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Updated: 1 year 51 weeks ago

Travel destinations seek tourists, but not the crowds

Tue, 07/07/2020 - 11:00
Some popular travel destinations have enjoyed the break – however temporary – from tourist crowds following Covid-19 restrictions. Others hope the hordes will return soon. Switzerland had not yet opened its border with Italy when its southern neighbour unexpectedly announced that Swiss citizens could enter the country starting on June 3. A day later, Sylvain and Anastasia Nicolier, who live in Lausanne, crossed the border at the Great St Bernard Pass. “When I heard on the news that the border with Italy was open again, I asked my wife if she wanted to go to Venice,” says Sylvain. “We set out the next day with our two-month-old daughter.” The crossing went smoothly without any checks. “I felt a bit nervous at the beginning,” says Anastasia. “It was our first trip abroad with our baby.” The young parents are used to travelling. With his wife’s support, Sylvain Nicolier writes a travel blog, Suisse moi, where he posts videos of his trips all over the world. Sylvain has been to...
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How hardworking are the Swiss?

Mon, 07/06/2020 - 11:00
Switzerland has a reputation as a hardworking, punctual, and precise country. But does the picture stand up to a reality check? We looked at the data and compared with other countries. By global comparison, the Swiss work less Researchers from the University of Groningen in The Netherlands gathered data showing how many hours per employee were worked across countries and continents. According to their comparison, it seems clear that in the global context, the Swiss work less than others. Here, Switzerland follows the worldwide trend: as income levels go up, working time goes down. That is, apart from a few clear exceptions – in Singapore and Hong Kong, for example, where despite very high average incomes, hours worked are more similar to China. The US also stands out. Even though incomes are just slightly different, American employees work on average much more each year than Swiss employees. Much of this has to do with the fact that employees in Switzerland enjoy more...
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Coronavirus: the situation in Switzerland

Sun, 07/05/2020 - 15:38
After imposing unprecedented restrictions on public life to contain the pandemic, Switzerland eased its measures and re-opened its land borders. But since mid-June there has been a worrying rise in new cases. Here is where things stand and the latest on the measures still in place. From July 6, passengers on Swiss public transport have to wear face masks after an increase in the number of new cases and demands from cantons. Also from July 6, anyone entering Switzerland from any of the 29 "high risk" countries, which include the US, has to undergo a ten-day quarantine. The Covid-19 tracing app SwissCovid has crossed the one million downloads threshold. Since June 22, public and private events of up to 1,000 people have been permitted on condition that contact tracing is guaranteed. Larger events are still banned.The recommended safe distance between people was reduced from two metres to 1.5 metres. Tests are now free for residents; the SwissCovid contact tracing app became available...
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A global wake-up call

Sun, 07/05/2020 - 14:00
From Covid-19 to climate disruption, from racial injustice to rising inequalities, we are a world in turmoil. At the same time, we are an international community with an enduring vision – embodied in the United Nations Charter, which marks its 75th anniversary this year. That vision of a better future — based on the values of equality, mutual respect and international cooperation — has helped us to avoid a Third World War that would have had catastrophic consequences for life on our planet. Our shared challenge is to channel that collective spirit and rise to this moment of trial and test. The pandemic has laid bare severe and systemic inequalities both within and between countries and communities. More broadly, it has underscored the world’s fragilities – not just in the face of another health emergency, but in our faltering response to the climate crisis, lawlessness in cyberspace, and the risks of nuclear proliferation. People everywhere are losing trust in political...
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Private university thinks like a business to tackle skills shortage

Sun, 07/05/2020 - 11:00
Switzerland has some of the world’s top-ranked universities, but they still face criticism for failing to meet the needs of industry. One entrepreneur has responded by establishing a private university, to be run like a business for the needs of business. Serguei Beloussov says he founded the Schaffhausen Institute of Technology (SIT) to challenge a “relatively inefficient system” of higher education. “Academia is focused on publications while business is focused on outcomes,” he told “Public universities are all well and good, but they could be better if they focused on specific problems,” he adds. “Science is knowledge, which needs to be converted into products that can solve challenges for society.” SIT was founded a year ago in collaboration with the National University of Singapore and the Carnegie Mellon University in the United States. It will start welcoming students to Schaffhausen this September, now that it has a functional campus building. SIT is not...
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Impact investing: one eye on the wallet, the other on the planet

