Top news from our partner swissinfo

  • Coronavirus cases spreading in Switzerland

    Fri, 28 Feb 2020 06:55:00 GMT

    The Swiss authorities have confirmed a number of new coronavirus cases, which are spreading across the country. Basel: A female children’s day-care creche worker has tested positive, leading to all the children she has been in contact with being quarantined for 14 days. The exact number of children affected has not been confirmed. The University Hospital Basel has also reported another positive test for a man who lives in another canton. Zurich: On Thursday evening, cantonal authorities confirmed a 30-year-old woman, who travelled to Milan a week ago, had been infected by the coronavirus bringing the total cases in Switzerland to six. Aargau: A 26-year-old man in canton Aargau tested positive for Covid-19 on Thursday afternoon and is currently in isolation in the cantonal hospital. The infected man stayed in Verona in northern Italy about a week ago on a business trip. Those close to him have been quarantined and the man is in good health, according to authorities. Graubünden:

  • Swiss media split over ‘controversial hero’ Julian Assange

    Fri, 28 Feb 2020 07:30:00 GMT

    As the extradition hearing of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange continues in London, Swiss newspapers can’t decide whether the Australian activist is a threat to democracy or its saviour.  “For some, Julian Assange is a computer hacker and spy who incited his accomplices to commit treason; for others, he is a champion of press freedom in the 21st century,” wrote the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) ahead of Assange’s trial this week in London (see box).  “Few people divide opinions so diametrically as the 48-year-old WikiLeaks founder.”  For journalist and musician Vincent Zanetti, writing in Le Nouvelliste, whistleblowers are “an indispensable part in the proper functioning of any self-respecting democracy”.  “When governments cover up police violence, segregation, tax evasion, spying on citizens, the flourishing of violent extremists, the hyper-development of economic interest groups to the detriment of traditional knowledge, crimes against nature and the use of war for economic ...

  • Unexploded munitions continue to reverberate in Switzerland

    Thu, 27 Feb 2020 15:00:00 GMT

    Old Second World War bombs, grenades and other explosives that lie dormant at the bottom of Swiss lakes or under the Alps are still causing headaches for the Swiss authorities. On Tuesday, the residents of Mitholz in the Bernese Oberland received the bad news from Defence Minister Viola Amherd in person. The 170 locals may have to leave their mountain village for over a decade while a nearby underground depot containing 3,500 tonnes of Second World War ammunition and explosives is cleared.  The planned operation, which could cost CHF1 billion ($1.03 billion) came after numerous studies and a report by the Federal Office for the Environment which concluded last year that the aging ordinance, part buried under fallen rocks, posed a bigger danger than previously assumed.  The sensitive issue has been rumbling on for years. Mitholz was the scene of a tragedy in 1947 when 7,000 tonnes of explosives stored in the depot blew up, killing nine people and destroying the local railway ...

  • Swiss business takes on global waste

    Thu, 27 Feb 2020 10:00:00 GMT

    Mr. Green, a recycling subscription service with a social mission, has been a big hit with busy families and businesses in cities in Switzerland. But can it work in Africa? Swiss entrepreneur Keiran Smith had no connection with Kenya before starting Mr. Green Africa. It all started more than a decade ago when four business school students in a shared house in Zurich tried to find a solution for their recycling woes: "That’s often the way it is – none of us wanted to dump the empty bottles and cans," says Smith. Today, in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, trucks unload several tons of plastic waste everyday at the premises of Mr. Green Africa. In the factory building situated in an industrial area not far from the international airport,  the waste is sorted by hand according to type and colour. Then some noisy machines chop it up, wash it and dry it. Finally the recycled material is put into enormous sacks, which are sold by the company to local manufacturers, who make things like water ...

  • Coronavirus: Head-shaking doctors and non-hand-shaking workers

    Wed, 26 Feb 2020 10:59:00 GMT

    A day after the first confirmed case of the COVID-19 coronavirus in Switzerland, newspaper headlines include companies banning handshakes and doctors accusing the government of “irresponsibly” underestimating the danger.  “There’s absolutely no point in spreading panic, and the public mustn’t be intimated,” says Christian Althaus, an epidemiologist at the University of Bern. “But they must know that an epidemic will come to Switzerland.”  On Tuesday the Federal Office of Public Health said a 70-year-old man had tested positive for the coronavirus in the southern canton of Ticino, on the border with Italy. Althaus has been highly critical of the health office, which in his view has “irresponsibly misjudged” the danger of COVID-19. In a tweet he warned that Switzerland faced one of the “greatest health emergencies in its recent history” and pointedly suggested the government invest in epidemic planning instead of fighter jets. In an interview with the Neue Zürcher Zeitung ...

