Top news from our partner swissinfo

  • Will proposed tax deductions for families with kids benefit mainly the rich?

    Wed, 5 Aug 2020 09:20:00 GMT

    What began as a measure to lighten the fiscal burden on parents has turned into a battle over whether those who truly need the help will actually get it. A coalition of mainly left-leaning parties have forced a nationwide referendum, set for September 27, on a proposed amendment to the tax law that would see current deductions for families with children increase from CHF6,500 ($6,928) to CHF10,000. Their primary objection: the proposal would put money into the pockets of only the richest in Switzerland. “What’s being sold as support for families is nothing more than a gift for the highest earners,” the Social Democrats argue on their campaign website. “If we take all households – including those that don’t have children – into account, only 6% of Swiss households will benefit.” Only those who are liable to pay the federal direct income tax would earn this tax rebate. This effectively shuts out more than 45% of Swiss families, the left-leaning party claims, while mainly...

  • Are ten days of paternity leave too much or not enough?

    Tue, 4 Aug 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    The planned introduction of a statutory paternity leave has been challenged to a nationwide vote. It comes 15 years after working women won the right to claim paid maternity leave. International comparisons show that Switzerland lags behind European countries where paternity leave and/or parental leave have become standard practice. The amendment to the Swiss social security scheme is part of a package of nationwide votes on September 27. What’s at stake? The legal reform foresees the introduction of two weeks of paid leave for fathers. The money is to be taken from the state-run income compensation scheme which is part of Switzerland’s social security system funded in equal parts by employers and employees. The annual costs for paternity leave are estimated at CHF230 million ($245 million). The money is to cover for 80% of the average loss of earnings for men who will have to make the claim within six months of the birth of their child. Beneficiaries must have worked for a...

  • Media slam ‘Federal Office of Cock-ups’ for Covid data confusion

    Tue, 4 Aug 2020 10:30:08 GMT

    Swiss newspapers have not minced their words after the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) admitted getting its numbers seriously wrong about the source of coronavirus infections. The papers are calling for the office’s new management to get its act together. On Friday the health office claimed that two-thirds of Covid-19 cases could be traced to bars, clubs and restaurants. On Sunday it said Covid-19 was actually mainly transmitted through family (27.2%), followed by the workplace (8.7%) and private parties (3%). Nightclubs and dance clubs accounted for only 1.9% of contracted cases; bars and restaurants for 1.6%. Health minister Alain Berset told the Swiss public broadcaster SRF that there would be consequences for the way the ministry is organised, but added that the mistake was corrected quickly. “The Federal Office of Cock-ups” is how the normally staid Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) referred to the FOPH in its editorial. “The goof with the infection figures of clubs and...

  • Coronavirus: the situation in Switzerland

    Mon, 3 Aug 2020 11:11:00 GMT

    After imposing unprecedented restrictions on public life to contain the pandemic, Switzerland has eased its measures and re-opened its land borders. But since mid-June there has been a worrying rise in new cases of Covid-19. Here is where things stand and the latest on the measures still in place. The number of new daily coronavirus cases surpassed 200 on July 30 for the first time since the end of April. Since August 1, passengers coming from Israel, Serbia and Turkey have had to undergo a Covid-19 test if they fly into Basel Airport. Face masks are mandatory on Swiss public transport; Basel Airport and Geneva Airport require masks. Some cantons (including Vaud, Jura and Geneva) require customers to wear face masks in shops. The canton of Geneva has ordered the closure of all nightclubs and cabarets until August 23. Anyone entering Switzerland from any of the 42 "high risk" countries, including the US, has to undergo a ten-day quarantine. Anyone who evades quarantine or fails to...

  • How will the pandemic influence Switzerland’s upcoming votes?

    Mon, 3 Aug 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    The coronavirus has pushed Switzerland – like most countries – into a new normal, including in the realm of politics. With five issues up for a national vote in September, the pandemic has influenced to varying degrees the practice of voting and campaigning as well as voters’ attitudes towards the issues. Parliament cut short its spring session as the pandemic broke, unable to guarantee social distancing. The federal government took control of the crisis response, only recently handing back power to the cantons. And national votes, planned for May, were postponed. Now that the democratic practice of regular votes is set to resume on September 27, to what extent will Covid-19 continue to loom over the process and the results? Organisation – business as usual The Federal Chancellery, responsible for the coordination of national votes, makes just two short mentions of Covid-19 in the official instructions it sent to cantonal authorities on July 1. It writes that cantons should...