Sat, 07/04/2020 - 11:00
A Swiss start-up’s vision is to make saving money, while contributing to a fairer, greener society, as easy as shopping online. But there are questions whether so-called “impact investing” can go mainstream. In a promotional video, Tillmann Lang, CEO and co-founder of Yova, appears in an armchair with a laptop. He clicks and scrolls, choosing the projects he wants to invest in (or not), such as renewable energy, gender equality, or rejecting weapons. Yova’s algorithm takes over, and a few seconds later, Lang’s tailored investment strategy is ready. It contains a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds designed to match his personal values and financial goals. Impact investments have the “intention of generating societal or ecological impact, alongside a financial return,” explains Lang. This type of investing has traditionally been reserved for institutions and wealthy individuals. But Yova has opened impact investing to “everyday people” thanks to a technology that reduces costs.
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Switzerland misses its emissions targets

Fri, 07/03/2020 - 11:00
Switzerland’s emissions have declined over the last 30 years, but not enough to meet the national targets set for 2020. What’s behind the gap? By 2020, greenhouse gas emissions in Switzerland should be down by 20% from what they were in 1990. That’s the target outlined in the federal CO2 law. While figures are only available until 2018, the federal environment office expected that, based on current projections, Switzerland will fail to meet its national targets. Not even the temporary slowdown of activity caused by the coronavirus crisis will help. Since 1990, Switzerland’s emissions have declined by 14%, whereas the population has increased by 27%. The level of emissions varies depending on the economic sector involved, as the chart below indicates. One trend that has emerged over time is that the bulk of emissions no longer come from the building sector, but rather from transportation. Note too the increase in the rate of “synthetic” gases, which includes products used...
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Swiss sustainable finance: world leader or wishful thinking?

Thu, 07/02/2020 - 11:24
The Swiss financial centre wants to take a lead in ethical investing. NGOs, however, fear the banks are more interested in cashing in than saving the planet. One thing everyone agrees on is the need for a universal definition of sustainable finance and measures to oversee the sector. Sustainable finance invests in the environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change. The objective is to help bankroll the global eradication of poverty, inequality, conflict and environmental degradation. “The Swiss financial centre is a pioneer of sustainable finance and is on course to become a premier international hub in this field,” says the Swiss Bankers Association (SBA), who has made this growing asset class a “top priority”. And its aspiration appears to be backed up by raw data. The Swiss Sustainable Investment Market Study 2020 says that over the last 10 years, such sustainable investments have...
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Humanitarian work in the time of Covid-19

Thu, 07/02/2020 - 11:04
It’s my first day back at the United Nations Palais des Nations building in Geneva since early March, when life, for all of us, changed so dramatically. Things are relaxing here in Switzerland, but, with most meetings still virtual, and advice to avoid crowded public transport still in place, the halls of the Palais are echoingly empty. Each office door has acquired a sticker with a number on it, indicating how many people are allowed, safely, inside. When I get to my own, which I had always thought of as rather spacious, I see the number 1. Along the corridors, a team of cleaners advances, painstakingly disinfecting each door handle. The Palais is huge, and I’m reminded of that old story about painting Scotland’s Forth Road Bridge: once you finish at one end, it’s time to start again at the other. It’s interesting how the pandemic has caused so many of us to reflect on our own ordinary lives, on the things we take for granted: jumping on trains and planes, eating in restaurants...
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US and European politicians complain to Swiss over legal chief’s Russia links

Thu, 07/02/2020 - 11:02
Senior US and European politicians have written to the Swiss government to express concerns over the independence of Switzerland’s federal prosecutor, Michael Lauber, and his connections to Russia. Senator Roger Wicker, co-chairman of the US Helsinki Commission — the joint congressional and executive body that officially monitors European post-cold war security affairs — complained to the Swiss ambassador in Washington last week over the independence of senior figures in the Swiss legal system. Boriss Cilevics, chairman of the Council of Europe’s committee on legal affairs and human rights, wrote to Switzerland’s representatives in Strasbourg to formally raise similar concerns earlier this month. Copies of the correspondence were seen by the Financial Times. Mr Lauber is fighting for his job after Swiss parliamentarians instigated impeachment proceedings against him in May. The prosecutor, who has overseen all criminal prosecutions and investigations in Switzerland since...
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Masks declared obligatory on Swiss public transport