  • Should rail commuter data be monetised through advertising?

    Wed, 26 Feb 2020 08:38:00 GMT

    Swiss Federal Railways is coming under fire for using the personal data of commuters for advertising purposes. The data commissioner and a watchdog group have sounded the alarm bell as the volume of data being harnessed grows. Thanks to the increasing digitisation of its services, the Federal Railways now has customer names, addresses, age, sex, telephone numbers, photos, details of trips taken and even the geo-positioning of commuters on its database. For example, some 500,000 people have signed up to the EasyRide app that makes it easier to buy fares. “If you know where someone is working or sleeping, you also know who they are,” Adrian Lobsiger, Federal Data Protection Officer, told Swiss Public broadcaster SRF. A central database makes a tempting target for hackers to steal and misuse personal information for criminal purposes, warns software developer Volker Birk from the Chaos Computer Club, an association of legal hackers. + Swiss Federal Railways data privacy policy In ...

  • Coronavirus: Ticino and its cross-border workers from Italy

    Tue, 25 Feb 2020 08:16:00 GMT

    The southern Swiss canton of Ticino is just a few kilometres from the main hotbeds of the COVID-19 coronavirus in Italy. More than a quarter of the cantonal workforce commutes from Italy every day, and some locals want the federal government to close the border.  Why could the virus soon arrive in canton Ticino?  The Ticino border is just a hundred kilometres or so from the municipality of Lodi, the epicentre of COVID-19 in Italy. With its road and rail tunnels under the Gotthard massif, Ticino is the main Alpine transit route between Italy and central and northern Europe.  But when it comes to the risk of contagion, transit passengers are less of a worry for the canton than the 67,800 Italian cross-border workers who come into close contact with the local population on a daily basis. Most of these commuters come from Lombardy, the Italian region most affected by the coronavirus.  So far about 300 suspected cases of COVID-19 have been investigated in Switzerland but all have ...

  • How China is filling America's shoes at the United Nations

    Tue, 25 Feb 2020 10:16:00 GMT

    As the United States slowly withdraws its leadership from the multilateral system, China appears to be filling the political vacuum. Daniel Warner looks at the consequences of this “profound change”. Vacuums do not last long in nature. In biology, homeostasis represents the body’s attempt to reach equilibrium. In a void, elements will flow towards spaces of less density until an equilibrium is reached. In political systems, the same phenomenon may hold true. The United States was a moving force behind the creation of the United Nations. Although the organisation was established during the Second World War, with five permanent members of the Security Council each with veto power, the US was a leader of the multilateral system. Donald Trump’s campaign of “America First” has turned out to be a frontal assault on the UN and multilateralism. Whether withholding its contribution to the organisation (resulting in drastic cuts to its day-to-day business), withdrawing from the UN Human ...

  • How Swiss welfare works

    Tue, 25 Feb 2020 08:00:00 GMT

    If you are unable to provide for yourself or your family in Switzerland, there are systems in place to help. More than 270,000 people in Switzerland receive social assistance, which is distributed at the cantonal level. Half are Swiss. One third are under 18 years old. A quarter of the adults are among the working poor. In 2018, the cantons spent CHF2.8 billion ($2.85 billion) on welfare. According to the Swiss Conference for Social Assistance, “the welfare system makes an essential contribution to social harmony in Switzerland and guarantees that all people can live in dignity”. Who’s eligible? Welfare is for people living below the poverty line. The subsistence minimum income in Switzerland is defined as CHF2,259 per month for a single person and CHF3,990 for two adults with two children. (In comparison, the gross median salary in Switzerland is around CHF6,500 per month.) If you are a Swiss citizen or you have a Swiss residence permit, you can receive welfare in Switzerland.

  • Swiss step up precautions to prevent spread of coronavirus

    Mon, 24 Feb 2020 14:55:00 GMT

    Authorities have decided to beef up measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus from neighbouring Italy, while stressing that the situation in Switzerland is under control.  Tests for the Covid-19 virus will also be made available to people who have flu-like symptoms but have not necessarily been in close contact with infected patients, according to the interior ministry. An information campaign as well as advisory services will be boosted in the next few days.  Speaking at a news conference on Monday, Interior Minister Alain Berset said the Swiss government was in regular contact with the health authorities in neighbouring countries and was ready to take further measures if necessary.  “We are well prepared if the situation worsens. Cooperation with the cantonal authorities [primarily in charge of health matters] has worked well and we are also part of a European health alarm and response system,” Berset said. Switzerland shares borders with four countries but is not a ...

