Tag Archives: Switzerland

Switzerland: Pioneer of Right-Wing Populism

The ascent of a narcissistic autocrat with a white nationalist platform to the presidency of the United States has shocked the world. While the nationalist right played a relatively marginal role in US politics until quite recently, there are other countries with a long history of successful populist politics. Perhaps the best example is Switzerland where nationalist right-wing politics have been practiced successfully for two generations. Their rise has been incremental, gradually normalizing xenophobic and exclusionary discourses.

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Poster against “mass-naturalization” (2004)

On February 12, Swiss voters will decide whether to facilitate the naturalization of third-generation immigrants. These are legal residents of Switzerland who were born and raised in Switzerland and whose parents were also born and raised in Switzerland. Under the current arbitrary and discriminatory naturalization laws, which are entirely based on the ius sanguinis, residents whose grandparents immigrated have to meet the same requirements as recent immigrants who were born abroad. Facilitated naturalization is only granted to spouses and children of a Swiss national. Similar measures were rejected by Swiss voters in 1983, 1994, and 2004. The 2004 poster shows dark hands greedily grabbing Swiss passports. Recent polls indicate that there is a slim margin of support of the measure, but it may still fail because a majority of cantons is also required.

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Controversial poster at Zurich main station (Jan. 2017) with the text: “Uncontrolled naturalization? No.”

The political right, particularly the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), the largest party in Switzerland, has campaigned vigorously against the measure, using very controversial campaign tactics. Their main poster shows a woman wearing a burqa with the caption “Uncontrolled naturalization? No to facilitated naturalization.” Andreas Glarner, a leader of the populist right, justified the poster: “The wearer of a burqa is a symbol for lacking integration.” The intended effect is to create a visual link between a sinister, fully veiled Muslim woman and well-integrated third-generation immigrants. A look at the facts shows how baseless and manipulative this statement is. According to federal authorities, a total of 24,656 individuals would benefit from this measure. Of these, only 334 have roots outside of Europe, while 14,331 individuals, or 58%, have roots in Italy. Furthermore, research shows that naturalization enhances integration, indicating the absurdity of Glarner’s arguments.

Switzerland has a unique system of direct democracy that allows any group to launch an initiative to add an amendment to the constitution or to challenge a federal law in a referendum. A national vote has to be held if a sufficient number of voters demand it with their signatures. This system has enabled fringe groups to take their pet issues directly to voters, bypassing the parliamentary process. It also has forced parliament to work out balanced compromise legislation that can withstand a referendum.

The first initiatives against Überfremdung (overforeignization) were launched by a right-wing fringe party called Nationale Aktion gegen die Überfremdung von Volk und Heimat (National Action Against Overforeignization of People and Home). Even though there was no mainstream support for the initiative, 46 percent of the electorate supported it in the first vote of 1970. If adapted, it would have limited non-citizens to 10% of the resident population, down from the actual rate of 17.2%. (The current rate is 24.6% which in part is due to the fact that naturalization in Switzerland is exceedingly restrictive.) In the following years, similar initiatives followed, all of them narrowly defeated, until 2014.

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Swiss fascist election poster (1933): “We clean up”

The term Überfremdung was used even though it was discredited because of its use in Nazi Germany. The term was coined in 1900 in a Swiss publication that was part of an older Swiss polemic against immigration in the years leading up to WW I. Populist discourses against immigration in Switzerland thus go back over a century. The Swiss fascist movement created an anti-immigration visual language that has informed election posters until today. In the 1970s, the fringe right linked “overforeignization” with relevant issues of the day, such as overpopulation, environmental degradation, the selling out of the homeland, and excessive real estate speculation leading to usurious rents. A pseudo-environmentalist approach to limiting immigration was also attempted in the 2014 Ecopop initiative.

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Swiss poster against “overforeignization,” c. 1970.

Since the 1960s, seven different right-wing populist parties have won seats in the national parliament. While these parties remained on the fringe until the early 1990s, they used the tools of direct democracy very effectively to enact an anti-foreigner agenda. While the early initiatives were not successful, they framed the discussion and allowed the fringe right to set the tone for the immigration debate. Just the threat of a new initiative or of a referendum forced the mainstream to make serious concessions to the fringe right, thus establishing a tyranny of the minority that also is an emerging trademark of Trump’s America.

