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Updated: 2 days 17 hours ago

EU relations, dodgy gold and lenient prison sentences

Sun, 01/06/2019 - 13:00
Here are some of the stories we’ll bring you the week of January 7: Monday 2018 was a tough year for relations between Switzerland and the European Union. After the decision on the institutional framework agreement with the EU was pushed into 2019, expectations are high that a deal must be reached. An update on what lies ahead for EU-Swiss relations.  Tuesday Most of the world’s gold passes through Switzerland, arriving unrefined and leaving glittering. But sometimes it has shady origins. A recent report by the Swiss government raised concerns over the exploitation of mine workers and made several recommendations to Swiss firms active in the field.  Wednesday    The world’s largest tobacco company says it wants you to stop smoking. What’s it like to work inside Philip Morris International as it tries to radically reinvent itself? We visit the operational headquarters in Lausanne.  Friday Swiss judges tend to hand down shorter sentences, particularly for violent crime, ...
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Credit Suisse escapes harsh criticism on ‘tuna bond’ affair

Sun, 01/06/2019 - 12:28
The arrest of three former Credit Suisse bankers in connection with the $2bn “tuna bonds” scandal in Mozambique has turned the spotlight on the Swiss bank — but the charges suggest US prosecutors have taken a sympathetic view of the lender. The indictment filed by the US attorney’s office for the eastern district of New York highlighted failings by Credit Suisse’s compliance department, even as prosecutors seemed receptive to the bank’s argument that it had been the victim of rogue employees.  “The indictment adopts, frankly, the bank’s narrative that these are rogues, they lied to us, they did this in secret, etc,” said Patrick Cotter, a former US federal prosecutor. He noted that the charging document said the former bankers had acted “secretly” and “withheld” or “conspired to withhold” information from their compliance team.  “Those are all phrases that warm the heart of any attorney,” said Mr Cotter, a partner at Greensfelder.  Prosecutors in Brooklyn unveiled charges on ...
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‘No worries’ for Swiss family in New Zealand

Sun, 01/06/2019 - 12:00
Even though she’d never been there before, Eva Hefti took the chance and moved with her family to New Zealand.  Her husband had found a job there which, due to the shorter working hours, allows him to spend more time with his family. It’s the pleasant climate, the 39-year-old from Bern loves most about New Zealand. swissinfo.ch: When and why did you leave Switzerland? Eva Hefti: In June 2017, my husband Tom, our three boys and I flew with a one-way ticket to New Zealand, a country where we had never been before. Tom had wanted to go abroad for a while to broaden his professional horizon, and as our twins were no longer babies, I could also imagine leaving Switzerland for a while.  It was a coincidence that we ended up in New Zealand. I had read a blog post about a family who had moved there, and I felt inspired. When I started looking into options, I found out that my husband’s profession was very much sought after over here. He started his job search in Switzerland and it only ...
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Swiss photo legend Jean Revillard dies suddenly

Sat, 01/05/2019 - 20:20
Award-winning Swiss photographer Jean Revillard died of a heart attack this weekend. Revillard was 51. Switzerland's professional journalist association  impressum announced his passing on its website late Friday. The Geneva native had been both a gallery owner and a press photographer, notably at Le Nouveau Quotidien and L'Hebdo. In 2001 he founded the photo agency Rezo.ch. His work on migrants cabins at Calais, France, won him the prestigious World Press Award as well as the Swiss Press Award.  In 2009, Revillard once again won the World Press Award as well as a prize from the city of Prague. He also received great acclaim for "Sarah on the bridge," a photo essay focused on an African sex-slave in northern Italy.   "In French-speaking Switzerland, he was the first to combine the aesthetics of advertising and fashion with photo-journalism, a literal spotlight on the miseries of the globe and its ghosts," wrote Le Temps on Saturday in a tribute to the photographer. ...
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Train tourists, red noses and the Fish of the Year

Sat, 01/05/2019 - 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. Monday 45,000 The number of copies printed of the official Swiss government photo for 2019. Can you name the Swiss president for the year?    Tuesday 35,000 Around 35,000 people used the Nez Rouge (red nose) volunteer driver service in 2018 to get home safely after being out on the town.    Wednesday 350 The amount, in tonnes, of perch caught in Switzerland every year. The European perch has been named Fish of the Year.    Thursday 50 Former Formula 1 racing star Michael Schumacher turned 50. He has been cared for in Switzerland since sustaining severe head injuries while skiing five years ago. No information exists on his condition.    Friday 1,067,000 Asian tourists paved the way for a record number of visitors to Europe’s highest railway station – ...
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The piste basher's long night