  • Swiss minister warns against spread of online hate speech 

    Mon, 24 Feb 2020 11:01:00 GMT

    Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis has warned against the anonymous nature of cyberspace and the dangers of online hate speech in his address to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.  “Digital technologies have great potential to strengthen human rights. The internet gives access to unprecedented quantities of information, allowing new opportunities for freedom of expression and assembly. But at the same time, the anonymous nature of cyberspace is creating new threats and encouraging the spread of hate speech,” Cassis told the council on Monday.  The minister underlined the importance of digital technologies for Swiss foreign policy.  “Under the label "Tech 4 Good", our development cooperation is expanding a range of instruments: from fintech to drones. And in cooperation with the private sector and universities, we are exploring new avenues of "science-diplomacy" to help states to engage in dialogue and individuals to improve their quality of life,” he said.  ...

  • Remembering the Reckingen avalanche and ‘cot miracle’

    Mon, 24 Feb 2020 10:00:00 GMT

    On February 24, 1970, an avalanche swept through the village of Reckingen, killing 30 people. Although it remains the deadliest avalanche in recent Swiss history, it also was the scene of the “miracle of the baby in the cot”.  One-year-old Ursula Carlen “rode the powder avalanche like a surfboard on a wave”, according to initial local reports. Although the mayor scotched those rumours immediately, a miracle of sorts certainly happened exactly 50 years ago.  At 5.05am, some 1.8 million cubic metres of snow broke off from the Bächji Alp in canton Valais and headed down the valley. When the snow hit the Carlens’ house, the roof caved in, landing over the cot and protecting young Ursula. An hour-and-a-half later, her uncle heard her sobbing and dug her out. Her two brothers were less fortunate. They were among six children, five women and 19 army officers staying in the barracks who died.  There had recently been heavy snowfalls and a wind had created drifts of up to six metres.

  • The curious incident of the documents in the Swiss army bunker

    Sun, 23 Feb 2020 10:00:00 GMT

    Files stored in an army bunker, dossiers that disappear and magically reappear: the recent Crypto scandal is a reminder of the importance of transparent archiving in a democracy – something that has embarrassed the Swiss authorities on several occasions.  As part of a search launched within the federal administration following revelations about the Crypto case, the Swiss secret services found – in an army bunker – documents relating to the company’s activities.  'Crypto Leaks' in a nutshell Crypto, a Zug-based communications encryption firm which was liquidated in 2018, sold code-making equipment to Iran, India, Pakistan, Latin American nations and dozens of other countries. The technology was modified to let the CIA and German secret service (BND) break codes, as reported by The Washington Post along with Swiss public television, SRF, and German broadcaster ZDF.  The documents reportedly confirm that former Defence Minister Kaspar Villiger knew about the US and German espionage ...

  • Who wins and who loses because of negative interest rates?

    Sat, 22 Feb 2020 14:00:00 GMT

    The Swiss National Bank’s negative interest rates, introduced five years ago, are having an increasingly significant economic and social impact. But despite criticism, the SNB does not want to remove them. It considers the measure necessary to stop the Swiss franc appreciating too much.  Why were negative interest rates introduced?  Following the financial crisis of 2008, many central banks took an unprecedented series of measures to keep the banking sector afloat and to avert a possible economic depression. These included historic interest rate cuts. In the United States and the eurozone, interest rates fell to almost zero a few years ago.  Because the Swiss franc is regularly used as a safe haven currency in times of crisis, the SNB was forced to go below zero. Five years ago, the SNB lowered its key interest rate to -0.75% in order to avoid a further appreciation of the Swiss franc.  What is the purpose of negative interest rates?  The primary purpose of low or negative ...

  • Swiss passport attracts more Russians than Italians

    Sat, 22 Feb 2020 10:00:00 GMT

    Not everyone wants to become Swiss. Residents from far away find it more attractive than Europeans, while age and attachment to one's native country also play a part. Resident Russians are the champions of naturalisation, while Austrians living in Switzerland do not bother applying for it, according to a recent study. For the first time, the Federal Commission on Migration (FCM) and the University of Geneva have published detailed figures on naturalisation. The data show differences in procedures at local level, but also provide information on the nationalities of those who obtain Swiss citizenship. Just over 10% of Russians living in Switzerland were naturalised between 2011 and 2017. Russians are a relatively mobile population, but those who come to live in Switzerland want to stay for a long time, says report co-author Professor Philippe Wannerat at UNIGE’s Institute of Demography and Socio-economics.   "People who embark on the process intend to settle here for the long ...