Over the past three decades, the populist right prevented facilitated naturalization of children and grandchildren of immigrants, forced a tightening of asylum laws, and in 1992 engineered the ballot box defeat of Swiss participation in the European Economic Area (EEA), which many saw as a stepping stone towards EU membership. And in February 2014, the political right for the first time managed to pass a measure that would limit immigration. As this new limitation is in violation of existing treaties with the EU, the Swiss government has stalled on its implementation so far.

In the early 1990s, the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) established itself as the main right-wing party and managed to transform popular support of anti-immigration issues into success in parliamentary elections; it has been the most successful Swiss party since 1999 and currently has the support of about 30% of Swiss voters. The party became a model for other European right-wing populist parties and recently has been consulted by similar parties in Europe, like Germany’s AfD. Their controversial 2007 election poster, showing a black sheep being kicked out, became such a branding success that they recycled it for a number anti-foreigner campaigns. Furthermore, right-wing parties in Europe used the motif for their own purposes.

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Infamous 2007 Swiss People’s Party (SVP) election poster (left) and imitations from Belgium, Germany, and Spain.

One of the more spectacular successes of the hard right was the passage of a constitutional amendment outlawing minarets in Switzerland in 2009–of which there were exactly four in the entire country. Their campaign posters showed a Swiss flag pierced by minarets that had the appearance of missiles. Anti-Islamic prejudices were further pushed by the same sinister-looking Muslim woman in a burqa seen in the current campaign. And again, this illustration was imitated by right-wing parties across Europe, like France’s Front National and the British National Party, who used it in their own polemics against Islam.

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Minarets piercing the Swiss flag like missiles, Muslim woman in burqa (2009). Imitations from France and Britain.

While the mass appeal of right-wing populism still is a relatively new phenomenon in Europe and the United States, the roots of contemporary right-wing populism in Switzerland go back to the 1960s. It has been a powerful driver of anti-immigration, anti-EU and anti-Islamic policies in Switzerland that defied the political elites even though the populist right has never received more than 30% of votes in parliamentary elections. It has developed a polemical and manipulative rhetoric and misleading graphics over the past half century that has become the model for right-wing political parties across Europe.

Addendum February 12, 2017: Hearing on NPR this morning that Swiss voters approved the facilitated naturalization of third-generation immigrants felt a bit surreal. This certainly is a step in the right direction, but the Swiss government set the bar very low with its proposal. While the vote (60.4% of voters and 17 out of 23 cantons in favor) is a setback for the populist right, we have to remember that naturalization for third-generation immigrants still is not automatic and that second-generation immigrants–who were born and raised in Switzerland–still have to go through the exceedingly tough and arbitrary naturalization process. The government’s proposal
set the bar very low, much lower than So the populist right still drives the immigration and naturalization agenda.

What the Brexit Vote Teaches Us about Direct Democracy (and the Future of Democracy)

Yesterday’s Brexit vote was widely seen as a referendum on referenda. The populist right across Europe now routinely is demanding to take issues directly to the people in order to bypass the parliamentary process which has not produced desired outcome–a process The Economist recently dubbed Referendumania. The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) has demanded for years that important issues like EU membership should be voted on by the electorate. Prime Minister David Cameron gave in to the demands in order to win the last election, feeling confident that he would win the vote and thus quiet the right-wing opposition. The gamble backfired: Cameron lost both the vote and his job.

The price Britain will pay for playing with the populist fire is potentially steep. Scotland voted overwhelmingly in favor of staying in the EU and now wants a second vote on independence. In Northern Ireland, the vote opened up old confessional lines of cleavage: Protestant Unionists voted for the Brexit, Catholics against. And the City of London may lose its position as premier financial market in Europe. Most importantly, the British economy will face an uncertain future. The EU is unlikely to sign off on free trade arrangements of the sort Norway and Switzerland enjoy because such a deal would encourage other member nations to leave as well. Furthermore, it took Switzerland a couple of decades to arrive at its current, admittedly cushy relationship with the EU.

