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ABB chief Ulrich Spiesshofer under pressure to reinvent group

Wed, 11/21/2018 - 09:32
The strange and cumbersome corporate beast that is the industrial conglomerate must adapt — or die. In the US, General Electric’s share price has collapsed since its troubled power equipment division slumped to a loss and concerns grew about its financial health. In Switzerland, speculation swirls over Zurich-based ABB, which is in talks with Japan’s Hitachi about divesting all or part of its power-grids division. In the limelight is Ulrich Spiesshofer, ABB’s Germany-born boss since 2013. A company veteran, he transformed ABB’s robotics division, which is now its fastest growing unit. As chief executive he has cut costs and focused the group, which has annual sales of $34 billion, around four pillars: industrial automation and electrification, as well as robotics and power grids. Yet ABB continues to underwhelm investors. Its share price has fallen 20 per cent over the past year, compared with 13 per cent at German rival Siemens. (GE is down 55 per cent). Two years ago, ...
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Country kids outperform city kids on motor skills

Tue, 11/20/2018 - 18:28
The more children move, the better they are at balancing, rolling and catching a ball, a pioneering Swiss study has found. This is especially clear when you compare children growing up in the country to those in the city – and there are differences between boys and girls too. This is the first study to investigate the differences in motor skills among pre-schoolers in Switzerland – motor skills being a key part of the early development of children – the authors said. The results have been published online in the journal Swiss Sports & Exercise Medicine. Using a newly developed test instrument called MOBAK-KG, researchers compared the motor skills of around 400 four-to-six-year-old children, looking at how they moved on their own and how they dealt with an object, like a ball. Taking part were 12 Kindergarten classes in the more rural canton of Uri, and 14 Kindergarten classes in the city of Zurich. “The first results show that clear differences between the sexes are already ...
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Basel and Zug rated most popular Swiss expat cities

Tue, 11/20/2018 - 12:06
Although expats in the Swiss cities of Basel, Zug and Lausanne enjoy a very high quality of life, those in Zurich and Bern struggle with settling in and those in Geneva say finding somewhere to live is a nightmare.  The six Swiss cities are among 72 around the world analysed in the Expat City Ranking 2018, published on Tuesday by InterNations and based on its annual Expat Insider survey.  The Swiss cities’ popularity among expats varies quite strongly, with Basel coming 22nd and the capital Bern 61st. Taipei, Singapore and Manama came top, while Rome, Jeddah and Riyadh propped up the ranking.  Basel (22 out of 72) did very well regarding quality of life (10), with expats particularly satisfied with the transport system. It was also the best-rated Swiss city for “personal finances and housing” (28) and “economic climate” (5). On the other hand, 32% said they didn’t feel at home (compared with 23% worldwide) and 54% said it was hard to forge new friendships (worldwide 34%).  + ...
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What’s the secret to Finnish school success?

Tue, 11/20/2018 - 12:00
At a Swiss event, a top Finnish education official explains why the country’s schools are so good - and what the Finns could learn from Switzerland. Anita Lehikoinen, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Education in Finland, recently attended the Worlddidac fair in Bern, which highlights the latest educational trends. Finland, known worldwide for its high-quality public education, was the official guest country for the event. Switzerland is no slouch in the education stakes either. It came 12th out of all Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries in the 2015 PISA educational assessment of 15-year olds, whose focus was on science performance. + Read more about how Switzerland did in the 2015 PISA survey here This compared to Finland’s third place for science among OECD countries. But it was not all jubilation in Helsinki - performance had dropped by 32 points since Finland’s record high score in 2006, the last time PISA focused on science.
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Pharma companies put faith in AI for breakthroughs

Tue, 11/20/2018 - 11:10
Global pharmaceutical companies, including Novartis and others based in Switzerland, are increasingly turning to artificial intelligence to develop new drugs. But this may not lead to lower prices. In 2013, US start-up Berg was asked by the Department of Defense to help improve the detection of prostate cancer, a disease common among pilots. Less than five years later, an artificial intelligence-driven tool has been tested on more than 1,000 patients with promising results. Excitement about AI, machine learning and big data have prompted a boom in health-tech start-ups in a market traditionally dominated by big pharma. Despite debate over the extent to which AI will revolutionise medical science, billions are being bet on something revolutionary emerging to drive the next big leaps in drug development This year has seen a jump in investment from big pharma and a range of joint ventures with health tech groups. In 2018, at least 15 companies have integrated AI into their drug ...
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Switzerland’s golden opportunity for responsible business