  • ‘Goodbye everybody’: the Swissair 330 disaster

    Fri, 21 Feb 2020 10:00:00 GMT

    On February 21, 1970, Switzerland was shaken when Swissair 330 bound for Tel Aviv crashed shortly after take-off from Zurich, killing everyone on board: 38 passengers and nine crew. No one has ever appeared in court for the bombing, the worst terrorist attack in Swiss history. “330 is crashing,” co-pilot Armand Etienne told the control tower in English. “Goodbye everybody,” he said. "Goodbye everybody." These final words were said at 1:34pm.  About 15 minutes earlier, an altitude-sensitive bomb had exploded in the rear cargo compartment of the plane, a Convair 990 Coronado. The crew tried to turn around and attempt an emergency landing at Zurich but struggled to see the instruments in the smoke-filled cockpit. The aircraft deviated to the west and crashed in a wooded area at Würenlingen, near the German border, as a result of loss of electrical power.  Arthur Schneider, a local politician at the time, arrived on the scene about half an hour later. “I saw a hand just lying ...

  • Non-flying Dutchman takes the helm at UBS

    Fri, 21 Feb 2020 09:40:00 GMT

    Ralph Hamers tries to avoid flying. The eco-friendly ING chief executive prefers to drive the five hours between Frankfurt and Amsterdam in a hybrid BMW. He had to make an exception on Thursday morning, however. After the Financial Times revealed late on Wednesday night his surprise appointment as successor to Sergio Ermotti as chief executive of UBS, the Swiss bank insisted he took the first flight to Zurich to attend a hastily convened 11.30am press conference. When he arrived, Mr Hamers, known for his informal style, was teased by Mr Ermotti about remembering a tie this time, after he had had to lend the Dutchman one at a past event. It was a flying visit; Mr Hamers was back in ING’s Amsterdam HQ a few hours later. Now Mr Hamers, who has never worked for a top-tier securities house or run a wealth manager, has moved into one of the most powerful — and challenging — positions in global finance. He speaks German, an essential qualification considering this is the first time ...

  • Swiss digital stock exchange offers partners ownership stake

    Fri, 21 Feb 2020 06:00:00 GMT

    The Swiss stock exchange is offering strategic partners a stake of up to 30% in its new digital assets trading platform. The SDX digital exchange hopes to launch by the end of this year, trading digital shares, bonds and other assets on a distributed ledger technology (DLT) platform. Project leader Thomas Zeeb told swissinfo.ch that SIX Group, which runs the stock exchange, could allow banks, brokers and other digital asset companies to own nearly a third of SDX. The majority of the platform will be owned by the consortium of some 120 banks that comprise SIX Group. “The SIX board is open to having a minority stake in SDX made available to strategic investors,” said Zeeb. “We are in discussions with a number of firms – such as large banks and broker-dealers – who are extremely interested in taking a stake in SDX because it gives them skin in the game in driving the ecosystem forward.” “We are not just creating a new exchange, we are creating a new market environment. To create ...

  • Ermotti’s UBS record: solid but not all plain sailing

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 13:27:00 GMT

    Sergio Ermotti arrived at UBS in 2011 during a dark chapter in the history of Switzerland’s largest bank. He will depart in November, nine years later, with a reputation for injecting greater stability but not for stamping out controversy. Ironically, UBS arguably faces some greater challenges than cross-town rival Credit Suisse, where earlier this month former CEO Tidjane Thiam was forced to step down unceremoniously following an internal spying scandal. The UBS power handover may be a smoother process than at Credit Suisse, but incoming UBS CEO Ralph Hamers will have to stem the disappointing set of annual results from last year with the future distraction of an ongoing CHF5 billion ($5 billion) tax evasion dispute in France. UBS called on Ermotti in 2011 when his predecessor, Oswald Grübel, was sent packing by a damaging rogue trading scandal. This had followed a Swiss government bail-out and a damaging tax evasion case in the United States. Within weeks of taking on the ...

  • Children’s publisher turns the page on cultural stereotypes

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 12:00:00 GMT

    Once upon a time, the vast majority of books for children and young adults in German came from Western countries. In fact, that’s still the case – something an NGO wants to change by publishing works under the slogan, “Created in the World, Published in Switzerland”.  It all began in 1975: the NGO Public Eye, then known as the Bern Declaration, founded a working group on children’s literature. The aim was to look at what images of the “Third World” were portrayed in children’s books.  “It was a very different time,” says Sonja Matheson, director of Baobab Books. “Children’s literature was full of stereotypes about Native Americans and Africans.”  The working group developed into a project that publishes an annual list of recommendations. Volunteers read new books and choose those that “offer insights into different cultures and religions, broaden horizons and identify the potential but also the problems raised when different cultures live together”.  “The book market changed ...

