough, but when it happens in a foreign country, it can be devastating.   The announcement that Novartis plans to slash about 2,200 jobs by 2020 is a wake-up call for many foreign nationals working in large multinationals in the country. Some 70% of Novartis employees in Switzerland are not Swiss nationals. While the company has indicated it plans to relocate around 700 positions in its “managerial and transactional capabilities” to its five global service centres, many others will be dismissed from the company entirely. Many skilled foreign workers are part of a privileged group in Switzerland: no queues for a permit, a nice package of relocation perks and attractive compensation to help ease into life in a foreign country. But, in the unfortunate case that an expat loses their job, it can turn their world upside down. They are often ...
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Getting in: University admissions in Switzerland, US and UK

Thu, 09/27/2018 - 11:00
Should you start planning your university admission strategy two years in advance?  We look at how application deadlines, qualification requirements, and proof of language proficiency can make finding a university spot complicated.  There is no centralised admission system in Switzerland, which means that prospective students must apply directly at one of the country’s ten universities and federal technology institutes. Some basic requirements are nevertheless relevant to all schools: to enter a bachelor’s degree programme, students usually need to hold the equivalent of a matura, the Swiss school-leaving certificate; and to study at the masters’ level, they must have a bachelor’s degree from an internationally recognised university, in some cases in a related discipline.  Deadlines for applications vary and sometimes are set earlier for international students who require a visa. Some programmes begin only in the autumn, with application deadlines anywhere between the end of ...
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Swiss environment minister to step down

Thu, 09/27/2018 - 10:35
Swiss Environment Minister Doris Leuthard is stepping down at the end of this year. “I look forward to the last three months, and I will commit myself right up to the last minute,” Leuthard promised at a media conference in Bern on Thursday morning. As one of the seven members of the Swiss Federal Council, Leuthard  was also responsible for transport, energy and communications issues. She held the rotating Swiss presidency in 2010 and 2017. "I was very happy to do this job,” she said, her voice full of emotion. Speaking in German, French and Italian, she thanked her colleagues and paid tribute to their professionalism. “Switzerland is an economically powerful country. It has changed a lot in ten years. It is important to keep a balance between the different interests and not to seek confrontation,” said Leuthard, hinting that this would be one of the challenges of the next legislature. The next parliamentary elections are scheduled for October 2019. Longest-serving minister ...
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Values and weapons, Switzerland delivers both

Wed, 09/26/2018 - 19:07
Swiss peace brokering on the one hand, while Swiss weapons are used in the world’s wars.  The country has its humanitarian values, and its arms exports. Does it have to choose just one? Parliamentary move Parliament has moved to deprive the Swiss government of its power to decide arms export rules, following controversy over its plan to relax them. If the Senate now approves a motion approved by the House of Representatives, it will be up to parliament to decide the rules. In June the government announced a decision to relax the rules on arms exports, making exports to countries with an internal armed conflict possible under certain conditions. But this has provoked anger from inside and outside parliament. For example, Zurich-based NGO Campax is spearheading a campaign for a popular vote against the rules relaxation, saying the government has “apparently lost its moral compass”. Swiss diplomat Christine Schraner Burgener is now the UN special envoy tasked with finding ...
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Blockchain and bank accounts: a Swiss tightrope act

Wed, 09/26/2018 - 17:00
The Swiss Bankers Association (SBA) has responded to blockchain industry criticism by issuing guidelines on how companies that deal in cryptocurrencies can get bank accounts. One firm perhaps typifies the uneasy relationship between the two worlds of finance. Founded in 2014, Securosys has gained a strong foothold in Switzerland with hardware units that encrypt financial transactions. Securosys boxes are installed in the Swiss interbank clearing system (SIC), the Swiss stock exchange and at banks that trade over these platforms. Until now, the firm has had no direct involvement with cryptocurrencies and has corporate accounts at three household-name Swiss banks.  But those banking relationships have taken a wobble since Securosys announced it would raise fresh funds through an ‘initial token offering’ (ITO) that will exchange tokenised shares in the firm for capital, including cryptocurrencies. The cryptography specialist also views cryptocurrencies as a natural new market for ...
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‘Glass half full’ rating for Swiss-Chinese trade deal