Mon, 11/19/2018 - 19:12
It is no secret that Switzerland is a major power in finance and commodity trading. But few people know that Switzerland imports around 70% of the world's gold and refines around 50%. This position of great global power comes with great responsibility because – here’s another thing too few people know – gold mining comes with its fair share of risks and problems. Severe environmental damage is one example. Forced labour, child labour, sexual exploitation, organised crime, corruption and money laundering are also common side effects, along with the expropriation of land from indigenous peoples. Conflict gold is possibly the most horrifying of all. Take Darfur and eastern Congo, where both sides of the civil war use the proceeds to buy weapons. Dealing in gold with armed groups prolongs wars. Under pressure from NGOs and parliamentarians, the Swiss Federal Council (executive body) published a report on the “Trade in gold produced in violation of human rights” on November 14, 2018.
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Canine cuddlability trumps pet patriotism

Mon, 11/19/2018 - 18:00
What is the most popular dog breed in Switzerland? Not the big hairy Swiss natives like the Bernese Mountain Dog or the St Bernard. Instead, the Swiss opt for small, social media favourites like the Chihuahua and Bolonka Zwetna. For years the large, long-haired Labrador held the top spot, but in 2018 it was unseated by a dog that couldn’t be more different: the Chihuahua. The handbag-size, bat-eared Chihuahua, originally from Mexico, is the most common dog breed in Switzerland with 24,793 of the 551,412 dogs registered in the country, according to the Swiss pet database Amicus. The only native Swiss breed to make the top 12 is the Bernese Mountain Dog in ninth position with 7,228. Practical and cuddly Small dogs are more popular than ever, according to the SonntagsZeitung. One of the rising stars in 2018 is the Bolonka Zwetna, a member of the Bichon dog family, which came in 12th place. The small, furry breed gained international fame when Prince George received one from his ...
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Rotting CERN photos turned into art

Mon, 11/19/2018 - 13:11
Slides captured in the 1980s at the CERN particle physics lab in Geneva have been turned into art. The slides, which were left to rot, are mostly copies of negatives dating from the time of the Large Electron-Positron Collider and now form part of an exhibition in Geneva. They were discovered in a set of drawers after CERN decided to digitalise some 450,000 photographs. After 30 years of slow degradation, the bacteria growing on the slides had slowly eaten away at the gelatine on the surface. Colours and shapes in the original images have been altered in a chaotic way, while the underlying framework of the original photography has kept its design.  “After cleaning and screening them, we realised they were beautiful from an artistic point of view,” Jean-Yves Le Meur, head of CERN’s Digital Memory project, told Swiss public television, RTS. Le Meur and Matteo Volpi, a physicist photographer, created the pictures on show using subligraphy, a technique for reproducing images on ...
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Talking business in Bosnia and Uganda

Mon, 11/19/2018 - 12:00
Start-ups in developing countries have been getting some sound advice, thanks to the Swiss. The Swisscontact development foundation, whose goal it is to improve the business environment in certain countries, recently reported back on projects creating jobs in Bosnia and Uganda. Swisscontact's mission is “to promote economic, social, and environmental development by helping people integrate into local economic life". The foundation, set up in 1959, has over 1,400 employees managing 123 projects in 36 countries. It works closely with the private sector, but does not wage political campaigns, unlike some other Swiss non-profit organisations. Erna Šoševic from Bosnia and David Olyabo from Lake Victoria in Uganda, were invited to speak at Swisscontact’s annual meeting in Zurich in October, and offered an insight into the hurdles they had to overcome to start up their businesses. Swisscontact wanted to provide some tangible examples of how its money gets spent.  Bosnia: a ...
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Meet some of the Swiss in key international roles