Sat, 01/05/2019 - 12:00
Werner Freitag and his team are out every night during the ski season in Elm, preparing the pistes, sledging tracks and winter paths for winter sports fans. There is no letup  – only if there is no snow does the crew at the small ski resort get a day off. They work through the night, smoothing the slopes and clearing the snow along the 44 kilometres of pistes for use the next day. The five men start at three in the morning – but only if snowfall has been forecast. Otherwise they can already go out at 6pm, after the slopes have closed. “The pistes are better if they are untouched for five to six hours,” says the highly experienced Freitag. “The snow can settle and remains firmer.” Freitag loves loves the peace and quiet, ‘being alone outdoors’. Great skill and concentration are needed to drive the huge vehicles up and down the steep slopes. He has to know the ski area by heart in cases when visibility is poor and he can't see the ski lift towers.
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Cameroon’s Biya: Why the Swiss won’t stop his Geneva stays

Fri, 01/04/2019 - 18:00
Reports in 2018 that alleged Cameroon’s president Paul Biya runs his country from a Geneva hotel raise questions whether official Switzerland can intervene in such cases.    Neutral Switzerland, and international Geneva in particular, have long been known as a playground for the rich. But should the Swiss clamp down when some of these people, like Biya, are linked to regimes with dubious democratic records in corrupt countries? According to a report in early 2018 by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), the Cameroonian president has spent at least 1,645 days on private visits abroad since he came to power in 1982, and Geneva is by far his favourite destination. The Hotel Intercontinental in Geneva with its swimming pool and view of Mont Blanc is the residence of choice for the Cameroonian presidential couple. “According to reporters’ conservative calculations – based on publicly available hotel room prices and a compilation of entourage lists – the total ...
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Zurich wants to ease political participation for non-Swiss

Fri, 01/04/2019 - 12:00
Switzerland’s main business hub is very well connected globally and attracts many expatriates. But Zurich does not grant its foreign residents any say in political matters - an apparent contradiction in a country proud of its direct democracy. The authorities in Switzerland’s most populous city are now considering ways to enhance the participation of this important group. The city of Zurich has about 425,000 residents - 32% of whom do not hold a Swiss passport. Many are expats working for international or Swiss companies. They are highly skilled, hold good jobs and earn high salaries. In addition, they pay taxes and contribute financially to the country’s social security system, including the old age pension and the unemployment insurance schemes. However, the locals are not keen on their foreign neighbours having political participation. In a 2013 vote at the canton Zurich, voters refused to grant municipalities the right to give their non-Swiss residents a say at a local level.
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Enchanting tourists with lights

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 12:11
Light shows are proving to be popular - a winter tourist attraction in their own right. Since 2013, the initiators behind the Lenzerheide “Magic Forest” in the ski resort in southeastern Switzerland have combined light installations, food and music to put together a multi-sensory experience. Its last edition drew 45,000 visitors in only two weeks. The city of Geneva has a similar attraction with its Geneva Lux Festival (ends January 13). In this year's edition, 25 works are presented to the public, offering an imaginary path to rediscover the city. The spa town of Bad Ragaz has been hosting a light show since 2017, lasting six months a year. What began in the Tamina gorge behind the town, has been extended this year to the town itself.  The “Light Ragaz” festival began in the Tamina gorge and this winter has been extended to include the town of Bad Ragaz itself. The health resort has seen visitor numbers dwindling and the organisers of the “Light Ragaz” believer this is an ...
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Elections, economics, and Europe: Switzerland in 2019

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 12:00
On the global stage, economic shifts and European politics will set the tempo in Bern in the coming year. Domestically, the country is set to elect a new parliament. Here’s part two of our annual political preview.​​​​​​​ 1. Isolationist trends filter into Switzerland Swiss foreign policy traditionally relies on diplomacy and neutrality: mediation, dialogue, global networking and the international city of Geneva. In a word, the country stands for multilateralism. But multilateralism and dialogue have seen better days. A change in direction is underway, with a protectionist and hostile tone being heard among nations. ‘Every man for himself’ seems to be the watchword at all political levels, including the highest. And the trend is also making itself felt in Switzerland. The UN migration pact, which Switzerland helped to formulate, has been sharply attacked in parliament. In 2019 the country may reject it altogether. Another of the federal government’s pet projects – to ...
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Lindt: chocs away

