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Are Switzerland’s politics behind its high competitiveness?

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 12:00
Switzerland maintains enviable economic conditions and consistently tops global competitiveness rankings. How much of this is down to its system of government? Swiss economic success is easy to quantify but difficult to explain. How is it that a country with such a small domestic market and some of the highest average incomes in the world can sustain such steady GDP figures, maintain almost full employment, and (most perplexing) consistently grab top spot in global competitiveness rankings? For a single, secret ingredient, you might as well ask about the meaning of life. But this doesn’t stop people looking. And one possible link, recently explored at a conference on the Montreux lakeshore, is between the Swiss federal system and its economy: does the decentralised, multi-tiered political system affect economic conditions? Yes, was the simple answer. “If Switzerland has an economy in fighting form right now, that is largely due to federalism,” argued Tiber Adler of the ...
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President wants more digital risk-taking

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 17:46
The Swiss government wants to defend its good starting position in the race for the digital future. Communications Minister Doris Leuthard has thus called on researchers to be more venturesome regarding new digital opportunities.  “There is still room for improvement for the e-government,” Leuthard, who also holds the rotating Swiss presidency this year, told some 700 representatives from business, science, politics and civil society at a national conference, “Digital Switzerland”, held in Biel on Monday.  Switzerland was not currently a leading light in this sector, she said. In order to change this and benefit from the potential of digitalisation, Leuthard said interdisciplinary cooperation and constant dialogue between all stakeholders was necessary.  The results of the conference will form the basis for formulating the government’s Digital Switzerland strategy, launched in April 2016. 
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How politicians would deal with Islamic fundamentalists

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 17:00
Switzerland’s political parties differ in their approaches to coping with Islamic fundamentalism. Some focus on anti-terror, others on integration. The four largest political parties suggest the following measures for thwarting terrorism and fostering better integration of the Muslim community. Swiss People’s Party: deport and ban The conservative right Swiss People’s Party wants to protect the country mainly by exclusion – especially deportation. The People’s Party is not in favour of integration efforts or public recognition of the Muslim religious community. It has compiled a list of 20 points on how to counter radical Islam. For example, it demands that imams be placed under surveillance and only preach in one of the Swiss national languages. The army and prisons should stop offering pastoral care via imams.  The People’s Party also calls for a ban on mosques and Islamic institutions that spread radical Islam. In addition, financial support for Islam from abroad should be ...
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Swiss gun makers use mechanical ingenuity to stand out

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 12:00
Unable to compete on price, some Swiss gun manufacturers are focusing on novelty and customisation to attract wealthy hunters and hobbyists.    Chamois hunting can be a dangerous sport; chasing the elusive mountain-loving goat-antelope to dizzying heights alone and on foot means that one slip could lead to a fatal fall.  “One of my best hunting friends died on a chamois hunt two years ago,” says Manfred Treutler, owner of the Makura hunting rifle company based in central Switzerland.  Treutler himself was always unhappy about having to lug a gun while keeping an eye on his quarry and his balance at high altitudes. Apart from the personal danger, there was always the risk that his precious rifle could fall and get damaged. One day, he approached master Swiss gun maker Markus Ulrich with his problem.  “I asked him to create a take-down [easily disassembled] rifle that I could put in a rucksack, leaving my hands free to climb,” says Treutler. “There were a lot of take-downs on the ...
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Swiss bee expert laments exaggerated focus on insecticides

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 19:00
The amount of time researchers dedicate to insecticides known as neonicotinoids is disproportionate, compared to the efforts invested in combating the honey bee’s greatest enemy, the varroa mite, argues Swiss bee specialist Jean-Daniel Charrière.  Charrière oversees bee research at the Swiss government's agriculture institute, Agroscope. Bees and other pollinators are vital to three-quarters of the world’s food crops but have been in serious decline in recent decades.  swissinfo.ch: Since 2003, annual bee colony losses in Switzerland have averaged -16%, with a peak of -25%. Earlier this month, however, the Swiss bee association Apisuisse announced an excellent honey harvest nationwide. Should we be worried about the decline of bees in Switzerland? Jean-Daniel Charrière: The situation varies from year to year. But in general, the existence of the Swiss honey bee is not in danger. Owing to beekeepers’ major efforts in replacing collapsed colonies, we still have around 165,000 bee ...
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Geneva disarmament process targets killer robots