Wed, 09/26/2018 - 15:04
The Sino-Swiss free trade agreement saved companies in both countries some CHF100 million ($103 million) in customs duties last year. But a detailed study has found that many firms remain unconvinced about the FTA’s benefits.  A conference in St Gallen on Wednesday revealed that, four years into the life of the FTA, less than half of firms that could qualify for reduced trade tariffs under the deal actually make use of this provision.  A 2010 feasibility study conducted by the Swiss authorities into the then proposed FTA suggested that Swiss industry could gain annual savings of around CHF290 million ($297 million) from the lifting of trade barriers.  Part of the reason that these numbers have not yet been reached is that the gradual lifting of Chinese tariffs will not be complete until 2023. But some firms are also holding back because they do not understand the complexities of the agreement or have problems with the amount of paperwork involved, said speakers at the conference.
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Switzerland wants EU deal except its biggest party

Wed, 09/26/2018 - 06:00
Almost two-thirds of Swiss want Switzerland to hammer out a framework agreement with the European Union. Supporters of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party are the only ones who do not support the move – but not uniformly. As a poll shows, almost 20% of the party are dissenters.  These results come from the latest Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) electoral barometer, which was published on Wednesday.  Since 2014, talks have been taking place to formalise relations between Switzerland and the EU, now covered by around 100 separate accords. The Swiss government is set to spell out its strategy on Friday for the future of the talks.  The issue of “foreign judges” – who would be granted power of decision over Swiss laws in case of a Swiss-EU dispute – used to be the biggest sticking point in the framework agreement debate. But now accompanying measures for wage and worker protection, to cushion the effects of the free movement of people, are the problem.  The main driver behind ...
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Freedom of the press: a slow death?

Tue, 09/25/2018 - 17:00
There is a T-shirt that, for a time anyway, enjoyed a certain popularity in the United States. It was even stocked by online retail giant Walmart. It had a simple, and maybe to some, comical, slogan: ‘Rope, Tree, Journalist: Some Assembly Required’. The disturbing implication; that lynching journalists was an amusing idea, perhaps even an amusing activity.  Over the last couple of years my colleagues in North America have seen this T-shirt popping up at Trump rallies, the same rallies at which journalists are confined to media pens and regularly surrounded and jeered at by crowds, some of them wearing those T-shirts.  Meanwhile, the politicians speaking at those rallies, including the President of the United States, described journalists as purveyors of “fake news”, “losers” and “enemies of the people”.  The scenes prompted former UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, who left office last month, to warn of “a campaign against the media, that could have potentially, ...
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Housing headache for small delegations in International Geneva

Tue, 09/25/2018 - 15:01
The city of Geneva has for years suffered a chronic lack of affordable housing. The scarcity and high price of property push many people working there to live in other cantons, or in neighbouring France. But this lack of affordable accommodation also affects Geneva's international institutions. (RTS, swissinfo.ch) As the European headquarters of the United Nations and numerous international organisations, Geneva hosts foreign delegations all year round. For presidents, ministers, ambassadors and VIPs, there is no particular problem, since embassies and big hotels are there to look after them.  But the situation is much more difficult for small delegations or representatives of non-governmental organisations from developing countries. For them, finding accommodation in Geneva is a real headache. Here are some examples from the last UN Human Rights Council session. 
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Inside Syngenta: Behind the complicated image

Tue, 09/25/2018 - 11:00
Following humble beginnings in the late 18th century, Swiss-based Syngenta is now one of the largest agribusiness companies in the world. What's it like to work there? Syngenta has a complicated image. It has its origins in Switzerland but is owned by a Chinese firm. Though it calls itself an agricultural company, it hires more scientists and chemists than farmers. For employees, Syngenta is a science-based company helping feed the world; for activists, it is a pesticides company threatening human health and the environment. Syngenta’s headquarters stand opposite the Badischer train station in Basel, looking somewhat unassuming compared to the major pharmaceutical campuses in the city. Its four main buildings are tucked around the corner from a McDonald’s restaurant but the gated entrance is an indication of greater importance. It’s here that swissinfo.ch interviews Varun Vats, Senior Manager of Public Policy and Partnerships, and Fabricio Peres, head of Sustainable and ...
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