Governments in other European countries no doubt will try to avoid this populist trap. This will enrage the masses even more, and demands for more democracy will become ever louder. In the wake of the British vote, the German right-wing party Alternative for Germany (AfD) has demanded more direct democracy for Germany. Marine Le Pen, the leader of the Front National, promised a referendum on the Frexit if she is elected president of France next year. And the Dutch right-wing leader Geert Wilders announced a push for the Nexit.

One real concern is that this type of referendum is susceptible to lies and deception. The Brexit campaign was run entirely as a post-truth campaign. Its most visible element was the Vote Exit campaign bus run by Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London and possible successor as prime minister. The inscription on the side of the bus made a bold claim: “We send the EU £350m a week.”

False claim on Boris Johnson’s Vote Exit campaign bus: “We send the EU £350m a week.” (Reuters)

As it turns out, the figure is wrong. It disregards the massive rebate Britain has received since 1985, and it does not include the EU payments that flow back to British institutions. But facts just did not matter in this campaign that was ruled by anger and fear and dominated by issues like immigration and sovereignty. Michael Gove, co-chair of the Leave campaign and current minister of justice, was asked to name a single independent economic authority who thought Brexit was a good idea. His response: “I think people in this country have had enough of experts.”

The counter-example to this narrative is Switzerland. Swiss voters go to the ballot box four times a year to decide three or four issues each time. Direct democracy in Switzerland has grown organically into the fabric of Swiss politics since the late 19th century. Both the government and the media generally do a good job to inform the public on the facts and on the pros and cons of the issues to be voted on. As a result, Switzerland has developed a polity that is structured from the bottom up and that allows voters to participate in decision-making processes on all levels of government. This system has produced an educated and knowledgeable electorate that is much less likely to be fooled by deceptive populist rhetoric.

Political systems create political cultures as much as political cultures shape political systems. Countries like Britain and Germany have a strong tradition of parliamentary democracy. Voters elect leaders who represent them in parliament that in turns forms a government which it controls. This mechanism does not really allow for an alternate decision-making process, for instance in the form of a referendum, as the political culture does not have the tools to deal with it. A system that works exceedingly well in Switzerland therefore could turn toxic for Britain, with the potential of doing the same in other European countries.

There are two reasons why the current populist anger is directed at the European Union and why referenda could accelerate the unraveling of the EU. The European Union has been an elite project. It has done a poor job explaining to Europeans how it has brought peace and prosperity to a continent that had been ravaged by two world wars, how it helped Spain, Portugal and Greece transition away from fascist dictatorships, and how it supported countries formerly in the Soviet bloc both politically and economically. But it also created institutions that are not transparent and that delegate too many decisions to bureaucrats in Brussels. And it has thoroughly mismanaged the Greek debt crisis. Thus it has become an easy target for malcontents.

The second reason is that Globalization has contributed to the de-industrialization of Western Europe (as well as North America). This has created massive wage stagnation and chronic unemployment among the working classes, and it has spawned unprecedented levels of global migration. European populists successfully managed to blame the European Union for both. In reality, 1.5 billion workers, mostly in China and India, have joined the global labor market over the past quarter century which has created extraordinary pressures. On top of that, the digital revolution has begun to make human labor redundant–a trend that may lead to massive unemployment in developed societies in the future. The EU is responsible for none of this: British voters will soon discover that leaving the EU will not lessen the competitive pressures on British industry, nor will it ease migration pressures.

Western democracies have become vulnerable to populist deception. Boris Johnson will be rewarded for his deceptive politics by inheriting the job of Prime Minister. He also wrote the playbook for Donald Trump on how to win a fact-free campaign that is not restrained by the limitations of truth. Maurine Le Pen is favored to win the French presidency next year. And Angela Merkel, the lone beacon of reason in European politics, may well stumble over the populist furor raised by the refugee crisis. Direct democracy which has given Switzerland unparalleled political stability and economic success may also become the political idea that will give the populist right the tools to undo the European Union.

 

Xhaka vs. Xhaka: Swiss Debates about Immigration and National Identity

The world was watching today as Switzerland and Albania met in a qualifying-round soccer match at the European Championship in France. Switzerland won 1-0. The game got world-wide attention because two brothers were playing on opposite teams: Granit Xhaka for Switzerland and Taulant Xhaka for Albania.