  • ‘You can’t say we progress quickly, but we progress well’

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 10:00:00 GMT

    Johanna Gapany caused an upset when she became Switzerland’s youngest senator in 2019. But the 31-year-old doesn’t fall too far from the classic Radical-Liberal Party line. Last November, by just 138 votes (from 76,441 cast), Gapany became the youngest tenant of Switzerland’s 46-seat Senate, as well as becoming canton Fribourg’s first female senator. It was a surprise. The newspaper Le Temps, which published a glowing profile of Gapany in February 2019, had been less glowing about her “minimal” chances; in a region with a Christian Democrat tradition and a heavyweight Social Democrat candidate, it looked like “mission impossible”, the paper wrote. Even Gapany herself, though she always took her campaign “very seriously”, was coy about her prospects, saying later that such doubts were “normal” given the context. But it wasn’t impossible, even if it was tight, and four months later she is getting to grips with federal politics in Bern, where life is “busier” – she says she’s been ...

  • Geneva platform helps climate refugees around the world

    Wed, 19 Feb 2020 10:00:00 GMT

    Climate refugees have grabbed international headlines and their stories resonate easily, mirroring those of conflict refugees. Yet the topic is extremely complex, say experts. The Geneva-based Platform on Disaster Displacement is one of the organisations working on this issue, seen as one of the biggest humanitarian challenges this century.  According to the Geneva-based Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it is estimated that sea level rise associated with a 2°C warmer world could submerge the homeland of 280 million people by the end of this century.  Currently, many countries and regions are affected by disasters year after year. In 2018 alone, 17.2 million people were forced to leave their homes due to disasters in 148 countries and territories and 764,000 people in Somalia, Afghanistan and several other countries were displaced following drought.  “We have a good general understanding of the scale of problem in terms of the numbers of people being forced to ...

  • Can Switzerland compel its citizens to do public service?

    Tue, 18 Feb 2020 14:15:00 GMT

    A popular initiative and a move in parliament aim to make it mandatory for all Swiss to do civic duty that benefits the community and the environment. The goal is to save the militia system and plug staff shortages in key sectors. But the idea may just run counter to international law, which bans forced labour.  A Swiss association for the promotion of militia service called ServiceCitoyen.ch wants to launch a popular initiative in 2020 that would oblige every Swiss citizen to perform militia service. This could be done either as military service or as an equivalent service of civic duty. Parliament would determine the extent to which foreigners would be allowed to volunteer, outside the army.  In doing so, the initiators want to raise the profile of militia service, contribute to solving existing "collective ecological and demographic challenges" and "recognise women as full citizens".  In Switzerland, only men with a Swiss passport are currently obliged to serve in the military.

  • Non-German speakers can finally go to the theatre in Zurich

    Wed, 19 Feb 2020 11:00:00 GMT

    Zurich’s playhouse has recently introduced English surtitles for all its plays, hoping to cater to the big potential audience of expatriates and broaden its reach beyond the German-speaking crowd.  The Schauspielhaus Zurich is one of the leading theatres in the German-speaking world, having put on productions by some of the greatest playwrights and directors, from Bertolt Brecht to Christoph Marthaler.  “However, these great works are limited by the language, for German is not exactly a lingua franca,” says Barbara Higgs, director of fund-raising and development. Higgs is responsible for the implementation of the surtitles, which are not under the stage but over it and to the sides. Facts & Figures Schauspielhaus Zürich, Switzerland's largest theatre, hosts around 140,000 guests annually, staging 500 events on five different stages in two distinctive theatre environments: - Pfauen, the historic original theatre, is located in the city centre near Kunsthaus Zürich. - ...

  • How Switzerland can benefit from a growing Indian pharma sector

    Wed, 19 Feb 2020 09:03:00 GMT

    The life sciences industry is of enormous importance for the economies of both India and Switzerland. That said, there are certain differences in their strategies.  India is a price competitive market. It hosts global players like Dr. Reddy’s, Aurobindo, Biocon or Sun Pharma whose strength is in complex generics and biosimilars. Swiss multinational companies like Novartis, Roche and others focus on research and development of new medicines instead.     There also some similarities. For example, the approach to foreign direct investment promotion is very similar in India and in Switzerland. Both countries run outreach activities through their network of embassies and consulates on a national level. The cantons and states, respectively, support these national activities and reach out to international companies in a more targeted way.    Both countries also have their own pharma hotspots. The Genome Valley in the city of Hyderabad in Southern India has established itself as ...