Sun, 11/18/2018 - 12:00
You may not know it, but there are quite a number of Swiss people working in important international positions. swissinfo.ch talks to four of them: UN Special Envoy to Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener (pictured above); UN Special Rapporteur on torture Nils Melzer; EFTA Secretary General Henri Gétaz; and UN gender equality expert Patricia Schultz. 
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Finnish education, Bosnian business and Swiss publishing

Sun, 11/18/2018 - 12:00
Here are some of the stories we'll be following the week of November 19. Monday On Monday we’ll have an in-depth look at the Swisscontact development foundation, which is working to improve business conditions in countries like Bosnia and Uganda by providing advice and support to local start-ups and entrepreneurs. Tuesday Both Switzerland and Finland score high in global education rankings, so what secrets for success can they share with each other? To find out, swissinfo.ch interviewed Finland’s top education official, Anita Lehikoinen, about education topics ranging from apprenticeships to robots. Wednesday You may have read stories about cities like Zurich beating out other urban areas in global quality of life rankings, but how does Switzerland compare when it comes to the nuts and bolts of urban policy? On Wednesday, we’ll publish an analysis of a study by think tank Avenir Suisse comparing Swiss cities’ policies on housing markets, infrastructure, transport, ...
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Police ID checks, party funding and a queen’s jewels

Sat, 11/17/2018 - 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 last week’s stories. 91 The average number of people stopped by Zurich police for ID checks from February to July this year, according to a new mobile app. 130,000 The amount in euros that a Zurich pharmaceutical reportedly paid to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party between July and September 2017. 53.5 million The price in Swiss francs fetched at an auction in Geneva by a royal treasure trove including jewels that belonged to French Queen Marie-Antoinette. 2 The number of degrees by which Swiss Federal Railways is lowering the temperature in carriages of Zurich suburban trains to reduce energy consumption.  350,000 The number of people who made use of assistance and home care services last year, 10,000 more than in 2016.  
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Old houses tell Switzerland's story

Sat, 11/17/2018 - 12:00
Historically, rural Swiss dwellings displayed a diversity of styles, depending on the local geography and building materials available. A look at the archives. Despite its relatively small area of just over 41,000 square kilometres (15,444 square miles), Switzerland’s rural building styles are as diverse as the many regional dialects of its four national languages. The country's mountainous terrain is a kind of geographical crossroads in Europe, with regions north of the Alps building mostly with timber, and those in the south using mainly stone. In central Switzerland, transitional regions use a mix of both materials. So, you might even be able to tell what region you’re in by taking a quick look at old buildings. For example, while Ticino dwellings are predominantly built from unaltered local stone, the houses in Vaud are a mixture of timber and stone. Meanwhile, an 18th century farmhouse in Aargau would be identifiable by its low walls and straw-thatched roof, while a ...
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Kids create giant postcard on Swiss glacier

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 14:51
Thousands of young people from around the world have seized the chance to speak out about climate change and set a world record for the biggest postcard of all time. With support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), more than 125,000 children contributed handmade postcards for Friday’s event in the Swiss Alps. Of these, 50,000 came from southern Africa and 20,000 from India. The cards were reproduced and laminated into one giant postcard in Interlaken, and two Swiss school classes helped set it up over the Aletsch glacier – the largest and longest in the Alps. “Disappearing glaciers are a sight that can be observed all over the world and Switzerland, with its many glaciers, is particularly affected,” notes a statement from the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. According to the SDC, the main goal is to support the international Youth Climate Movement. Each postcard represents a pledge from the sender to help improve the world’s climate and limit ...
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Let the British people decide the outcome of Brexit

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 12:47
Two years and 144 days after the historic vote, London and Brussels have finally agreed draft terms for their divorce. But to truly settle this messy period of British politics there is only one real option – let the people have their say again. So it’s done: on Wednesday, Dominic Raab – Britain’s Brexit negotiator – and his European Union counterpart Michel Barnier closed the books and announced the deal: a 585-page agreement that should ensure that when Europe next switches to summer time on March 31, 2019, the UK will no longer be a full member of the EU. The following day, the British cabinet approved the draft agreement. As with everything in this historically unique process, however, it came at a high price: not only did chief Brexit negotiator Raab immediately reject his own achievement by resigning, he was soon followed by several other ministers and junior secretaries. Their discontent, essentially, was that the agreement does not fulfil hopes for a full and ...
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Is sucking CO2 from the air the answer to global warming?

