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Updated: 1 day 6 hours ago

When you don’t pay your taxes and it’s the taxman’s fault

Sat, 10/27/2018 - 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. Monday 1.42 billion That's the amount of money, in Swiss francs, Google earned in advertising revenue from the Swiss online media sector last year. It accounted for a whopping two-thirds of the entire Swiss market.  Tuesday 8 Eight members of the former An'Nur Mosque in Winterthur were found guilty of threatening and illegally detaining two people who had informed a journalist of suspicious activities. Those activities were connected to the alleged radicalisation of youths in the mosque which has been suspected of links to radical Islamic movements. Wednesday 500,000 Half a million francs were earmarked to promote digitalisation in small companies based in mountain regions. The scheme is considered essential to stop people abandoning Alpine communities for better ...
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Mushroom school tests the senses

Sat, 10/27/2018 - 11:00
Autumn is mushroom season, and there’s a Swiss school devoted to finding and identifying the edible ones.  The Swiss are enthusiastic mushroom gatherers, and many traditional dishes wouldn’t be the same without them. Hence the popularity of the group offering lessons on mushroom-picking (in German).  Johannes Kurt and Nicola Wernke met at a mushroom-inspecting event. He’s been picking mushrooms since childhood and serves as an official inspector. She loves all mushrooms, including the slime molds and toadstools. They immediately sensed that they’d be the perfect duo to offer a sound education in mycology – the term for the science of mushrooms.  Mistakes can be dangerous Over the course of the year, they share their knowledge of over 50 types of edible mushrooms as well as the most important toadstools – plus the biology behind them. “To find mushrooms, you have to develop a sense of smell, know which soil is nutrient-rich, and let your inner passion develop,” says Johannes ...
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When women pastors first ascended the pulpit

Sat, 10/27/2018 - 08:00
One hundred years ago, two women were ordained as pastors in Switzerland. A historic step at the time, the sight of female pastors has since become common. It was a watershed moment on October 27, 1918 when Rosa Gutknecht and Elise Pfister earned the right to work as pastors in the Protestant church in canton Zurich – a first both for Switzerland and for Europe. Previously, the two pioneers had simply been employed as assistants to their male colleagues. Following their success, however, professional restrictions began to be gradually lifted, especially after the 1960s, and women have since won the full right to pastorship. Indeed, seeing women in the role is nothing unusual nowadays. Females make up about a third of all 1,869 clerics of the Protestant Church in Switzerland, according to the clerical research institute in St Gallen. swissinfo.ch spoke to Corinne Baumann, who presides over the parish of Sonvilier in north-western Switzerland. She was ordained in 1986, is ...
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Are cows happier with their horns?

Fri, 10/26/2018 - 17:00
Animal welfare is at the heart of this people’s initiative on cows with horns. The promoters decry the unnecessary suffering caused by de-horning. Its opponents argue that, without their horns, animals can move around more freely. A symbol of Switzerland is being put to a nationwide vote: on November 25, citizens will make a decision about cows, more specifically about their horns. The initiative denounces the almost systematic de-horning of cattle and goats: only 10% of Swiss cows still have their horns, according to the initiators of the vote, or 25% according to the government. The vote challenges the gap between the image that Switzerland likes to present of itself and the reality: publicity posters, tourist brochures and chocolate bars all feature cows with horns, whereas these are in fact increasingly rare. Above all, though, the debate is about animal welfare: from the de-horning of calves to the living conditions of cattle. The Swiss are voting for the third time in a ...
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Questioning of UBS financier in China rattles private banking

Fri, 10/26/2018 - 12:45
Asia’s fast-growing private banking sector has been shaken by the news that a UBS banker visiting China has been told by the authorities not to leave the country, casting a shadow over the opportunity presented by China’s large and expanding pool of billionaires. The Singapore-based banker, who had travelled to Beijing to meet clients, has been asked to answer questions regarding an unspecified matter, spurring a warning from UBS to its private banking staff to delay travel to China. Neither the Swiss bank nor the Chinese government gave details of the questioning, but Beijing has been mounting fierce campaigns to restrict capital flight, curb corruption and tackle tax evasion by its citizens. UBS, one of a few global banks running an onshore wealth management business in China, has since rescinded its travel warning. “The situation has happened in the past to other institutions; we took temporary measures [on travel] to see what was going on, and within 24 hours lifted the ban.
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Who should decide on turning the clocks back?