  • A space boot camp in the Alps

    Tue, 18 Feb 2020 18:30:00 GMT

    A hand-picked group of international students spent a gruelling weekend at a space boot camp in Crans-Montana, in southwestern Switzerland. Though firmly on planet Earth, the aspiring astronauts were preparing for a space mission. The camp, set up on frozen Lake Moubra in canton Valais, is part of the Asclepios project, a space mission simulating a mission on another celestial body. The project is led by Space@yourService, a student association from the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL). During the camp, researchers collected psychological and physical data to better understand how astronauts react in difficult and unfamiliar situations. Participants from several countries were chosen from among 200 candidates, mimicking the selection process of the European Space Agency (ESA). The young team called in specialists to help, including EPFL professor and former Swiss astronaut Claude Nicollier, French polar explorer Alban Michon and experts from the European Space ...

  • Could Switzerland help end the conflict in Yemen? 

    Tue, 18 Feb 2020 10:00:00 GMT

    The war in Yemen has been raging for five years, at huge human cost. Some experts believe that neutral Switzerland, which is well respected in the region, might have a role to play in bringing peace.    Switzerland has good relations with both Saudi Arabia and Iran, which support opposing sides in the Yemen war. Its relations particularly with Riyadh have come in for criticism at home, especially regarding the sale of arms which have sometimes ended up being used in the Yemen war. In January, for example, it was reported that Saudi Arabia used anti-aircraft guns from Switzerland to try and protect its key Abqaiq oilfield from a drone attack by Yemeni Houthi rebels in September 2019.    Swiss exports of war materiel   Since the conflict escalated in March 2015, the Swiss government has banned exports of arms to Saudi Arabia that could be used to commit human rights violations in the context of the war. But an exception is made for spare parts for air defence systems, which Saudi ...

  • What to do when snow is a no-show?

    Tue, 18 Feb 2020 10:43:00 GMT

    It’s a nightmare scenario if you’re a skier: you’ve taken time off work, booked a chalet or hotel in an alpine resort weeks if not months in advance, and when you arrive there’s little if any snow. It was the third warmest January in the Swiss Alps since measurements were first taken in 1864. And in many parts of the Alps, it was also the driest. It confirms what I see as I look at the green hills out my window, lends credence to my father-in-law’s exclamations that he’s never experienced such a dry winter in his eight-odd decades, and explains why the lifts of my local ski hill are closed until further notice. A quick check of the snow report of the Swiss tourist office shows half of the 93 small ski areas across the Alps and Jura hills not in operation, or at best running only a lift or two. Appenzell is an example. It’s been possibly the worst season on record for the companies operating the ski lifts in the northeastern area that consists of high hills and low mountains.

  • Smartwatches call time on the Swiss industry

    Mon, 17 Feb 2020 15:01:00 GMT

    The watch industry has always displayed a strong streak of economic irrationality. After all, you can buy a Casio digital watch for £5 that will tell the time more reliably than a mechanical Patek Philippe Grand Complications costing 40,000 times as much. As the advertising slogan goes, every watch tells a story. And the story the watch industry tells is that millions of people will pay a massive premium for style over function. Or, as Ralph Lauren put it rather more poetically, a fine watch, like a well-designed car, is best appreciated as “moving art”. Still, economic irrationality has its limits. And the Apple Watch has been mercilessly exposing them by offering a radically different type of functionality and a very different kind of style. According to research firm Strategy Analytics, the Apple Watch, launched less than five years ago, now outsells the entire Swiss industry, which has been manufacturing wristwatches for 152 years. Last year, Apple increased sales by 36 ...

  • Who can collect Swiss unemployment benefits?

    Mon, 17 Feb 2020 08:39:00 GMT

    If you lose your job in Switzerland, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits. This is what you need to know. Every month, those with jobs pay into a fund to help those without. The contributions are split between employers and employees. In 2019, the Swiss unemployment rate was 2.3%, a new low. However, the national unemployment rate only counts people registered at regional job centres; those no longer eligible for benefits drop off of these rosters. In comparison, the International Labour Union calculates the unemployment rate as the number of unemployed people times 100 divided by the total labour force, which includes those with and without jobs. In Switzerland last year, 107,000 people received unemployment benefits. Who’s eligible? To apply for unemployment benefits, you must have Swiss residency and work permits, and you need to have been employed for at least 12 months within the past two years. Earnings must have been at least CHF500 ($519) per month.

  • ‘The Swiss will do anything for the right price’

    Sat, 15 Feb 2020 10:00:00 GMT

    It’s not just Swiss pundits and papers questioning how the “Crypto leaks” scandal affects Switzerland’s reputation. International media, as well as our readers from around the world, are also commenting on the affair. “Due to its political neutrality, Switzerland is considered an honest and reliable broker when it comes to mediating between two conflict parties. But this good and hitherto extremely profitable reputation of the country is now threatened with damage by the spectacular espionage affair,” commented the Frankfurter Allgemeine, a German newspaper. Crypto leaks in a nutshell Crypto, a Zug-based communications encryption firm which was liquidated in 2018, sold code-making equipment to Iran, India, Pakistan, Latin American nations and dozens of other countries. The technology was modified to let the CIA and German secret service (BND) break codes, as reported by The Washington Post along with Swiss public television, SRF, and German broadcaster ZDF. “I think that for ...