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 12:00
To limit global warming, it's not enough simply to reduce emissions. We also must remove CO2 from the atmosphere, a field in which Switzerland is at the forefront. What's the potential of these new technologies? “I’m sorry, I have very bad news for you.” The words of Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency, in mid-October. In the first nine months of 2018, he announced, global CO2 emissions had already reached a record high. This development is in stark contrast with the latest findings of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which says a drastic reduction in emissions is needed if global warming is to be restricted to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the ambitious aim of the Paris agreement on climate change. By 2030, net emissions caused by human activity need to diminish by 45% in comparison with 2010 values, the IPCC says, while they should disappear altogether by 2050. Climatologists therefore warn that to keep temperature increases to ...
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A valley hiding architectural jewels

Thu, 11/15/2018 - 18:00
An alpine valley might seem an unexpected place to admire historical masterpieces, but that's not the case in the Simmental valley. The wooden houses found here have history built into their timbers, as the rich decorations found on their facades show. 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 second episode of this series, the rich history of the valley along the river Simme, canton Bern, is brought to life on a visit to the richly decorated historical houses made of wood. (RSI, ...
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The endangered insects that we never see

Thu, 11/15/2018 - 17:05
How can the decline of insects in Switzerland be halted? The first national day of the insect, as well as the launch of a wide-ranging petition, are calling on politicians to act. If you dislike flies, or if you find yourself the frequent target of mosquitoes, you might see good news here. But the reality is rather alarming: in less than 30 years, three-quarters of winged insects in Germany have disappeared, according to a recent report. “Reports in Switzerland also show the decline of certain species, but we don't yet have a full overview of the situation,” says Sebastian Jaquiéry, committee member of the Swiss Friends of Nature federation. For flying insects, he reckons, some 40% of species in the country are thought to be at risk. Bees have been a particular focus, and are seeing a comeback in some areas: The causes of the widespread disappearance of insect species is not clear right now. “But we know that intensive exploitation of the environment by humans, the use of ...
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Does the ‘Swiss law first’ initiative strengthen or weaken democracy?

Thu, 11/15/2018 - 15:00
​​​​​​​ On November 25, voters will decide whether the Swiss constitution should take precedence over international law. The initiators are seeking to defend direct democracy, while opponents fear that human rights will be weakened. A debate. Hans-Ueli Vogt, a professor of business law and member of the Swiss parliament, is seen as the father of the initiative “Swiss law instead of foreign judges” (the 'Swiss law first' initiative.) He is seeking to defend the voting rights of Swiss citizens, because referendum decisions are increasingly no longer being implemented as a result of international law. Andrea Huber launched an information campaign in 2014, with the goal of preventing the ‘Swiss law first’ initiative Swiss from being adopted. Since then she has been working as the managing director of Schutzfaktor M (Protection Factor M), the Alliance of Civil Society Against the 'Swiss law first' Initiative. The rightwing People’s Party’s ‘Swiss law first’ initiative” ...
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Drought leaves mark on Swiss trees

Thu, 11/15/2018 - 12:00
As an unusually hot and dry year comes to an end, this autumn’s foliage seems more brilliant than ever. But how well equipped are Switzerland’s trees to survive the winter – not to mention a future that will likely bring more drought?  “Fantastic” is how forest dynamics ecologist Thomas Wohlgemuth describes the red, orange and golden leaves surrounding the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) in Birmensdorf near Zurich.  Colleague Valentin Queloz is also struck by the vibrance of the 2018 foliage. “I’ve never seen it turn such a bright red,” remarks the forest health and protection specialist, holding a reddish-orange hornbeam leaf plucked from WSL’s driveway.  Is the spectacle in spite of – or because of – the past summer’s extremely dry conditions?  “In principle I think it’s always the same. Foliage is more weather dependent,” points out Wohlgemuth, noting the season’s lack of fog and frost.  Defence mechanism  However, there are signs of ...
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