Fri, 10/26/2018 - 11:00
The EU wants to say goodbye to Daylight Saving Time. This move follows an online survey concluding that a majority of EU citizens are against changing the clocks twice a year. Has Brussels developed a soft spot for the direct democracy system? On the contrary: the vote has revealed the EU bosses’ rather irritating understanding of how direct democracy works. When it comes to Daylight Saving Time, Switzerland’s popular sovereignty also seems to crumble.  Like every year, the clocks in Switzerland will go back on the last Sunday in October, which this year will be on the 28th. Changing the clocks could soon be a thing of the past as the EU is moving towards abandoning the switch between summer and winter time. In 1978, the Swiss people actually voted against changing the hour. Three years later, however, it was introduced anyway. The reason for this was that the EU’s predecessor, the European Economic Community, had meanwhile introduced Daylight Saving Time. Switzerland had become ...
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César Ritz, ‘the king of hoteliers and the hotelier of kings’

Fri, 10/26/2018 - 08:00
César Ritz died exactly 100 years ago, having created a hotel empire and changed the lexicon of luxury. Not bad for the 13th child of a Swiss mountain farmer.  “If you’re blue and you don’t know where to go to, why don’t you go where fashion sits: puttin’ on the Ritz.” Everyone knows at least the title to Irving Berlin’s 1927 song about dapper and decadent New Yorkers, but few people know much about the man whose name is now defined in dictionaries as “ostentatious luxury”.  In 1850, César Ritz was born in Niederwald, a village in canton Valais, on February 23 – which also happens to be the birthday of renowned Swiss chef Anton Mosimann.  As a boy, he looked after his father’s sheep and, after finishing school at the age of 15, he became an apprentice sommelier at a hotel in nearby Brig. It wasn’t a wild success. “You’ll never make it,” the manager said as he let Ritz go. “You need a special flair in the hotel business and – permit me for saying so – you haven’t got it.”  ...
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Swiss stock exchange stays on sustainability initiative sidelines

Thu, 10/25/2018 - 20:25
Nearly 80 trading venues including the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), the London Stock Exchange and Nasdaq have joined the United Nations’ Sustainable Stock Exchange (SSE) initiative, which tackles climate and social issues. The SIX Swiss Exchange, however, is one of the few major markets that remains on the sidelines. Following a recent IPCC report warning of dire consequences of global warming, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development said developing countries need $3.9 trillion in private sector investment to meet Sustainable Development Goals. Current investment levels fall short by $2.5 trillion annually. “If we want to stimulate SDGs, we need to start with fund managers, executives from stock exchanges and bond markets, to mobilise capital markets”, said James Zhan, director of UNCTAD’s division of investment and enterprise. He told swissinfo: “CEOs of stock exchanges wrote to us that they are committed to promoting sustainable development, green growth ...
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A social experiment gets opposites talking

Thu, 10/25/2018 - 14:43
How often do you talk to someone who has completely different views? Switzerland has ventured into a social experiment this month: People with different opinions met on blind dates. An algorithm chose the pairs.  In Switzerland too, many people don't leave their comfort zone. Social media, with its"filter bubbles", reinforces this phenomenon. Dialogue with people who have different opinions are reduced to talk shows and polarised media debates. Often the personal exchange of ideas dwindles.  Common ground to be found? As part of the "Die Schweiz spricht" ("Switzerland speaks") project, various Swiss media have called on volunteers to meet in private for a discussion on controversial issues. And to thereby find out whether, despite different attitudes, dialogue - even find common ground - is possible.  The project was organised by Swiss public radio and television SRF as well as the private newspapers and media companies Zeit, watson, Tages-Anzeiger, Bund, Berner Zeitung, Le ...
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‘Swiss law first’ initiative: what’s at stake?

Thu, 10/25/2018 - 11:00
The initiative ‘Swiss law, not foreign judges’ aims to give the constitution explicit precedence over international law, ensuring that the results of nationwide votes cannot be set aside because of international treaties. Opponents see this as a danger to basic human rights. The issue will come to a nationwide vote on November 25. The proposal, also known as ‘self-determination initiative’, was launched by the rightwing Swiss People’s Party. It proposes to enshrine a provision in the constitution that the supreme fount of law in Switzerland is that constitution – and not international law. In other words, the initiative wants that Swiss-style direct democracy is not be subject to the provisions of international treaties. The initiative is being described by its promoters as a response to what they see as the tendency of government, parliament and the Supreme Court to play fast and loose with vote results in the name of avoiding conflicts with international law. What is the ...
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Crowdfunding science: ‘An adventure into the unknown’