Wed, 07/01/2020 - 15:12
From Monday passengers on Swiss public transport will have to wear face masks, the government has announced. It will also impose a quarantine requirement for individuals entering the country from regions at high risk of Covid-19. The decision is a response to the rising number of coronavirus infections and demands from cantons. “Following the lifting of measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic, more people are using public transport,” the government said in a statement on Wednesday. “In many cases the recommended distance cannot be maintained.” The mask requirement applies to everyone aged 12 or older. It applies in trains, trams and buses, mountain railways, cable cars and on ships. The Swiss Federal Railways said conductors will ask anyone not wearing a mask to leave the train and anyone refusing will be fined. Until now, the recommendation was to wear a mask during rush hour on public transport. However, the government admitted that few people have been doing so. “We...
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Coronavirus: A turning point for telehealth in Switzerland

Wed, 07/01/2020 - 11:00
The Covid-19 pandemic has given a new impetus to telehealth, with lockdown leading to an increase in remote medical consultations. Patients are now returning to doctors’ practices, but the digitisation of health has become standard – even if not all are persuaded of the benefits. Booking a doctor’s appointment or receiving test results online has been commonplace for years. Remote medical consultations, however, were still a peripheral phenomenon. Patients and doctors were sceptical: How do we build a rapport? How do we guarantee the privacy of data? How do we reach the right diagnosis? So many questions that remained unanswered for a long time… Coronavirus – an innovation booster In March the coronavirus crisis changed all of this. Given the risks, remote consultations became the de facto norm for doctors, says Arthur Germain, the director and founder of the website OneDoc, which specialises in arranging doctors’ appointments online. “We have wanted to develop a video...
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How Switzerland’s ABB plans to shake off ugly duckling image

Tue, 06/30/2020 - 13:58
The first job Björn Rosengren ever applied for was an internship at manufacturer Asea. He did not even get an interview. Now, at 61, he has been appointed to run the sprawling multinational it grew into: ABB. For more than a decade, the Swiss-Swedish conglomerate, which created the first industrial robot in 1974, has been an ugly duckling among the top tier of high-tech industrial engineering companies. ABB is a paradox: a business that is dominantly positioned in some of the highest growth — and sexiest — high-tech engineering markets, and yet has a share price that has only inched upwards while those of competitors have soared. It is the market leader in making and selling industrial robots in China, yet it is also a company for which earnings per share have decreased by an average of 6 per cent annually every year since 2009. “Many competitors have doubled their share price in the last 10 years,” said ABB’s new chief executive Mr Rosengren, in an interview with the...
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Inside Geneva podcast: Why can’t we unite in the face of a global health crisis?

Tue, 06/30/2020 - 11:00
In this episode of our Inside Geneva podcast, we speak with Ilona Kickbusch of the Graduate Institute, Maria Guevara of Medecins sans Frontieres and Daniel Warner about the challenge of bringing a multilateral approach to health, about the United States’s threat to leave the World Health Organization, and about who might fill the gap left by the US. For more insights and discussions from Switzerland's international city, subscribe to Inside Geneva on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.
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Warning from Geneva: perpetrators of Libyan atrocities will be held accountable

Tue, 06/30/2020 - 11:00
As international elements propel the Libyan conflict further into chaos, the United Nations Human Rights Council last week resolved to send a fact-finding mission to Libya to document alleged war crimes committed in the country since 2016. The ad hoc resolution was supported by Switzerland, which has long been committed to the fight against impunity. Hasni Abidi, a political scientist who specialises in Arab world affairs, gives his insights. The adoption of the UN resolution comes at a critical moment of the war in Libya, following efforts by eastern Libyan strongman Marshal Khalifa Haftar to seize Tripoli and take power in April 2019. The offensive was supported by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Russia, and — less openly — by France. But the entry of Turkey, which sent weapons including high performance drones, and of Syrian militias into the game, enabled Libya’s Government of National Accord — led by Faïez al-Sarraj and recognised by the United Nations in March 2016 — to...
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Resisting Covid-19 ‘fake news’ with a high dose of public trust