  • What’s the controversy around planned tax breaks for childcare?

    Mon, 3 Aug 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    Last year parliament signed off on measures to alleviate the tax burden on parents. However, opponents have criticised the decision, arguing that well-off families will be given an unfair advantage. The tax reform is part of a package of nationwide votes on September 27. What is at stake? The reform has two main points: The tax-deductible sum for childcare in creches and by other third parties is to be increased to a maximum CHF25,000 ($26,500) from currently CHF10,000 annually. In addition, all families are to benefit from a general tax break of up to CHF10,000 from CH6,500 annually per child. It is estimated the measures will lead to a drop in revenue for the national government to the tune of about CHF380 million on average every year. But the government hopes the reform will help create up to 2,500 fulltime jobs over the next few years. What are the main arguments for and against? Opponents argue that only high-income families will benefit from the proposed tax breaks.

  • A stroll through Swiss history at Geneva’s Cemetery of Kings

    Sun, 2 Aug 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    Created in 1482 as a resting place for victims of the plague, the Cimetière des Rois (Cemetery of Kings) is the oldest existing cemetery in Geneva. Its graves hold many of the figures who helped shape modern-day Switzerland. Officially named Cimetière Plainpalais (Plainpalais Cemetery), this has long been known as the Cimetière des Rois not because any kings are buried here, but because it borders the Rue des Rois. Instead of royalty, this lovely little burial park in Geneva’s Jonction quarter is the final home of numerous Swiss and international luminaries, which is why it’s also called the Panthéon Genevois (Geneva Pantheon). The cemetery’s original inhabitants had been patients at the city’s adjacent Plague Hospital. Today those unfortunates and the hospital are long gone, and it’s hard to imagine what a grim place it must have been. Now, it’s a verdant little park (2.8 hectares), not a grid of manicured graves, but large grassy areas criss-crossed by white gravel walkways...

  • How far is Switzerland in decriminalising drugs?

    Fri, 5 Jun 2020 12:48:56 GMT

    Switzerland has long stood out internationally for its innovative approach to the problem of drug addiction, adopting a drug policy in the early 1990s when hundreds of addicts occupied public spaces in the cities of Zurich and Bern. At the time, Platzspitz, behind Zurich's main train station, was considered Europe’s largest open drug scene. “The human and not the drug must be placed at the centre of current thinking,” Swiss health minister Alain Berset told a special session on drugs at the United Nations in 2016. For 25 years, Switzerland has applied a ‘four pillars’ policy: prevention, therapy, harm reduction and repression (law enforcement). The model is highly regarded by addiction professionals and has proven effective. Since its adoption, the number of deaths resulting from drug consumption has decreased, criminality has declined, the health of addicts has vastly improved and open drug scenes have disappeared. One major policy innovation has been the controlled medical...

  • The steep, wild valley of hanging meadows

    Fri, 31 Jul 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    Bavona Valley, one of the steepest and remotest valleys in the Swiss Alps, has been chosen as the theme for the 2020 “Chocolate Dollar“. Its biodiversity, its gardens cultivated on the great masses of rock strewn down the valley and the rural landscape left by tenacious farmers of long ago are this year the symbol of a heritage to be preserved – especially at a time of "returning to nature". The “Chocolate Dollar”, a chocolate in the shape of a gold coin, is an initiative of the Swiss Heritage Society and the Pro Natura organisation. Since 1946 over 40 million of these have been sold, the proceeds going to conservation of natural habitats, landscapes and historic buildings, animal and plant species. Every year they are sold at a price of CHF5 each by 30,000 schoolchildren. Bavona Valley, which was added to Switzerland's list of natural sites and monuments of national importance in 1983, is inhabited only in the summer. Imposing rocks loom over a narrow valley floor of glacial...

  • Climber finds Jungfrau 'Corona Pass' deal infectious

    Thu, 30 Jul 2020 23:00:00 GMT

    I've just climbed the Mönch, a 4000m (13,000ft) peak in the Swiss Alps, with two close friends. They are now one step closer to realising their dream of reaching the summits of the famous Bernese Oberland trio: Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, and we are descending happily, under blue skies, back towards the plateau at the top of the Jungfraufirn: a tributary of the Great Aletsch glacier. It should be a wilderness up here, but this alpine landscape has not been a wilderness since 1912, when the highest mountain railway project in the Alps was completed. It shouldn't come as much surprise then, that the glacier is a hive of activity. Yet still, as the three of us glance down from time to time, there is disbelief. A black, unbroken line, like a row of ants, now stretches out across the glacier from the Jungfraujoch to the Mönchsjoch hut. The people are walking along a groomed track, made by the same machines that usually service ski slopes in winter. The crevasses have all been filled in...