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 16:00
Since the day it opened, the United Nations in Geneva has been the venue for negotiations aimed at preventing war - and, if war can’t be prevented, mitigating its effects on civilians. Disarmament has been a key element of those negotiations. From conventions on the prohibition of biological and chemical weapons, to painstakingly slow talks on nuclear non-proliferation, Geneva has been the place where UN member states can discuss their military capability, and try, or at least make a show of trying, to keep the most devastating weapons under control. This month, the UN’s rather clumsily named Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) is meeting to look at an especially modern issue: Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS), often also known as ‘killer robots.’ Autonomous weapons are defined as those which can select and engage targets without any human intervention. Although drones of the type used in Pakistan, Iraq, or Syria come close to that, they are not fully ...
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‘We just couldn’t believe it’: Swiss recalls uncovering VW scandal

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 12:00
Swiss automobile engineer Marc Besch looks back on what it was like to be part of the research group that first noticed something odd about Volkswagen diesel engines, in one of the biggest manufacturing scandals of the modern era. Are you a nerd? Marc Besch: (laughs) Yes, a bit, I guess. The “Spiegel” magazine used that word to describe you. M.B.: Well, it is true that almost every discussion that we have in our team has to do with work. Are you that passionate about emissions technology? M.B.: I am a researcher, and I certainly have a great fascination with technology. I like to be actively doing something myself, not just looking at theory. I have been living on [the University of West Virginia] campus for ten years, and by this stage I am an assistant professor, but I spend the whole day with students. You are one of the three researchers who blew the lid off what must be the biggest scandal in German industry in the post-war era. You were just at a conference in Berlin – ...
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Swiss football club represents fresh challenge for Ineos founder

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 11:50
Jim Ratcliffe, founder of Ineos, joined the ranks of tycoons who have made ownership of European football clubs de rigueur when his chemicals group bought a team in Switzerland last week. But where others have swooped on big-name clubs such as Chelsea, Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain, the Brexit backer’s star signing is the less well-known FC Lausanne-Sport. “Today the club is in the middle of the Swiss Super League — there’s no reason it cannot end up in the top four,” says David Thompson, chief executive of Ineos Football, a newly created business within the group. “Our target is in four years’ time to have a team that can qualify for European football,” he declared. It is just the latest eye-catching move outside of its core activities by a business better known for refineries, chemical works and oilfields. Diversifying Ineos is the world’s fourth-largest chemicals manufacturer by revenue, supplying the basic building blocks that go into everything from burger ...
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Democracy, diesel emissions and deluges

Sun, 11/19/2017 - 13:00
Here are the stories we’ll be following the week of November 20. Monday Around two years ago, the world was shocked to learn of falsified diesel emissions tests at German car maker VW. Swiss automobile engineer Marc Besch was a part of the research group that first uncovered the scandal. He shares his side of the story. Tuesday To offset price competition from elsewhere, Swiss weapons manufacturers have turned to the country’s hallmark precision engineering to turn out one-of-a-kind rifles and pistols. Wednesday How much of Switzerland’s economic success is down to its political system? An in-depth analysis looks at the federalist forces shaping the country and its economy. Thursday What are the limits and unique features of the famous Swiss neutrality, and what does it really mean in practice? We explain what Switzerland’s brand of “active” neutrality involves and how it can raise questions. Friday The Swiss town of Uerkheim twice voted down more flood ...
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Defining the 25% foreign population in Switzerland

Sun, 11/19/2017 - 12:00
For the first time, Switzerland has 2 million foreigners living in its midst. As of last year, these non-Swiss – often the subject of political debate – accounted for nearly a quarter of the nation's 8.3 million population. But just who exactly are they? These graphics offer an explanation. Switzerland has one of the highest proportions of foreigners in its midst among all nations: 24.6% in 2015. Only a few special cases, such as oil-producing nations that employ many foreigners, or city-states like Luxembourg, have even higher percentages than Switzerland. The graph below shows the nationalities of all foreigners living in Switzerland. It shows that more than 80% of the foreigners living in Switzerland are from European countries. Almost half of them come just from France, Germany, Italy, Portugal. In one year, the proportion of foreigners increased by 0.3 percentage points (24.3% of foreigners in 2014). With 19 entries per 1000 inhabitants on average in 2014, Switzerland is ...
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A Swiss photography legend among machines