Mon, 06/29/2020 - 11:00
Misinformation about Covid-19, like the pandemic itself, has gone global. And like the virus, it has affected some countries more than others. Where does Switzerland, which has seen alternative media and conspiracy theorists gain in popularity, sit on the “infodemic” spectrum? Is the novel coronavirus a bioweapon created in a Chinese lab or something Microsoft founder Bill Gates created in order to profit from an eventual vaccine? Or did the virus even exist in the first place? One leader of anti-lockdown protests in Switzerland doubts it did. In recent months the voices of Swiss conspiracy theorists and alternative media have been amplified, as they exploit both the crisis and social media platforms to spread rumours and reach a bigger audience. It’s all part of an “infodemic”, a term used by the World Health Organization (WHO) during the global coronavirus outbreak to describe “an over-abundance of information – some accurate and some not – that makes it hard for people to find...
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Where are the robots?

Mon, 06/29/2020 - 09:00
Where have all the robots been hiding during the Covid-19 crisis? For about a decade, we have heard rumors that a new generation of automated technologies have learned to do our jobs. If these tech prophecies were true, robots and algorithms should have been ready to step in during the lockdowns and finally prove that they can work more safely, cheaply, and efficiently than we can. But when Covid-19 gave the stage to automation, people stepped into the spotlight. Robots aren’t staffing hospitals, stocking shelves at grocery stores, cooking and serving meals, disinfecting bathrooms, delivering packages, driving buses, or educating students. As the lockdowns begin to end, we must remember that today’s crisis is not about automation. It’s about how we value and protect the people whose labour sustains the world. Since the Great Depression, when technological unemployment solidified as a broad social concern in the US, many Americans have wondered if machines would make workers...
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Why foreign residents trust the authorities more than the Swiss

Sun, 06/28/2020 - 11:01
The Swiss have a high level of trust in their political institutions but foreign residents are even more trusting. Sociologists put forward several explanations. A survey published by The Observatory of Volunteering this June analysed the trust that the population places in others and in institutions, because trust and commitment are intimately linked. Among the highlights, the researchers behind the study noted that "foreigners living in Switzerland have more trust in the country's political institutions than the local population", even though the Swiss authorities already enjoy one of the highest levels of trust in the world. Almost two thirds of the foreigners surveyed report a high level of trust in the institutions, compared to half of Swiss citizens. It should be pointed out that the category "foreigners" is not homogeneous. Nevertheless, these results are stable compared to 2016, and in line with the latest publication of the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) on the...
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Is it the toughest job at the UN?

Sat, 06/27/2020 - 11:00
Heading up a United Nations agency is no easy task. Whether your area of expertise is environment (UNEP), children (Unicef) or health (WHO), the fact is you are suggesting and developing policies in areas which national governments tend to view as their unique responsibility. But if there is one single UN post that is perhaps more challenging, more delicate, than all the rest, it is the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Your job is to shine a spotlight on abuses wherever and whenever they occur, and to encourage, whether by stick or carrot, or both, governments to uphold the fundamental human rights standards they have signed up to. That means, often, investigating and exposing the dark operations of states, the abuses they may carry out, tacitly encourage, or simply turn a blind eye to. To get a clearer picture of what that job is really like, I had the honour of interviewing Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, who was UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for 2014-2018, and, previous...
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EU regulation hampers cross-border workers’ home office ambitions

Fri, 06/26/2020 - 16:15
The coronavirus pandemic has instigated a work-from-home culture with many employees wanting to extend the experience. However, as lockdowns ease cross-border workers at Swiss firms may be hamstringed by the return of a strict European Union regulation. The pandemic has caused many people to rethink their so-called home office situation. According to a survey in May, half of the Swiss labour force worked from home during the lockdown. Many Swiss companies and staff would like to continue or extend the work-from-home experience. In the future it will be up to employers to decide and put the necessary safety measures in place. However, the conditions imposed by the EU risk acting as a brake for cross-border workers in regions like Geneva, which borders with France, Swiss public radio (RTS) reports. The reason is that beyond a certain threshold, different tax and social security rules apply if an employee is domiciled abroad. This has an impact on the estimated 330,000 cross-border...
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