• Date: 10/22/2013

Ticino: Time for innovation and networking  

Interview with: Laura Sadis, Director of the Finance and Economics Department of the Canton of Ticino
In your view, what are the most current and significant political and economic challenges facing the canton of Ticino?


The commissioning of the AlpTransit service in the next few years will offer Ticino considerable opportunities, even though this will not be an automatic process. We should therefore be prepared to seize and capitalize on these as best as we can to ensure that the growth and development potential they offer can be effectively translated into positive outcomes (especially in the medium and long term) across the entire territory.

Our canton will then be required to deal with the changes taking place in the financial sector. Having been essential for the growth and development of Ticino in the recent past, this will need to reposition itself by developing added value in the form of new services and expertise of the highest caliber above all.

Lastly, the employment market will need to be closely monitored to ensure that the continuous high pressures to which it has been subject do not result in dangerous imbalances that could compromise social cohesion within our canton.


To what extent has the economic situation in Ticino been affected by the pressures experienced in neighboring Italy?


Ticino is a territory inextricably linked with the region of Lombardy and its ten million inhabitants. Clearly, if this area suffers an economic crisis, those who live there and lose their jobs will look to our region for opportunities. This causes pressure from cross-border commuters, a historical fixed feature, which has however seen a rapid increase in the last few years, reaching the current level of over 58,000 (more than 21 percent of the 276,000 or so cross-border commuters in the whole of Switzerland) out of a total of 220,000 working people. Together with the rapid growth in the number of cross-border commuters (which has more than doubled since the year 2000), cause of particular concern are some of the aspects linked to this phenomenon, which are becoming more widespread, such as wage dumping and the replacement of resident workers. There is also the issue of competition from freelance and outsourced workers, whose number has significantly increased in the last few years, as has the number of offences identified. The state is therefore required to pay particular attention, especially with regard to monitoring, through inspections and sanctions, to the prevention of violations, but also to the support for a healthy and competitive economy that is able to generate new jobs, especially for residents.


Which sectors have particularly experienced this pressure?


Some sectors, such as construction, industry and healthcare, would experience serious difficulties if they could not count on the availability of cross-border commuters. On the other hand, in other sectors – I am thinking in particular of the service sector – the issue of cross-border commuters is a relatively new phenomenon and could therefore give rise to imbalances, when you consider that their number has tripled in this sector (from just over 10,000 cross-border commuters in 2000 to over 32,000 in 2013). As I said earlier, the state must ensure that cross-border commuters are not employed for speculative purposes at the expense of resident workers, but it must also make private businesses operators aware of their responsibilities towards the territory in which they operate. In the end, it is not a matter of building walls on our borders but of working, with real policies, towards the building of a strong and healthy business environment that leads to added value and not to social deficits.


The canton of Ticino regularly ends up with significant budget deficits; how does this situation come about? What measures are put in place to deal with this?


In the last few years the canton has essentially managed to balance its budgets. Because of the banking and financial crisis there has been a shortfall in tax revenues. The financing of private hospitals – a new administrative task introduced by the health service review – has also significantly increased public expenditure. Thankfully, responsibility for rebalancing the canton’s finances is largely shared both within the Consiglio di Stato, the canton’s ruling council, and with Parliament, and in this context a series of measures designed to balance the canton’s finances in the short term have already been put in place. Furthermore, last year the government proposed the introduction of a public deficit cap, which is currently being examined by the Commissione della gestione – the canton’s administrative committee – as a concrete measure for the coherent and sustainable management of the canton’s finances in the medium and long term.


How do you evaluate the current employment market situation in Ticino?


Generally speaking, the employment market in Ticino has managed to hold its own in difficult global economic conditions and in an ever more competitive market. Unemployment, even though showing a slight increase, especially in the population’s younger age groups, has remained relatively constant in the last few years.