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 11:13
Rich, sweet and gooey, Lindt chocolates never last long after Christmas. But, appetizing as they are, eat too many and indigestion may follow. The same rule applies to investment in the shares of the premium Swiss chocolatier. For decades, Lindt stock has enjoyed steep earnings valuation multiples. Its price-to-earnings ratio of 36 times compares with 20 for Nestlé and 24 for Barry Callebaut. For a long time, this could be justified by organic growth of 6-8%. But as chocolate sales plateau in more mature markets, it is no longer clear this target will be met. Hard as this is to believe in the wake of Christmas overconsumption, not everyone wants to stuff themselves silly with chocolate.  People are eating more healthily. Consider North America, Lindt’s biggest market, worth about one-third of its CHF4.3 billion ($4.3 billion) in annual sales. There, Russell Stover, the US chocolate group Lindt bought in 2014, has been pinning its hopes on sugar-free chocolate. However, that ...
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A host of unburied issues: the Swiss political agenda in 2019

Wed, 01/02/2019 - 12:00
Some political monsters of the past lie dormant under the winter snow, but they are sure to rise again in spring. What can Switzerland expect from politics in 2019? To look into the future, we first need to take stock of what has gone before. And due to the often glacial pace of Swiss politics, plenty of major political projects were left unfinished in 2018. They are sure to come back to haunt us. Here is part one of our annual review and forecast. 1. Pensions and taxation reform: slow progress When voters reject two major reform packages within a short period, what do you do? Mix up the ingredients and send them back in one big package to make the proposals look more appetising? This is what the Swiss government is trying with its combined taxation and pension funding proposal, which comes after two major 2018 upsets. In February, voters rejected the  Corporate Tax Reform III; a government proposal to align tax legislation with new international standards, thus avoiding ...
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Ueli Maurer – an old, new Swiss president

Tue, 01/01/2019 - 18:00
Who is Ueli Maurer, the man who will become the main face of the Swiss government in 2019? The 68-year-old trained accountant - and Swiss finance minister since 2016 - takes over the one-year presidency that is rotated among the seven members of the Federal Council, Switzerland's executive body. The role of president is largely symbolic. However, the position means he will be for a year “primus inter pares” – the first among equals – and must chair the Federal Council meetings. He will hold the deciding vote to break any deadlocks. The political career of Maurer, a member of the anti-EU, anti-immigration Swiss People's Party, began 40 years ago when he was elected to the town council of Hinwil in canton Zurich.  Five years later, in 1983, he made the move to the cantonal parliament and finally took to the national stage in 1991 when he was elected to the House of Representatives.  Blocher's stooge He became a long-serving president of the People's Party from 1996-2008, a ...
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Are you legally up to date for 2019?

Tue, 01/01/2019 - 12:00
Various new or tweaked Swiss laws entered into force on January 1, governing a range of issues from foreigners and online shopping to the children of sperm donors. Here are some of them. Foreigner law:  Foreigners living in Switzerland now have to meet certain criteria of good behaviour, for example respect for public security and order and constitutional values, before their residence permits are granted or renewed. Economic participation and language skills will also be considered. Those who show no willingness to integrate may be obliged to sign an integration agreement listing the expectations that need to be met. Failure to comply with such an agreement could affect the renewal of the residence permit. For example, someone with a permanent residence permit (C permit) who doesn’t meet the integration criteria may be relegated to temporary resident status (B permit).  Child protection law: All professionals in regular contact with children now have to report their suspicions ...
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How your life changes when you become a Swiss cabinet minister

Mon, 12/31/2018 - 18:00
It’s a 24-hour job that can take over your life. Karin Keller-Sutter and Viola Amherd will find out just how much when they join the seven-member Federal Council (government executive body) on January 1. In 2019 they will become public figures and will no longer be able to walk the Swiss streets incognito.  Wherever they go, everyone will be watching. Coming in as the new heads of ministries – Amherd for defence and Keller-Sutter for justice – the two women will oversee hundreds of employees and will be responsible for taking decisions right from the start. This challenge is on top of the overwhelming amount of new information to digest on rights and duties, dossiers, decision-making processes, administration and security measures. Meanwhile, in their public speeches, hundreds of journalists will be weighing up every word they utter. And in private – or what is left of their lives outside work - they will become familiar faces on the Swiss streets. "Government ministers ...
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Stringing together ‘pearls from the archives’