  • Swiss online democracy platform democratises itself

    Thu, 30 Jul 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    WeCollect, the online platform for citizen initiatives, is widening its scope to also work with regional and local campaigns. Whether it will also start casting its net wider than left-wing proposals remains to be seen. To date, the platform has been hailed as a success in the rather slow-moving world of digital democracy in Switzerland. Since its foundation by activist Daniel Graf in 2016, WeCollect has helped 30 citizen initiatives and proposals notch up some 400,000 online-sourced signatures. Using a database of around 75,000 email addresses, WeCollect helps initiatives garner online support to make real-world action possible; if in support of an idea, internet users can print out a form, sign it, and post if off. (In Switzerland, 100,000 physical signatures are needed to bring a people’s initiative to vote; 50,000 are needed for a referendum.) However, the platform has also come in for some criticism. For example: for a democracy incubator, WeCollect was rather limited in...

  • How CO₂ from Swiss rubbish could end up beneath the North Sea

    Wed, 29 Jul 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    Waste incineration plants in Switzerland plan to capture the carbon dioxide coming out of their chimneys and store it at the bottom of the sea. The Green Party likes the idea but several hurdles remain. “The previous generation created sewers to recover and treat waste water (...) Our generation must create a similar network for CO2,” wrote the Swiss Association of Waste Treatment Plant Operators (ASIR) in a letter addressed to Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga. Within the framework of the Paris Climate Agreement, Switzerland has committed itself to drastically reducing its emissions. Like a number of other countries, it has set itself the goal of achieving a net emissions balance of zero by 2050. ASIR argues it would therefore be “ecologically and economically sensible” to prevent CO2 from being released into the atmosphere and to capture it where it is produced - like in incinerators, for example. “We want to be actors in the energy transition,” Daniel Baillifard, manager...

  • Why melting glaciers affect us all

    Fri, 5 Jun 2020 12:47:54 GMT

    Alpine glaciers could disappear by the end of the century. The consequences will be felt not only in Switzerland’s mountains but throughout Europe. That glaciers are melting is nothing new: since 1850, the volume of Alpine glaciers has decreased by about 60%. What is surprising, however, is the rate at which the Alpine “giants” are shrinking. In 2019, loss of glacial mass reached record levels, according to the Swiss Academy of Natural Sciences. In just two weeks during the summer, 800 million tonnes of snow and ice were lost, the equivalent of an ice cube with sides about a kilometre long, says Matthias Huss, head of the Swiss glacier-monitoring network. Since the pre-industrial era, the temperature in Switzerland has increased by almost 2° Celsius, twice the global average. At this rate, half of the 1,500 Alpine glaciers – including the majestic Aletsch glacier, a UNESCO heritage site – will disappear in the next 30 years. And if nothing is done to reduce greenhouse gas...

  • Hyperloop projects inch closer to reality

    Tue, 28 Jul 2020 09:16:00 GMT

    It’s 2030. You’re sitting in a sleek 25-passenger pod-like capsule levitated on a track inside a sealed low-pressure tube, speeding across the country to your destination at 600 miles (966 kilometres) an hour or faster. You’re aboard hyperloop. This is an ultra-fast pod transit system that, as of 2020, has seemed like a pipe dream for years. But new investments, regulations and entrepreneurs, including a Swiss start-up, could help make the futuristic transport system a reality. Recently popularised by Tesla founder Elon Musk, the futuristic transit concept appears to be drawing increased interest in the United States, Europe, China, India and the Middle East. Richard Branson’s Virgin Hyperloop, which has raised over $400 million (CHF370 million), is among the leading firms racing to launch such high-speed pods and infrastructure. Others include HyperloopTT in the US, Canada’s Transpod, Spain’s Zeleros and the Netherlands’ Haardt. Virgin Hyperloop wants to launch commercial...

  • Small companies, vocational training help Swiss weather digital disruption

    Mon, 27 Jul 2020 08:40:00 GMT

    In the face of the growing technological revolution – digitalisation and artificial intelligence – Switzerland has a number of assets. Some are well known and visible: the quality of its higher education institutions, its research and its entire innovation ecosystem. But two of these assets, although very important, are neither very visible nor well understood. These two assets enable Switzerland to effectively resolve a crucial problem, one that all developed countries are today confronted with. This problem concerns not innovation, but the diffusion of innovation, its absorption and propagation throughout the whole economic system. This is an essential problem. Indeed, it is one thing to promote a system allowing certain companies and entrepreneurs to innovate, but quite another to get these innovations adopted and diffused throughout all the industries and services making up a country’s economy. And yet this second point is just as important as the first for increasing...