Sat, 11/18/2017 - 12:00
The Swiss Foundation for Photography in Winterthur presents 140 images by Jakob Tuggener, considered one of the leading figures in the history of Swiss photography. All the photographs revolve around the theme of machines. The exhibition runs until January 28.  Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) is defined in the Swiss photography landscape by the expressiveness and strong personality of his images. The artist was at ease in several worlds. For example, he knew how to capture the atmosphere of parties and nightlife like no one else. But it was the world of factories and industry that he knew best. And for good reason: Tuggener himself had been trained as a machinery draughtsman and had then worked in the construction sector. It was only at the end of the 1920s, after he lost his job due to the Great Depression, that he finally turned to art and photography.  The exhibition "Jakob Tuggener – Machine Time" allows visitors to discover a vision both artistic and relevant to the Swiss ...
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Terrorism 20 years after the Luxor tragedy

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 12:00
On November 17, 1997, Islamic extremists killed 36 Swiss tourists in Luxor, Egypt. It was the deadliest terrorist attack ever involving Swiss citizens. Twenty years later, terrorism is still causing fear. But contrary to what might seem to be the case, there are now fewer attacks and fewer victims. “Massacre of the innocents”, “Death on the Nile”, “Horror in the Valley of the Kings”, “Swiss butchered in Luxor”: on November 18 the frontpage headlines of Swiss newspapers were all about the previous day’s killings. At the archaeological site at Deir el-Bahari, near Luxor, a group of terrorists belonging to the Islamist organisation al-Gama’at al-Islamiyya had opened fire on a crowd of tourists: 62 dead, 36 of them Swiss. Since 1970 there have been about 60 Swiss victims of terrorist attacks. The Luxor incident remains the deadliest ever attack on Swiss citizens. Swiss are obviously not the only victims of terrorism. And Egypt is not the only country plagued by the phenomenon.
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Tamil street food, all chopped up

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 18:00
Tama Vakeesan was born in Switzerland to Tamil parents from Sri Lanka. This week, she meets up with Thileeban, who talks about his difficult start to life here in Switzerland. These days, apart from selling Sri Lankan street food, he's also involved in film production. (SRF Kulturplatz/swissinfo.ch)
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Do American and Swiss patients get what they pay for?

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 16:00
Health care doesn’t come cheap in the United States or Switzerland, and depending on your situation, the bill can vary widely. Are Americans and the Swiss getting top-quality care for their money? Several readers wanted to know how much residents in the two countries pay for health care, in terms of public and private contributions, and whether the quality of care justifies the costs. We’ve already given a primer on the health care systems in each country, and how many different insurance options US residents have depending on how much they make, what they do, and how old they are. What does it cost, and why? US healthcare spending is a whopping 17% of GDP, or more than $9,000 per capita. (Some estimates put the cost per person over $10,000).  By comparison, Switzerland spends about 12% of GDP, at more than $6,300 per capita. One reason for the higher cost in the US is that variety in coverage we mentioned before.  With so many different insurance options and programs, ...
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Should Swiss vote hackers be rewarded with cash?

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 12:00
In order to ensure the security of online voting systems used in Switzerland, the government needs to issue a challenge to the worldwide hacker community, offering rewards to anyone who can “blow holes in the system”, says a computer scientist in parliament. Since it began in 2000, Switzerland’s e-voting project has been a matter of controversy. While some have been calling for its introduction to be fast-tracked in all the country’s 26 cantons, others would like to see the project slowed. In parliament there has been a call for a moratorium on electronic voting in the whole country for four years, except for the Swiss abroad. To put an end to all the concerns and convince the critics that security and secrecy of online voting can be guaranteed, Radical Party parliamentarian Marcel Dobler thinks there needs to be an unequivocal demonstration that systems used in Switzerland are proof against computer piracy. The best way to do this, he says, is to invite hackers to target them. ...
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Paradise Papers fuel Swiss better business initiative - for now