Thu, 10/25/2018 - 11:00
​​​​​​​After almost two years, Switzerland’s first dedicated science crowdfunding platform has seen nearly 80% of projects meet their targets. But for its organisers and participants, success isn’t just measured in Swiss francs. In January 2017, the Science Booster channel was launched on the online crowdfunding platform, wemakeit. Since then, the channel has hosted 40 science crowdfunding projects, which have collectively raised CHF500,000 ($503,000). Of the 40 projects, 31 met their funding goals – a success rate of 78%. “That’s a good score; most campaign platforms like Kickstarter have an average success rate of 50-70%,” Science Booster co-founder Luc Henry told swissinfo.ch, adding that campaign organisers can only collect the funds they have raised if they meet their goal. Henry speculates that the good results may be down in part to the one-on-one advice scientists receive in planning and targeting their campaigns. “[The campaigns] cover any topic from brain surgery to ...
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A fundamental change in Swiss schoolrooms

Thu, 10/25/2018 - 10:21
The face of Swiss primary schools is changing. New teaching methods are now part of the daily routine. The basic concept of school itself is changing – “skills” rather than knowledge are being increasingly taught. And women are more frequently the ones doing the teaching. The windows of the schoolroom are wide open on this sunny morning. The air is still cool and the mood is relaxed. Here in Room 204 of the Spitalacker Primary School in Bern, teachers Danielle Baumann and Marie-Theres Moser are making the final preparations for the lesson prior to the arrival of their pupils aged six to eight.  A total of 700 children attend the Spitalacker Primary School. Twenty-four of them – first- and second-year pupils – make up the class of Danielle Baumann and Marie-Theres Moser. It is quite cosy, this small, neat schoolroom. And yet even here the really big changes in the Swiss school system can be seen. The two teachers are teaching together this morning. “We enjoy team-teaching. It ...
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Why refugee numbers in Switzerland are falling

Thu, 10/25/2018 - 08:00
After a spike in 2016, asylum applications in Switzerland have been in steady decline. The tightening of Europe’s external borders has forced migrants to seek alternative routes to the continent – often more dangerous ones. Why did asylum applications in Switzerland increase in 2015 and 2016? Violent conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan have continued unabated for several years now. The year 2015 saw the situation reach a peak, especially in the Middle East, where large swathes of the population were forced to migrate. Hundreds of thousands embarked from the Turkish coast in an effort to reach Greece before travelling through the Balkans to enter Europe. Others came to the continent from the south, via the central Mediterranean. Both groups made up the bulk of asylum seekers in Switzerland, who were almost twice as numerous in 2015 and 2016 as in previous years; though the peak did not rival that of the late 1990s, when the Kosovan conflict displaced hundreds of thousands.
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In what fields are Swiss universities internationally competitive?

Wed, 10/24/2018 - 17:00
Can Switzerland really compete with the US and UK when it comes to subject areas sought after by international students?  International students seem to be following in Albert Einstein’s famous footsteps when it comes to choosing a course of study in Switzerland. In 1900 the German-born future Nobel Prize winner graduated from Zurich’s Polytechnic Institute, now the Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ), with a diploma in mathematics and natural sciences. Today, students from abroad still elect to study natural sciences, maths and statistics ahead of other fields and this at three times the rate of locals, according to the OECD.  In Switzerland, the ETHZ and the Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) consistently rank among the top universities worldwide for maths, physics, chemistry and computer science. International students account for more than a third of the student body at the ETHZ and about half of enrollment at the EPFL. But whereas Einstein in his time at the ...
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Rhine Falls water level at historic low

Wed, 10/24/2018 - 14:30
The historically hot and dry summer and autumn weather is having a dramatic impact on the water levels of Swiss rivers and lakes, and natural landmarks such as the Rhine Falls.  The glorious summer weather has attracted many visitors to the Rhine Falls waterfall near Schaffhausen in northeast Switzerland. Owing to the low level of the river, tourist boats can get much closer to the spectacular waterfall than normal.  But the lower water levels are a concern. Normally, boats operating between the historic town of Stein am Rhein in and Diessenhofen further down river return to their boatyards at the end of the season, but at present they cannot sail due to the exceptionally low water levels. In Basel, Switzerland’s key port on the Rhine that handles 10% of all goods imported into the country, the movements of container ships were suspended last Friday due to low water.  SRF/swissinfo.ch
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Swiss-Brazilian disease research faces uncertain future

