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In the past weeks and months, Switzerland was again portrayed as a nefarious tax haven protecting tax evaders. The Department of Justice is currently investigating ten Swiss banks for their suspected support of tax evaders for over ten years. Is Switzerland really a place of shadowy bankers involved in illegal acts?
Nothing could be further from the truth! Switzerland is one of the most competitive and innovative countries in the world. In study after study, whether from the World Economic Forum, the World Bank or the EU Commission, Switzerland shows up in the top ranks, in most cases together with the USA. As Senator Robert Portman of Ohio appropriately remarked earlier: “Switzerland boxes way above its weight limit.” Last year, Switzerland was the largest foreign direct investor in the USA. Not per capita or measured by some other proportionate measurement, but in absolute US$ figures! Overall it ranks as the sixth largest investor in the USA. Swiss companies offer some 390,000 jobs in the USA. When measuring “job surplus” (i.e., jobs offered by Swiss companies in the USA minus jobs offered by U.S. companies in Switzerland), the USA enjoys a large job surplus with Switzerland. This job surplus of 320,000 jobs in favor of the USA is absolutely the largest surplus the U.S. enjoys with any country. Many of these jobs are high-value manufacturing jobs supporting the USA in its much needed reindustrialization effort. And in terms of R&D, the approximately $15 billion Swiss companies spend on R&D in the USA is probably unbeaten by any other country in the world.
Luckily, this is not a one-way street, but rather a very productive win-win relationship, with the USA being the largest foreign direct investor in Switzerland and the second largest export market for Swiss goods and services. With the largest Google development center outside the U.S., the world’s leading-edge nanotech center at the IBM Research Center and the only Disney Labs outside the U.S., to name just three of many such investments, U.S. companies also significantly contribute to furthering Swiss competitiveness and innovation strength.
To sum up, two of the most competitive and innovative countries enjoy great and productive cooperation. This issue of tax evasion has taken on a disproportionate importance and risks derailing great win-win cooperation. The Swiss government and Swiss banks have decided to stop all business potentially related to untaxed wealth and to make great efforts to clean up any legacy issue still around. The goodwill regarding a joint solution is present on both sides of the Atlantic, but jointly we will have to make efforts to stop any politically motivated “shots from the hip.” I hope we can count on you to pass on the important message of our great cooperation to lawmakers and decision makers, and to moderate all untimely actions against the supposedly shady banks in Switzerland. Together, we can make a difference.
CEO, Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce
Switzerland Leads the Way in E-Voting
In the upcoming federal elections in Switzerland on October 23, the members of the two chambers of the Federal Parliament (National Council and Council of States) have to be elected or reelected. Until now, Swiss citizens could vote at the ballot box or by mail. Now Switzerland is taking the next step: voting online. The Confederation and cantons have already had positive results with voting on the Internet. On October 23, about 22,000 of the 700,000 Swiss citizens living abroad will have the opportunity to vote online. This first online election may well attract the attention of other European countries. Switzerland and Estonia are currently the only countries which allow their citizens to cast their votes on the Internet. In autumn of this year, Norway will pilot test e-voting; other countries have abandoned the idea for political and/or technical reasons. For Switzerland, with its long tradition of direct democracy, it is of the utmost importance to provide multiple and state-of-the-art ways to allow its people to vote and elect representatives.
Federal Election Resources
baloti.ch: An Internet Voting Platform for Swiss Immigrants
A current research project of the Centre for Research on Direct Democracy, an affiliate of the Law School of the University of Zurich, Switzerland, aims to engage recently naturalized immigrants or those who are not yet naturalized in their future voting rights. Naturalized immigrants can exercise their full political rights after a waiting period of twelve years.
The online platform baloti.ch gives Swiss immigrants the possibility to cast an informal vote for all referendums in the years 2010 and 2011. The platform informs immigrants about their future political rights and provides training in voting skills. The service is available in eleven languages.
The baloti platform is supported by the Integration Fund of the Swiss Confederation and several private and public partners.
Swiss institutions performing research in the field of (direct) democracy:
Centre for Research on Direct Democracy
The Centre for Democracy Studies (ZDA)
Are you a Swiss abroad and not registered to vote?