Despite this, Ticino has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country (in 2012 the unemployment rate was 4.4 percent compared with 2.9 percent for Switzerland overall, according to data provided by SECO), and the problems experienced in a number of neighboring countries, combined with some of the negative consequences of the agreement on the free movement of persons between Switzerland and the European Union, have introduced new dynamics that often lead to abuses in the employment market. Do not forget that wages in Ticino are around 15 percent lower than the national average and that in some sectors, for example, unacceptable wage levels have been identified, which have led to the Consiglio di Stato’s decision to adopt standard employment contracts with binding minimum wages.

Finally, it remains essential for the Ticino government to advise on and continue to make the federal authorities aware of the specific problems affecting the socio-economic reality in our canton, an effort that in the recent past has led to good results, such as the reinforcement of the measures accompanying the free movement of persons, determined last year, of which Ticino was a promoter together with other cantons.


In your opinion, is there a ‘polenta curtain’ between Ticino and German-speaking Switzerland and, if yes, to what extent?


I don’t think so, or at least I don’t think it is insurmountable. As I said, however, Ticino has no choice but to actively raise awareness among the federal government in order to highlight its own specific issues and to ensure that these are taken into due consideration. In this sense, however, it is a disadvantage that, since Flavio Cotti retired in 1999, there have been no Ticinese Federal Councilors and that there are few Italian-speaking Swiss in the Federal Administration. To raise your voice, however, is of little use. As well as claims, it is necessary perhaps to offer valid arguments and real suggestions. This is what I personally try to do.


In which sectors do you see potential for growth in terms of cooperation and relations between Ticino and German-speaking Switzerland?


Ticino already cooperates in a constructive way in different areas with other cantons. Think, for example, of the San Gottardo 2020 Program, a project undertaken by the cantons of Ticino, Uri, Valais and Grisons, with the objective of transforming the area around the Gotthard Pass – ‘San Gottardo’ in Italian – into a vital economic space. Overcoming geographical, political, linguistic and cultural differences, the San Gottardo 2020 Program can be considered as an exemplary project in terms of cooperation between cantons.


Are relations between Ticino and French-speaking Switzerland easier than those with German-speaking Switzerland?


The best synergy and cooperation is born mainly out of common issues and interests, rather than on the basis of regional or linguistic affinities. From this point of view, I don’t think that Ticino has better relations with one part of Switzerland than another.


What differentiates Ticino from German- and French-speaking Switzerland?


Aside from a part of the canton of Grisons, Ticino is the only Italian-speaking region of Switzerland, the so-called Terza Svizzera, or ‘Third Switzerland’. To this you need to add the specific characteristic of being a border canton, on the margins, geographically separated from the rest of Switzerland.


Ticino is known as ‘the sun lounge of Switzerland’. In addition to this, what can the canton of Ticino offer?


From a tourist point of view, our canton has always represented the ‘first South’, especially for visitors from the rest of Switzerland and from Germany. In addition to its climate and its geographical position, however, Ticino can offer a lot more not only to the tourist, but also to residents and business owners looking to be based here: a rapid link to Zurich and Milan (and an even faster one in the pipeline with AlpTransit and the Lugano–Malpensa railway line); healthy relations with the north of Italy and Lombardy; a strongly international economic area, often devoted to innovation and increasingly frequently linked to training and research; a financial center of international repute; a high standard of training; a fair and competitive tax system; a lean administrative system (according to a study published in 2013 by the Chamber of Commerce, Ticino can claim the most competitive canton administration of non-German-speaking Switzerland); no social discord and, generally speaking, a high quality of life.


How do you imagine and how do you wish the future of your canton to be?


In an ever more global and competitive international economy, it will be essential for Ticino to acquire new skills, improve its competitiveness (in particular through innovation and knowledge combinations) and its capacity to attract new types of companies able to interact with the productive fabric of the area and to offer qualified jobs. The environment of training and research, with the USI-SUPSI Research Service becoming ever more important, is an area of potential that will need to be expanded in connection with economic development and business requirements. In the future, our canton will then have to focus on protecting its environment and adding value to its territory, but also on opening itself up to the rest of the world and to new ideas.


Interview: Simone Glarner, Media Relations


Laura Sadis

Laura Sadis


Director of the Finance and Economics Department of the Canton of Ticino