  • Will Covid-19 jumpstart the ‘gig economy’ in Switzerland?

    Sat, 25 Jul 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    The so-called “gig economy” has taken off around the world, but Switzerland has always been lukewarm to the concept. Will the Alpine country be more open to ad-hoc employment following the coronavirus pandemic? Ride-hailing by smartphone, Airbnb, food delivery and on-demand home cleaning have shown that there’s no need to be hired by a company, since short-term or one-off services can easily be booked online. This new form of flexible employment has grown rapidly in much of Europe, the Americas and Asia. But Switzerland has so far not gotten on board. The Swiss Federal Statistical Office conducted a survey for the first time of gig workers who provided services or sold goods through online platforms for money. Not only were there few gig workers providing services in this way, but the income was minimal. In 2019, only 0.4% of Swiss residents said that they had used online platforms in the previous 12 months to engage in product sales, house rental, food delivery, and...

  • Swiss prosecutor’s resignation strikes at heart of country’s legal system

    Mon, 27 Jul 2020 12:59:37 GMT

    Switzerland’s embattled Attorney General, Michael Lauber, has resigned amid an escalating judicial investigation into his conduct that has struck at the foundations of the Swiss legal system. The charismatic 54-year-old, who shaped the prosecutor’s office into one of the most powerful institutions in Switzerland, announced last week that he would step down. In a statement on Monday, the AB-BA, the supervisory body that oversees Lauber, said he had “seriously violated his official and legal duties”, and through his conduct he had “damaged the reputation of the Office of the Federal Prosecutor of Switzerland”. Lauber – who has held the post of Switzerland’s most powerful law enforcement and investigatory official since 2012 – has been fighting allegations of wrongdoing in office since June last year, when leaked documents showed he held secret, un-minuted meetings with Gianni Infantino, president of FIFA. The investigation into corruption at the governing body of world football...

  • Coronavirus prompts many Swiss to make living wills

    Mon, 27 Jul 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    The Covid-19 pandemic has led many in Switzerland to consider their end-of-life arrangements. The number of requests for “living wills” – directives for medical intervention – skyrocketed during the lockdown. "I would not like to end up as a vegetable. I don’t want to have to go through that. I don’t want to feel like I can’t breathe anymore,” Susanne Degives, an 87-year-old from Geneva told the Swiss public broadcaster RTS in June. "I believe that people who have reached a certain age should just be let go in peace.” She reached her conclusion as she saw people she knew suffering from the coronavirus – they underwent intensive therapy and have still not fully recovered. "They couldn’t speak, they couldn’t breathe, and two months later, they are still in poor health," she said. This experience prompted Degives to make her own living will. Many others in Switzerland have been doing the same to ensure that they can decide what happens at the end of their lives. What is a...

  • Why assisted suicide is 'normal' in Switzerland

    Fri, 24 Jul 2020 09:15:58 GMT

    Many foreigners travel to Switzerland to take their own lives with the assistance of an organisation. In Switzerland, assisted suicide is considered a legitimate way to end your life. In 2014, This Jenny, a respected Swiss politician, ended his life with the help of the assisted-suicide organisation Exit. He was terminally ill with stomach cancer. Swiss television accompanied him in his last weeks in an unflinching examination of the subject of assisted suicide. There was no cry of outrage across the country. Instead, there was sympathy and admiration. Assisted suicide is broadly accepted by the Swiss population and the country is one of the most progressive in this matter. More and more people are considering assisted suicide and becoming members of assisted organisations like Exit. “In Switzerland we know that this option is open to us if we need it,” says Samia Hurst-Majno, a professor of ethics at the University of Geneva. “Cases of assisted suicide remain rare, even in...

  • ‘No point in staying here’: Swiss expats head home for schooling amid pandemic

    Fri, 24 Jul 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    Many parents are wondering what their children’s schools will look like next term – virtual or in-person? How many days a week? Things are clearer in Switzerland, where schools largely reopened in May. That has some Swiss families living abroad considering a return to their homeland for their children’s education. Doris S. left her native Switzerland 27 years ago to travel to the United States. She met her husband there and decided to stay. Now, they live in California with their two children, ages nine and 14. When the coronavirus pandemic broke out in the US, schools closed and classes continued online. In California, it is not certain when the schools will reopen, and the children have been attending online classes since mid-March. “We weren’t considering moving to Switzerland for our children’s education until about two months ago,” Doris says. When the local school district informed the parents that the governor might cut back on school funding and that public schools were...