Fifty Years of Innovative Work in Development and Cooperation
For fifty years, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has been committed to combating poverty and creating better prospects for the future throughout the world. With a budget of approximately 2.3 billion U.S. dollars in 2011 and a staff of some 600 people in Switzerland and abroad and 1,000 local employees, the SDC engages in direct operations, supports programs of multilateral organizations, and helps to finance programs run by Swiss and international relief organizations.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the SDC has taken the opportunity to look more closely at innovations which have shaped the Confederation's development cooperation.
Fourteen projects illustrate the SDC’s innovative approach both in methodology and partnerships.
Switzerland’s Contribution in Financial Terms
According to the statistics of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC), the average country effort of the DAC members (the average of the individual countries’ ODA/GNI ratios) is at 0.49%. With a contribution of 0.41%, Switzerland ranks 12th among the 23 DAC countries in terms of ODA/GNI percentage and is in 15th place in absolute terms. On February 28, 2011, Parliament decided to increase the current credit framework for development cooperation, the management of which is the responsibility of the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC) and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO). The declared objective is to increase ODA progressively to a target of 0.5% of GNI by 2015.
In 1961 Someone Drew a Panda
At a time when awareness of environmental issues was just developing, a group of British scientists, businessmen and political leaders joined forces to found the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to save our Earth’s wildlife from extinction. With its headquarters in Switzerland, the WWF is very well known in Switzerland as well and, together with other NGOs, has helped to raise public awareness for environmental issues. Since then, Switzerland has enforced laws to protect the environment and species (the Federal Act on the Protection of Nature and Cultural Heritage of 1966, for example), government agencies have been able to take action (the creation of the Federal Office for Environmental Protection in 1971, for example) and a large number of civilian initiatives have been launched. An exhibition at the Swiss National Museum in Zurich showcases the history of the WWF. The exhibition relates the many twists and turns in the astonishing history of this nongovernmental organization.
A Major Environmental Concern: Energy Consumption
One area of major environmental concern is the future of our energy consumption, especially an increase in consumption of electricity. The new Swiss energy outlook shows that the demand for energy could rise to around 90 billion kilowatt hours a year by 2050 if tighter measures are not taken (2010: around 60 bn kWh). The main reasons for this are population growth, increasing duplication of household appliances (a second TV, for example), new appliances and applications, greater living space per person, but also the increasing electrification of transportation. In order to cover the shortfall in the electricity supply caused by the decision by the Swiss Government and Parliament not to replace the nuclear power plants, Switzerland's energy strategy has to be revised. The Federal Council has therefore set several priorities, including encouraging the economical use of energy in general and of electricity in particular.
Several NGOs are active in the field of energy and energy consumption. One of them is Topten, launched more than ten years ago in Switzerland. The organization is currently expanding to the U.S. Topten identifies and publicizes the most energy-efficient electrical appliances on the market. The organization is funded by partners from the private sector, government agencies and other NGOs.
Test results are published free of charge on the Topten website.
WWF—celebrating 50 years in Swiss environmental conservation
Locarno Film Festival
The Locarno Film Festival traditionally holds a retrospective of filmmakers who have left their mark on film history. This year’s retrospective, organized in collaboration with the Swiss Film Archive, honored Vincente Minnelli. Minnelli directed a large number of important Hollywood films such as The Clock (1945), An American in Paris (Oscar for Best Picture in 1952), Gigi (two Academy Awards in1959: Best Picture and Best Director). His last film, A Matter of Time of 1976, starred Ingrid Bergman and his daughter, Liza Minnelli.
Since Locarno is located at the crossroads of three major regions of Switzerland, its audience reflects the three major European cultures (Italian, German and French). The festival is open to all kinds of films. Locarno is also best known for its open-air screenings in the extraordinary setting of the Piazza Grande, which holds an audience of 8,000 people.
This year’s Golden Leopard went to Milagros Mumenthaler, the young Argentinian filmmaker with Swiss roots. Abrir puertas y ventanas (Open the Windows and Shades), a Swiss-Argentinean coproduction, is the story of three young girls mourning their grandmother.
Interview with festival director Olivier Père by swissinfo
Locarno Film Festival