Wed, 10/24/2018 - 11:00
Scientists from Switzerland and Brazil are working to unlock the genetic secret behind tuberculosis (TB), a disease that kills more people than AIDS and malaria combined and is increasingly resistant to treatment. But drastic budget cuts in Brazilʼs science sector are putting their work in jeopardy. In a room at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (TPH), Professor Sébastien Gagneux receives TB samples sent from various regions of Brazil. Most come from the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Friocruz), the country’s main public health research institution. “The goal is to discover what strains of bacteria are present in patients in Rio de Janeiro and how often a patient carries several types of bacteria,” explains Gagneux. Any one of these bacteria may be resistant to the drugs used to eradicate it, a phenomenon he calls “the biggest problem in the world today”. “In many countries, we find variations of TB that can no longer be cured,” Gagneux says. Last year, some 558,000 ...
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Swiss firms attend Saudi forum despite Khashoggi death

Tue, 10/23/2018 - 15:35
Although many Swiss multinationals have pulled out their top brass from Saudi Arabia’s controversial Future Investment Initiative summit, they haven’t boycotted the event entirely. Saudi Arabia opened its “Davos-in-the-Desert” investment forum on Tuesday despite boycotts by high-profile Western political figures, international bankers and executives in the wake of the killing of US-based Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, at its consulate in Istanbul. The investment initiative, held at the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh, is widely viewed as a critical test on whether Western governments and corporations will continue to do “business as usual” with the oil-rich kingdom. In a clear reflection of the delicate situation and the financial clout of the Arab nation, a spokesman of Credit Suisse declined to comment on whether the Swiss bank formally maintained its status as a sponsor of the event. Credit Suisse, which holds a licence from the Saudi Capital Markets Authority and has been trying ...
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What’s changing with the new radio television fee?

Tue, 10/23/2018 - 11:00
From the beginning of next year, an amended system to levy a licence fee for the use of radio and television in Switzerland will come into force. It involves a different method and different collection agencies. For most private households it means good news as the bill for the mandatory fee will be lower than before. How much does the new licence fee cost? The annual fee will be CHF365 ($366) for each private household in Switzerland, down from CHF451. Businesses will pay between CHF365 and CH35,590 depending on their annual turnover. Companies with a turnover below CHF500,000 are exempt. It no longer depends on whether radio or television sets are installed. Who is also exempt from the fee? Households with people who receive supplementary benefits to top up old-age pension or disability insurance payments. Or people who live in nursing and old people’s homes, hostels, boarding schools and penal institutions. Foreign diplomats are also exempt as well as households in ...
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Swiss-EU relations: the key milestones

Tue, 10/23/2018 - 11:00
Switzerland is not member of the European Union, but its relations with the 28-member bloc are founded on a series of bilateral sectoral accords, which give it many benefits of membership. Since the 1972 Free Trade Agreement, and after the electorate rejected accession to the European Economic Area (EEA) in 1992, Switzerland and the EU have struck 20 main deals and more than 100 other agreements giving Swiss companies access to sectors of the EU single market and governing cooperation between the two sides. Under this arrangement, Switzerland has accepted the free movement of people. Thanks to its large internal market of over 500 million people, the EU is not only the world's largest economic power ahead of the United States and China, but also plays an important role for peace and stability on the European continent. In the past, the Swiss voters confirmed their support for the bilateral path in various votes. In February 2014, however, a majority of citizens backed a ...
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UBS moves back into battle for rich Americans

Tue, 10/23/2018 - 09:22
UBS is putting super-rich Americans at the centre of its new strategy to boost growth, nearly a decade after it was fined $780m by the US Department of Justice for helping thousands of clients evade taxes. The pitch for so-called “ultra-high net worth” clients and family offices is set to be announced on Thursday, when chief executive Sergio Ermotti will set out his revamped plans for Switzerland’s largest bank over the next few years. UBS is planning to hire dozens of high-profile relationship managers and client advisers from US competitors, hoping they will bring their well-heeled customers with them, according to people familiar with the matter. The bank will also announce it is re-entering the market for rich expat Americans living in places such as Hong Kong and Singapore. It is considering opening a new broker-dealer unit in Hong Kong to serve them. UBS believes it can poach American clients away from the likes of Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs by using its ...
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