  • ‘Fear of being forced to leave Switzerland is growing’

    Fri, 24 Jul 2020 07:00:00 GMT

    Many immigrants in Switzerland have been hard hit by the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. New regulations mean that many fear taking welfare. It’s a situation that needs to change, says integration expert Francesca Chukwunyere. In January 2019, the Federal Act on Foreign Nationals and Integration was revised to extend the requirements for granting residence permits. For example, social security offices are obliged to report the names of people who receive benefits to cantonal immigration officials. Depending on an individual’s situation, authorities can decide to withhold annual residence permits or downgrade a permanent residence permit, Chukwunyere explains. The ethnologist is deputy director of the isa immigration advisory centre in Bern. swissinfo.ch: What is currently the greatest concern among foreigners who come to your organisation for advice? Francesca Chukwunyere: Falling into poverty and the fear of having to leave Switzerland as a result. The...

  • Is it time to say goodbye to exotic leather watch straps?

    Thu, 23 Jul 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    Straps made from alligator or other reptile skins have become a mainstay of Swiss luxury timepieces but a ban in California is forcing a rethink. September 2019 was a great month for animal rights groups. Legislators in California decided that a long-awaited ban on the sale of alligator and crocodile skin would come into effect from 2020. It was bad news for alligator hunters and farmers in Louisiana and Florida, as well as luxury retailers in Beverly Hills selling crocodile and alligator skin shoes, belts and handbags who lobbied against the ban. Shops in California selling high-end Swiss timepieces with alligator straps were also worried about their inventory. “Some brands sent in replacement straps to put on stock watches, and some brands did not address it at all,” says Jamie Hays of the Feldmar Watch Company which has shops in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. The situation became even more complicated when two last-ditch lawsuits against the California ban were filed at...

  • Swiss humanitarian trade deal with Iran faces delay, questions 

    Wed, 22 Jul 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    Swiss “good offices” between Tehran and Washington have brought about a humanitarian aid channel allowing Swiss-based companies to send medicines and other vital goods to Iran despite US sanctions. But it remains to be seen to what extent the now-delayed deal will help the Iranian people versus Swiss political and economic interests. The channel, known as the “Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement” (SHTA), was facilitated by Swiss “good offices” between the US and Iran. It comes amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit Iran particularly hard, and as Switzerland and Tehran mark 100 years of diplomatic ties. Iran is seen by many countries as a sponsor of terrorism and a potential nuclear threat. United States-led sanctions since the Islamic revolution of 1979 have taken a severe toll on the economy and have recently been tightened under the Trump administration. But whilst other countries have broken diplomatic ties, Switzerland has always had a policy to “talk to all...

  • ‘I'm not allowed to go outside’: How one artist sees Switzerland

    Wed, 22 Jul 2020 14:33:00 GMT

    What's it like to be a Palestinian artist-in-residence in Switzerland in the time of coronavirus? Lama Altakruri, 38, shares her observations of Swiss daily life in words and images. For the first half of this year she lived and worked in the town of Aarau, northern Switzerland. The artist residency provided by the Association Gästeatelier Krone presented an opportunity for Altakruri to work away from the restrictions and pressures of her everyday life in Palestine. A residency is about providing the time and space for a guest artist to develop work and explore new ideas. It is an invitation to spend time in a new atmosphere and environment. For Altakruri this was a chance to advance some of her earlier work and to develop a new project, which was presented at an exhibition at the Forum Schlossplatz in Aarau. About "Gästeatelier Krone" Gästeatelier Krone has been run by a local association for 25 years. The two-storey live-and-work space in Aarau is available to artists from...

  • How Swiss schools abroad are adapting amid Covid-19

    Tue, 21 Jul 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    Situated in some of the world’s coronavirus hotpots, Switzerland’s 18 official schools abroad have been hard hit by Covid-19 school closures. Now they are looking to the future. “They all had to change very quickly to distance learning, especially in China and Italy. They were not prepared for such a radical step as school closures in these countries came unexpectedly,” said Barbara Sulzer Smith, director of the Swiss schools abroad body educationsuisse. She noted that other schools where outbreaks happened later had a bit more lead time and could draw on the experience of the Chinese and Italian schools. Pressure As school closures happened around the world - also in Switzerland for two months – there was a great deal of pressure for the fee-paying Swiss schools abroad to carry on with classes, according to Sulzer Smith. A special challenge was keeping up pupils’ German, as many only learn it at school. Educationsuisse therefore started the DigiDeutsch programme to link...