  • How can Switzerland get answers on the Crypto affair?  

    Fri, 14 Feb 2020 13:02:00 GMT

    Revelations that a Swiss company was at the heart of a vast CIA spying operation has shaken Switzerland to the core. To shed light on the Crypto scandal, the country may set up a parliamentary commission of inquiry, something it has only done four times in its history.    The government announced on Tuesday that it was opening an inquiry in the wake of revelations by Swiss television SRF, German television ZDF and the Washington Post that Swiss-based firm Crypto AG was at the heart of a huge international spying operation. On Thursday, a parliamentary standing committee in charge of government oversight announced it was also launching an inquiry into how much the government knew at the time.  But left-wing parties are convinced that more is needed and that there should be a full parliamentary investigation, and other parties are not ruling it out. This is something which has only been done in exceptional circumstances – most recently 25 years ago.  However, on Friday, the Office ...

  • Has ‘Crypto Leaks’ exposed Swiss neutrality as a sham?

    Fri, 14 Feb 2020 07:07:00 GMT

    The spying affair surrounding the Swiss company Crypto has also touched the heart of Swiss identity: neutrality. Swiss politicians, historians and the media are debating the possible consequences of the manipulated cipher devices for the country’s credibility.  It is still unclear who knew what and when about the activities of the CIA and West German intelligence services with the Zug-based encryption company.  This is the key question, because Switzerland is not responsible under international law for the actions of private companies on its territory, as historian Georg Kreis explains in an interview with the Tages-Anzeiger. But the situation would be different, he added, if the government or the secret service had been informed. “Even the [Swiss] intelligence service must subordinate itself to the official doctrine of neutrality,” Kreis said. Otherwise, federal employees would have violated Switzerland’s neutrality – which appears to be the case.  For it is clear from the ...

  • Swiss set sights on becoming hub for food and nutrition innovation

    Wed, 5 Feb 2020 13:00:00 GMT

    Big players across industry and academia have come together to boost Switzerland’s reputation as a powerhouse for food and nutrition innovation. Feeding 9 billion people with healthy and sustainable food: that’s the colossal challenge for humanity in the next few decades. With its 8 million inhabitants and an agriculture sector that occupies less than 1% of Gross Domestic Product, Switzerland looks like a dwarf in the face of big agriculture players like the United States, China, Brazil and Germany. However, it has considerable assets on its side in the field of agri-food technologies. “Switzerland is home to a unique innovation ecosystem in food and nutrition,” argues Fathi Derder, the coordinator of the Swiss Food & Nutrition Valley, a project launched on the occasion of the most recent World Economic Forum. The project is backed by Nestlé, canton Vaud in western Switzerland, the School of Hospitality and the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL). Attracting the ...

  • Busted! Swiss spy scandals through the years

    Thu, 13 Feb 2020 13:30:00 GMT

    As Switzerland reels from revelations about a decades-old spying affair involving the CIA, here are some of the country’s most scandalous cases of espionage and data theft, from the Stasi-like Secret Files affair to Jean-Louis Jeanmaire, considered one of Switzerland’s worst traitors.  The Russians In 2018 two Russian agents were arrested in the Netherlands, apparently on their way to the Swiss town of Spiez, where a federal laboratory was investigating the poison attack on a Russian ex-spy in Salisbury. The Swiss Federal Intelligence Service (FIS) was involved in the arrest in order to “prevent illegal actions against a critical Swiss infrastructure”.  Daniel M. In November 2017 a Frankfurt court found Daniel M., a Swiss former police officer, security expert and private detective, guilty of spying on the tax authorities of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW). He was fined and given a suspended prison sentence.  Daniel M. was accused of having placed a mole ...

  • Building bridges between society, business, and the environment

    Thu, 13 Feb 2020 14:00:00 GMT

    Switzerland should take a leading global role on climate and environmental protection, Corina Gredig believes. The young, newly elected Liberal Green parliamentarian plans to push sustainable policies that could harmonise the often disparate interests of society, business and the environment.   “I was very positively struck by the first parliamentary session in December. It seems that deputies treat each other with mutual respect, even when their views differ, and that there can be discussion and expression of opinions beyond the barriers of party and language”, Gredig says.  The young Zurich politician is one of a new generation, green and female, which swept into Switzerland’s parliament in last October’s elections. Never before have so many seats in both chambers been occupied by women and environmentalists, from the Green and Liberal Green parties. “Some long-term members of parliament have been saying that they feel a new atmosphere in parliament. I hope that’s true, and ...

