Switzerland

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  • Date: 1/8/2014

“Switzerland has become a target” 

Interview with: Ruedi Lustenberger, President of the Swiss National Council

A turbulent year draws to a close. What do you think about Switzerland’s current economic state?

Ruedi Lustenberger: Switzerland is well positioned, all things considered. Compared to other European countries, we have a strong, stable national economy and a low unemployment rate. The expression “Swiss success model” certainly isn’t incorrect in this context. The major banks, in particular, have benefited from globalization in the past and have exploited these circumstances excessively in some cases. The longer this continues to be the case, the more outsiders will covet our prosperity. And this is where we have to keep a watchful eye.

How does this covetousness manifest itself?

Ruedi Lustenberger: At the moment we’re probably feeling the impact of globalization more strongly than other comparable industrial nations. Switzerland has become a magnet for refugees of all kinds. Some are looking for work in our high-wage country, a second category wants to gain a foothold in our economic system as “false self-employed workers” under the protection of subcontractors. Added to that are thousands of real and fake asylum seekers every year who have fled from misery in their home countries and hope to have a better life here with us.

 

What’s more, pressure on our country will continue to grow in monetary terms, as well. Most countries on Earth have an enormous debt burden. And when that’s the case, you take money from wherever money is still to be found. That’s why Switzerland, our banks in particular, has become a target for all sorts of demands.

How should Switzerland react in this situation?

Ruedi Lustenberger: Our economy still relies on hiring a certain number of experts from abroad. And that holds true despite the fact that our dual professional training system is considered to be the best in the world. STEM fields, in other words science, technology, engineering and mathematics, need to be fostered even more.

 

Our relationship to the EU represents another challenge. They only have a limited appreciation for our special status. That’s why we have to be careful when it comes to our relationship with our neighbors and refrain from thoughtlessly negotiating bilateral agreements.

 

Finally, we need a stricter asylum policy. Rising crime rates, abuse of the welfare system and poor integration are glaringly obvious. There will likely be an increase in referendums on this situation as a result.

In terms of domestic politics, which areas do you consider most in need of improvement?

Ruedi Lustenberger: The focus here is on securing and revamping the welfare institutions. Yet that just won’t be possible without making some painful cuts. It would be wrong to strain the inter-generational contract and ask the young generation to cross-finance the second pillar, too.

 

One area truly in need of improvement is our regional development planning. Here, too, we have lived beyond our means in the past. More careful use of our land is the order of the day.

 

I’m concerned about the EU’s debt crisis which impacts our economy and will continue to concern us in the future, as well. It’s common knowledge that the desolate conditions which still reign in many of the world’s economies are causing an overvaluation of the Swiss franc. Not only the export and tourism industries are suffering from this situation but the finishing trade is increasingly feeling the impact as its profitability is threatened by cheap imports. The imported windows used to renovate the Federal Parliament Building in Bern are one example of this.

Which concrete developments do you expect

  • a. ... as part of Corporate Tax Reform III?
    Ruedi Lustenberger:
    I’m not sure whether it’s going to take off. I support the efforts of federal and cantonal representatives to find a solution. There’s a lot at stake for Switzerland and its prosperity. Shifting the burden to the middle class and families, however, is out of the question. We also have to keep an eye on the consequences for cantons; they have to back the solution.
  • b. ... in terms of the European debt crisis and the relationship between Switzerland and the EU?
    Ruedi Lustenberger:
    As I already mentioned, I’m afraid that other debt crises will arise which affect not just the EU but other countries, as well. That makes it even more vital that we make an effort to maintain orderly coexistence with the EU. We don’t have to acknowledge their judges in Strasbourg as our own, after all.
  • c. ... on the subject of ongoing discussions about the energy transition?
    The federal government’s energy strategy is correct and should be implemented as it stands. Security of supply takes top priority. Central aspects will include increasing energy efficiency, particularly within the scope of the building renovation program, modernizing the distribution grid and technological innovation. I don’t think that a new nuclear power plant would be accepted in a referendum. That’s why it’s important for us to make sure that we can produce renewable energies at grid prices in the medium term.

Which regulatory and political hurdles does Switzerland have to clear for it to remain an attractive place to do business?

Ruedi Lustenberger: We don’t have to make any major changes. Generally speaking, every change gives rise to new requirements and bureaucratic hurdles. We still want a liberal employment market that remains attractive in terms of its tax and fiscal policies, particularly for SMEs.

2014 is a pre-election year. Which consequences does that have on Parliament’s problem-solving ability?

Ruedi Lustenberger: 2014 isn’t the Swiss Confederation’s first pre-election year. When it comes to elections and voting, we’ve certainly got experience. That’s why I don’t think there will be any negative spin-off.

Over and over again, leaks are making it clear how complex the relationship is between the media and politics. How do you handle changing requirements when communicating with political stakeholder groups? And in your capacity as President of the National Council, how do you contribute toward establishing trustful communication?

Ruedi Lustenberger: Leaks happen if the administration or Parliament don’t play by the rules. We are all called upon to abide by the regulations. Yet they have to be respected by the media, as well. I, for one, make an effort to communicate both openly and correctly.
 

Ruedi Lustenberger

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President of the Swiss National Council