Mon, 12/31/2018 - 12:00
Since its creation in 1931, the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) has amassed around two kilometres of documents in its archives. Here are some of the more bizarre and entertaining examples of internal communications and letters from livid members of the public.  From complaints about sex films and stilettos (unconnected) to a management discussion in 1995 about whether the SBC, swissinfo.ch’s parent company, should use the internet, we hope you enjoy the following insights into the minds of Swiss managers – and some of the testing situations they had to deal with. These are all taken from a series currently being displayed in SBC lifts called “Pearls from the Archives”.   In 1982, SBC director Leo Schürmann told a lifestyle magazine that, faced with a difficult decision, he always asked his wife what he should do. A member of the House of Representatives, directing a parliamentary question to the Federal Council, wondered: “Wouldn’t the decision process be sped up and made ...
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How to tell a science story through film

Sun, 12/30/2018 - 18:00
Participants in a unique ‘hackathon’-style event hope to bring a new dimension to science communication through short films – conceived and produced in just three days – that are as entertaining as they are informative. What was the last science-themed movie or TV programme that you saw? Chances are it focused either on presenting scientific information or entertaining its audience – not both at once. But it’s this elusive intersection of facts, fun, and fine art that participants in the Exposure Science Film Hackathon are aiming for.  At the third annual instalment of the event in Lausanne in November, some 40 scientists and artists came together to form teams and produce, over the course of three days, ten short films on a range of scientific subjects, from search engines to the immune system. “By science film, we don’t just mean documentaries. We’re trying to find that sweet spot where the audience does not feel lectured, and feels entertained at the same time,” Exposure ...
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Guns, drones and salaries: the most-read articles of 2018

Sun, 12/30/2018 - 13:30
Swiss President Alain Berset is the star of swissinfo.ch’s most-read article of the past 12 months – not for any stirring speech, but for sitting on a kerb.  Readers were delighted by the sight of down-to-earth Berset, who held the rotating Swiss presidency this year, taking a break during the UN General Assembly in New York. The image went viral.  Another very popular article was an exclusive op-ed by a former US policewoman now living in Zurich on what Switzerland can teach the United States about guns. This was published after a teenager in Florida opened fire with an assault rifle at his former school, killing 17 people and wounding more than a dozen. As always with gun articles, reader reaction was heated. An extraordinary story, which also split our readers, was that of Indian-born Sheela Birnstiel. Also known as Ma Anand Sheela, the anti-hero of Netflix documentary Wild Wild Country has created a new life for herself in Switzerland as a carer for the mentally ...
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Sex film complaints and Zurich foreigners' raw deal

Sun, 12/30/2018 - 13:00
Here are some of the stories we’ll bring you the week that ends 2018 and begins 2019. Monday From complaints about sex films and stilettos (unconnected) to a management discussion in 1995 about whether the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, swissinfo.ch’s parent company, should use the internet, we take a look at some of the stranger internal memos from the SBC's archives. Tuesday Good news, bad news? It's in the eye of the beholder. We'll let you know what new laws are coming into force from January 1. The young and old may be happy with some of the changes, but not taxpayers or foreign residents. Wednesday & Thursday Decision-making, politically speaking, may move at a glacial pace in Switzerland, but that doesn't make it boring. Over two days, we'll provide a forecast of the issues likely to top the agenda in 2019: EU relations - it's not only the UK which needs a deal with Brussels, corporate tax reform, spiraling health insurance costs, and - this one a certainty ...
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Through the Swiss president's eyes

Sat, 12/29/2018 - 12:00
Alain Berset ends his 12-month term as Swiss president at the end of 2018. Over the past year, he has been accompanied by the Fribourg photographer Nicolas Brodard, who has captured Berset’s unique viewpoint while in office.  This year, Berset may be remembered by many for the photo of him seated on the New York sidewalk outside the United Nations headquarters reading his notes for the 73rd UN General Assembly. The down-to-earth image of Berset, became a global talking point on social media.   Brodard took a different approach. He was interested in Berset's official job as president, not so much the individual. In each shot, he tried to point the camera in such a way as to mirror Berset’s view.   His presidential perspective reveals a range of images, from his closest staff and “fans” to members of the press. Brodard’s work will be published in February in a book entitled "Conseiller fédéral" [Cabinet member] by Till Schaap Edition.  Who is Alain Berset? Berset (born in ...
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