  • What does diversity mean for public service media?

    Thu, 13 Feb 2020 10:14:00 GMT

    How does a public service media reflect the diversity of the community it serves? For World Radio Day, we joined forces with other public service media to discuss what this year’s theme, “diversity”, means at our organisations, and how it comes across in what we publish. Jo Fahy, head of multimedia at SWI swissinfo.ch and member of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation's diversity board, joined journalists at Radio Poland, Radio Romania International and Radio Prague International in a discussion broadcast on Radio Canada International. Switzerland has a strong linguistic diversity. With four national languages and four different language sections of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), language is a defining aspect of Swiss culture that’s reflected by its broadcaster. At the SBC’s international arm, SWI swissinfo.ch, linguistic and cultural diversity are at the centre of our work. Writing in ten languages, with journalists from around 20 countries, we explain Switzerland ...

  • Are Big Pharma’s big innovation plans what we need?

    Thu, 13 Feb 2020 17:00:00 GMT

    Our analysis of what the biggest global companies in Switzerland are up to. This week: Big Pharma's R&D plans, coronavirus impact, and #cryptoleaks. With the world in a panic over the coronavirus global health emergency, where are the pharmaceutical companies when you need them? Earlier this week, a BBC story asked why more pharmaceutical companies aren’t rushing to develop a global vaccine to tackle the coronavirus as the number of cases and deaths from Covid-19 climb. “One would expect the major pharmaceutical firms to make millions, even billions, by rushing to develop a vaccine,” the reporter writes. If only it was so easy. There are a host of challenges to developing a vaccine quickly in the middle of an outbreak and between the research and manufacturing costs combined with the approval process, it’s no wonder that some companies are inclined to stay away. Swiss companies aren’t the biggest players in vaccines, but some are bringing other parts of the business to the table.

  • How manipulated Swiss tech shaped world politics

    Wed, 12 Feb 2020 15:02:00 GMT

    Camp David, Iran, Argentina, Panama: These are just a few examples of how the US steered world politics with decoded messages “encrypted” with Swiss machines. A 280-page secret service dossier by the CIA and the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) proves that for decades, there has been espionage via manipulated encryption devices from the Swiss company Crypto AG. More than 100 countries bought the encryption devices from the Zug-based company, which did business under the guise of Swiss neutrality, but in reality, belonged to the CIA and the BND. With the help of the intercepted, supposedly encrypted communications of several countries, world politics were influenced. Below are four examples. Camp David September 1978. A good ten years after the Six-Day War, in which Egypt, Syria and Jordan suffered a heavy defeat and land losses against Israel, US President Jimmy Carter launched a Middle East initiative. It was supposed to finally bring peace between Israel and Egypt, ...

  • Two days in a shelter with 27 neighbours and a barking dog

    Thu, 13 Feb 2020 10:00:00 GMT

    The work to dismantle the Mühleberg nuclear power plant in the Swiss capital of Bern has begun but a nuclear accident can’t be ruled out for some time. What would happen in the case of a nuclear alert? Risks remain for some years The dismantling process of the Mühleberg plant will take 15 years and costs CHF3 billion ($3 billion). According to the plant operator BKW, a nuclear accident cannot be completely ruled out until the fuel elements are transported to an interim storage facility - the first operation of its kind in Switzerland. The risk of a meltdown is greater in the first few years, but soon becomes significantly smaller. First, the fuel elements are moved from the reactor to an adjacent storage pool, where they will cool down before being transported to an interim storage facility in northern Switzerland. Between 2021 and the end of 2024, all fuel elements should be moved to the facility, which will remove 98% of radioactivity. As a resident of a small house on the ...

  • Women still struggle to make inroads into science

    Wed, 12 Feb 2020 10:00:00 GMT

    The United Nations’ International Day of Women and Girls in Science has been highlighting how hard it is for female academics to forge a successful career – and Switzerland is no exception. “The world must not be deprived of the potential, the intelligence, or the creativity of the thousands of women who are victims of deep-seated inequality and prejudice… Humanity has everything to gain – and so does science,” said UNESCO’s Director General Audrey Azoulay on the international day, which was marked on February 11. According to UNESCO, less than 30% of scientists worldwide are women. And they account for less than a third of students taking STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). And Switzerland? It’s not any better in Switzerland, as evidenced by the European Commission’s report She Figures 2018. Like its neighbours, the higher up the hierarchy you go, the fewer women there are in science. The latest Women and Science figures from the Swiss Federal ...

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