  • Fifty shades of democracy: can you measure people power?

    Tue, 14 Jul 2020 07:42:00 GMT

    Comparing countries has become a popular sport across the globe, with annual indexes ranking everything from happiness to health. Political systems are also increasingly measured – but can we really say who has the “best” democracy? “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted”. Albert Einstein Switzerland is a “declining democracy”, reports the Washington-based research institute Freedom House in its 2020 report. The reason for this critical assessment: “voting rights for a large part of the population are limited and Muslims face legal and de facto discrimination”. The Economist Intelligence Unit, another well-known democracy ranking group, offers a similar appraisal of the Alpine democracy, but for a different reason: “low voter turnout”. Worldwide, meanwhile, the London-based researchers – who evaluate 60 different criteria, from government functioning to civil liberties – note that the much heralded retreat of global democracy...

  • New Swiss technologies listen out for Covid-19

    Mon, 20 Jul 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    Two promising innovations under development use artificial intelligence to predict whether someone has coronavirus by analysing their coughs or breathing patterns. Coughs have been a valuable diagnostic tool for centuries. Today, being able to say whether you have a tell-tell dry Covid cough or a harmless hack is a crucial – perhaps life-saving – test. In the future, this could be done digitally using the “Coughvid” smartphone app, an AI-based system being developed at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL). The idea is simple. You are worried you may have the virus and you want to check before contacting a doctor. Using the app, you make a recording of your cough at home, then submit it online after answering a few basic health questions. Algorithms automatically study your recording, looking out for distinctive patterns to determine whether you have a dry, persistent “Covid cough”. A diagnosis is sent back instantaneously. An EPFL student came up with the...

  • How Swiss minimalist houses launched a new building style

    Sat, 18 Jul 2020 09:08:00 GMT

    In the 1920s, architects belonging to the “Neues Bauen” movement began to build small, cheap houses for workers. In Switzerland, this style was controversial, and was seen as being Communist. But many of the movement’s ideas still prevail today. After World War I, there was a housing shortage in Switzerland. As a result, architects belonging to the “Neues Bauen” (“New Building”) movement aimed to create cheap living spaces for the working classes, using efficient construction methods. They designed small houses with flat roofs and no cellar to save on materials and building costs (land prices were not as much an issue as today.) The architects “industrialised” the construction process by using prefabricated parts and standardised prototypes for mass production. Some houses only had windows on one side, to save on long-term heating and repair costs. In 1930, the Neues Bauen architects presented their ideas at the first Swiss Housing Exhibition (WOBA) in Basel, an exhibition that...

  • Why mountains should not be named after people

    Fri, 17 Jul 2020 08:11:00 GMT

    I’m not aware of any controversy surrounding the many Swiss mountains named after their gleaming peaks or dark summits. They are either black or white, sometimes red, or their names reflect their shape, like a spearhead or tower, or known as the peak where the sun reaches the summit at midday. Often the only difference in the name is the language used in the region where they’re located, as these black and white monikers: Schwarzhorn, Tête Noir, Sasso Nero, Wysshorn, Dent Blanche, Pizzo Bianco. Problems start when we name mountains – or lakes or rivers or any other part of a natural landscape for that matter – after people. The world’s mountains are millions of years old. The dubious practice of linking them to individuals goes back only a couple of centuries. Like the Agassizhorn. Its name is the only reason this peak has come to our attention. The mountain falls a tad shy of the 4,000 metres (13,123ft) required for membership of the exclusive group of four-thousanders that...

  • Departure of OSCE head a setback for dialogue and negotiation

    Thu, 16 Jul 2020 13:15:00 GMT

    Thomas Greminger's departure from the European security body shows that Swiss ideals of neutrality and humanitarianism are being challenged in the multilateral system, Daniel Warner argues. What is the difference between politics and neutrality/humanitarianism? Political theorist Michael Walzer, in a famous 1973 article titled “Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands,” argued that getting one’s hands dirty in politics is inevitable. For Walzer, and many others, politicians and politics are fundamentally dirty. (We know that diplomats are jokingly referred to as honest people who are paid to lie for their country). Neutrality and humanitarianism, on the other hand, are supposed to be apolitical, hence clean and above the fray. Switzerland’s neutrality has always been considered its strength. The small Alpine country punches above its weight in international affairs because it is seen as being independent. During the Cold War, this independence was especially appreciated by the...