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 12:00
The "Paradise Papers", which have shed light on the offshore dealings of some of the world’s richest people and biggest companies, are increasing conversations around a people’s initiative, on which Swiss citizens are set to vote in the next couple of years.  In Switzerland, a coalition of 85 non-governmental organisations and trade unions are backing an initiative called “responsible business”. It aims to make Swiss companies comply with human rights and environmental standards when they operate abroad – or be brought to account before Swiss courts. It has already gathered 120,000 signatures to force a nationwide vote on the issue.  The initiative text is currently being examined in Bern. For the government, the initiative goes too far. It fears that extra regulations could hurt Swiss businesses, which may simply move abroad, and that existing rules suffice.  The Federal Council said it does not plan to issue a counter-proposal to the campaigners’ text, but a Senate ...
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‘I’m counting on all youth to influence decisions in their countries’

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 09:09
The Swiss Youth for Climate organisation has sent a group of delegates to this week’s United Nations Climate Conference in Bonn, Germany. One of the young participants wanted to know how small island nations are being affected by a changing climate and spoke with a representative from the Seychelles to find out. The island nation of Fiji is presiding over the 23rd United Nations Climate Conference (or COP23). That means a key topic of discussion has been what such island states, which most keenly feel the effects of climate change, can expect in the coming years. Anaïs Campion, a Swiss Youth for Climate delegate, discussed the issue with Ronny Jumeau, permanent representative to the UN and Ambassador for Climate Change of the archipelago Republic of Seychelles. Anaïs Campion, Swiss Youth for Climate: How do young people in the Seychelles perceive climate change? Seychelles Ambassador to the UN, Ronny Jumeau: In the Seychelles, we don’t make a distinction between climate ...
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Annemarie Schwarzenbach’s extraordinary life, in pictures 

Wed, 11/15/2017 - 15:01
The writer, reporter and photographer Annemarie Schwarzenbach lived her life to the fullest, becoming a cultural icon. On the 75th anniversary of her tragic death, more than 3,000 pictures are being made available to the public. (SRF, swissinfo.ch) Schwarzenbach was born in Zurich on the 23rd May 1908 into a wealthy family of Swiss silk producers. As the third of five children, she decided to become a writer at the age of 17, and studied history in Paris and Zurich where she graduated from school in 1931. In 1933, she started to work as a journalist and photographer for Swiss magazines and newspapers for almost 10 years, travelling around the world.  Following a bicycle accident, she died on November 15, 1942 at the age of 34. The writer and reporter achieved early fame during her lifetime, but it was not until the end of the 1980s that her work was rediscovered. The Swiss National Library has now made available online more than 3000 of her photographs taken during her travels ...
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Annemarie Schwarzenbach's extraordinary life, in pictures 

Wed, 11/15/2017 - 15:01
The writer, reporter and photographer Annemarie Schwarzenbach lived her life to the fullest, becoming a cultural icon. On the 75th anniversary of her tragic death, more than 3,000 pictures are being made available to the public. (SRF, swissinfo.ch) Schwarzenbach was born in Zurich on the 23rd May 1908 into a wealthy family of Swiss silk producers. As the third of five children, she decided to become a writer at the age of 17, and studied history in Paris and Zurich where she graduated from school in 1931. In 1933, she started to work as a journalist and photographer for Swiss magazines and newspapers for almost 10 years, travelling around the world.  Following a bicycle accident, she died on November 15, 1942 at the age of 34. The writer and reporter achieved early fame during her lifetime, but it was not until the end of the 1980s that her work was rediscovered. The Swiss National Library has now made available online more than 3000 of her photographs taken during her travels ...
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What it’s like to be a poor child in wealthy Switzerland

Wed, 11/15/2017 - 12:00
Niels doesn’t go hungry. He has his own room, wears clean clothes and attends football training. But his mother’s income is not enough to support them both and they rely on welfare. Financial precariousness in Switzerland is usually not apparent at first glance, but it leaves its mark on those affected.  Niels, 5, and his mother, 38, recently treated themselves to a “day of luxury”. Thanks to discounted tickets, they went to the circus. And it got even better. “We drank a coffee in a café and had a small sandwich,” she says in a quiet voice and smiles.  Universal Children’s Day  The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was passed by the UN general assembly on November 20, 1989. Switzerland signed up in 1997. Today, 193 states are signatories.  The convention commits Switzerland to providing all necessary assistance for children affected by poverty as far as is possible.  (Source: humanrights.ch) Her son is beaming broadly. He is twirling through the kitchen, ...
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