  • The WTO's next leader: Swiss perspectives on a global challenge

    Wed, 15 Jul 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    As it faces its biggest-ever crisis, the Geneva-based World Trade Organization (WTO) is also looking for a new leader. Switzerland wants to see the role filled by somebody who can build consensus and push through reforms, says Swiss ambassador to the WTO Didier Chambovey. The list of candidates to succeed current WTO Director-General Roberto Azavedo of Brazil, who steps down at the end of August, was finalised last week. Of the three women and five men in the running (see below), Switzerland does not yet have a favourite, according to ambassador Chambovey. Along with the 164 other member countries, it will assess the candidates as they present their positions and answer questions this week. However, Chambovey does admit that “we need a personality with managerial skills who can carry out WTO reform, which is a tall order, and who is able to listen to member states and build a consensus”. He told swissinfo.ch that the ideal candidate should also have “political clout”.

  • The changing face of International Geneva

    Fri, 5 Jun 2020 12:47:55 GMT

    New York, Nairobi, Vienna, Geneva: In the world of global governance, competition between host cities fighting for a slice of the action remains fierce. Institutions setting up headquarters in a city bring an ability to influence global affairs along with tax-paying expats, and their expertise, capital and networks. Geneva, the original globalist city, remains a magnet for new organisations and initiatives. Local statistics show that the number of institutions, especially NGOs and foundations (90 new NGOs in three years), and staff continues to rise steadily (+2-3% annually to almost 34,000 in 2019). “It’s difficult to meet the demand, which shows NGOs’ interest for International Geneva,” explained Julien Beauvallet, head of the NGO Service of the International Geneva Welcome Centre (CAGI). That can sound paradoxical, because life in Geneva is expensive. Pressures to transfer international aid efforts away from the Swiss city to less expensive locations have been growing in...

  • Reviewing the legacy of racist scientists

    Thu, 16 Jul 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler coined several now-common psychological terms such as schizophrenia, autism and ambivalence. He also believed “mental and physical cripples” should be sterilised in order to preserve racial purity. At a time when controversial historical figures are increasingly under the microscope, how should we judge scientists like Bleuler? “Swiss individuals and institutions helped produce the toxic waste of scientific racism and played a leading role in international eugenics,” says Pascal Germann, an expert on the history of eugenics and racism at the University of Bern’s Institute for the History of Medicine. “In other words, they didn’t merely follow the zeitgeist but actively shaped these ideologies and practices of exclusion. This should be a topic in schools and universities.” Eugen Bleuler Paul Eugen Bleuler (1857-1939) was born and died in Zollikon, near Zurich. His sister, Pauline, five years his elder, had a psychiatric disorder. His wife...

  • Filming the rocky road to start-up success in Switzerland

    Fri, 17 Jul 2020 14:02:00 GMT

    What does it take to be a successful entrepreneur in Switzerland? Manuel Stagars, director of the three-part miniseries Start-up, explains how he followed several Swiss-based entrepreneurs as they attempted to convert their cutting-edge “deep tech” innovations from university research into viable businesses. Along the way, Stagars filmed young entrepreneurs at work with intelligent drones, neuromorphic computer chips, 3D silicone printing, vanadium flow batteries, DNA fingerprinting and green chemistry. The brains behind the projects and their teams want to make the leap from science to business, and the audience gets to be part of it. All three parts of Start-up were released online on Thursday. Each part lasts 30 minutes and is free to access. The main language is English, and there are English and German subtitles. swissinfo.ch: What is the specific focus of Start-up? Manuel Stagars: The documentary is about the journey of six start-ups in Switzerland who want to make a big...

  • Precious metal stablecoin plugs into gold frenzy

    Wed, 15 Jul 2020 07:09:00 GMT

    The price of gold and silver is rising in the face of a sharp economic downturn. Swiss company AgAu has chosen this moment to announce a precious metal-backed stablecoin onto the blockchain. It aims to provide better access to gold and silver and an alternative to bank-printed money. Stablecoins are very much in vogue, especially after the launch of Facebook’s Libra project in Geneva last year. This type of digital cryptocurrency is backed by regular money or commodities that better control price fluctuations than bitcoin, whose value depends exclusively on the level of demand. AgAu says it will store physical gold and silver in Switzerland and sell customers its tokens – each one a digital contract that grants the bearer direct ownership rights to a gram of either precious metal. The tokens would be freely traded with transactions validated and recorded on the Ethereum blockchain. Founder Thierry Arys Ruiz, a former commodities trader, says the system will simplify the ownership...

  • Swiss launch ‘democratic’ hygiene mask production

    Tue, 14 Jul 2020 08:32:00 GMT

    The production of protective face masks should be decentralised and made more democratic, according to two Swiss campaigners. They hope their initiative can prevent cases of fraudulent and ruthless practices by the business community. Marie-Claire Graf, one of the sponsors of the Swiss-led project, says it is highly unethical to try and make a lot of money with health products used to fight the spread of Covid-19. “The issue of exorbitant prices and falsified certificates has taken on a political dimension,” says Graf. The 24-year-old Swiss is an expert on sustainability and a member of the youth constituency of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Together with other activists, she has been talking to producers, experts on certification and other interest groups, in an effort to organise a special business venture. The project is being launched as face masks become a commodity in many countries, which are trying to soften the impact of a possible wave of...

  • Swiss remain stressed despite lockdown easing

    Tue, 14 Jul 2020 09:13:00 GMT

    Even after the step-by-step easing of the lockdown, many Swiss felt more stressed than they did before the Covid-19 pandemic, a survey by Basel University has found. The study also shows an increase in cases of depression. Is my coughing a symptom? Would I survive an infection? How do I best prevent contagion? With such concerns flying around, it’s not surprising many people experienced stress during the coronavirus lockdown in Switzerland. But even as measures to contain the pandemic were gradually being eased, many Swiss were still much more stressed than before Covid-19 appeared on the world stage. This is revealed in a comparison of two surveys by Basel University. The first was done during the lockdown in early April; the second, between May 11 (when restaurants, among other establishments, could open again) and June 1. But despite the different time frames, the results were similar: during the lockdown, exactly 50% of respondents said they were more stressed than before the...

  • Swiss watchmaking: where things stand

    Mon, 13 Jul 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    Heavily impacted by the coronavirus crisis, watchmaking nonetheless remains a symbol of Swiss know-how and “Made in Switzerland” precision manufacturing. Can it keep up its dominance in the luxury sector and compete against the likes of Apple? A primer on a key Swiss industry which exports its products all over the world. Swiss-made products dominate international market Switzerland produces just over 20 million watches per year, or just over 2% of global timepiece manufacturing. However, it commands more than a 50% share of the global watch industry in value terms, with turnover for all Swiss brands combined estimated at more than CHF50 billion ($53 billion) in retail sales value. In the high- and mid-range segments, Switzerland leaves just a few crumbs for its French or German competitors: more than 95% of watches sold for CHF1,000 or more are produced by Swiss companies. In recent years, the average value of exported Swiss watches has continued to climb, reaching around $1,000.

  • Martin Suter: when the writer becomes the story

    Sat, 11 Jul 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    Martin Suter is one of the most prolific Swiss writers. His work spans novels, screenplays, theatre plays, songs, short stories, and newspaper columns. Success permitted him to live between Ibiza, Morocco, Guatemala, and his hometown Zurich, where we caught up with him. Suter is in Switzerland right now to revisit his past and present in a docufiction that carries his name. In it, the writer also explores scenes of some of his fictional body of work, meeting the characters he created, reenacted by professional actors. “My books are not about me, I try to keep out of my books”, said Suter, during a break in the shooting of the film. But being the author, Suter concedes that his words are the product of what his eyes see. Suter has always been a keen observer of the Zurich elite and its mores – not losing sight of the underclasses over which this elite steps on. He gained local prominence when he decided to leave behind a successful career as creative director of an...

  • A job in Zurich thanks to Swiss roots

    Sat, 11 Jul 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    For second generation Swiss citizens who live abroad, Switzerland often feels like a distant dream. Some say it is almost impossible for them to live, study and work in Switzerland. But Ben Tite from England, who found a job as a language teacher in Zurich, says: “It is not impossible.” “As a child, I never thought it was possible,“ Tite says. He did not have a Swiss education, nor did he speak German. His mother is Swiss and his father English, and he couldn’t imagine the possibility of ever moving from Chichester in England to Switzerland. And yet, 30-year-old Tite lives in Zurich where he has been teaching English conversation classes at the KV Zurich Business School since 2018. He is now fluent in German which he never learnt as a child. “Even though my mother spoke German to me, I always responded in English. As a teenager, I was embarrassed to talk in Swiss German.“ Teacher in Appenzell Thanks to Movetia, the National Agency for Exchange and Mobility in the education...

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