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The Xhaka brothers Taulant (left) and Granit embracing before the game. (Screenshot Blick.com)

Whenever US national teams in any sport play in a big tournament, the expectation typically is that the US will win it all–soccer (known was football in the rest of the world) being an exception. Small countries rarely expect their sports teams to win a big tournament. Often, just qualifying for it suffices to get fans excited. When Switzerland beat Spain during the 2010 World Cup, fans were ecstatic. Spain went on to win the World Cup, Switzerland was eliminated because of a loss against Chile and a draw against Honduras, and everybody was happy. So symbolic victories matter and have an afterlife in the psyche of small countries with implications for national identity formation.

For Albania, the game was important because this is the first time ever that the Albanian national team qualified for a big tournament–World Cup or European Championship. To the Albanians, being there was more important than winning. This is why some streets of Zurich were dominated by Albanian immigrants who were in a celebratory mood in spite of the loss of their team. One Albanian fan told the Zurich daily Tages-Anzeiger that Albania was represented at the Euro with 38 players, more than any other country: “We feel like victors because the Swiss national team consists predominantly of Albanians.”

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Albanians celebrating: post-game parade in Zurich’s Langstrasse. Some Swiss showing colors as well. (Tages-Anzeiger)

And this is exactly the reason why some Swiss do not feel like celebrating. The Swiss national team over the past few years has become a focal point of the tempestuous debate about immigration, integration, naturalization and national identity which has been virulent in Switzerland since the early 1970s. When the Swiss Under-17 team unexpectedly won the World Cup in 2009, the Swiss public was surprised to learn that two-thirds of the players on that team had a migration background.  Many of these players have now moved up to the senior team.

Of the eleven players in the starting lineup of today’s game, only three do not have a migration background–interestingly the goal keeper and two defenders, while all mid-fielders and strikers do have a migration background. Five players have roots in Albania or in Kosovo (which is ethnically Albanian), and one additional player has roots in Bosnia. So the Albanian fans got it right: they do have reason to celebrate. At the same time, an informal survey of the Swiss tabloid Blick indicates that 58% of its readers do not identify with their national team.

The example of the Xhaka brothers illustrates what has become the norm in Swiss and indeed in European soccer. Both Xhaka brothers were born in Switzerland to Kosovo-Albanian parents who escaped collapsing Yugoslavia in 1989. Both grew up in Basel and learned to play soccer in local clubs. Both profited from the efforts of the Swiss Soccer Federation that since the early 1990s has made it their mission to help integrate the children of immigrants into Swiss society through soccer.

Taulant, born in 1991, still plays for the FC Basel and has collected four Swiss championship trophies with his club. Granit, born in 1992, transferred to Borussia Mönchengladbach, an elite German Bundesliga team, in 2012. Last month, it was announced that he will transfer to Arsenal next season. Both brothers played for Swiss national youth squads, but only Granit was invited to the senior team, while Taulant was invited to play in the Albanian national team in 2013. So Taulant plays for a Swiss club, but for the Albanian national team, while Granit chose a career in the Bundesliga and the Premier League but still plays for the Swiss national team.

Populists vilify both a nascent multicultural society in Switzerland in general and immigrants in particular because of their supposed lack in strength, character, conviction and commitment to their new country. Commentators from the populist right have denounced prominent Swiss players with a migration background because they allegedly lack loyalty towards their adoptive country as they play for a foreign national team, foreign club team, or both. While native Swiss players enjoy great support for seeking fame and fortune abroad, this is not the case for players with a migration background who play for a foreign club, like Granit, or worse, for a foreign national team, like Taulant. The Xhaka brothers very much represent the globalized cosmopolitan world of elite soccer in Europe where top teams buy top players regardless of nationality. But a more parochial Swiss public examines ‘their’ players with migration background for their ‘Swissness’ and finds them mostly wanting, as a desire to play abroad is seen as lacking ambition to integrate.

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Split loyalties: mother Xhaka wearing a t-shirt combining the flags of Albania and Switzerland. (Daily Mail Online)

At the 2014 World Cup, the Swiss team was the most cosmopolitan and was widely praised as a model for integration. But recently, questions of integration and identification with Switzerland have flared up within the national team as well. A frustrated Stephan Lichtsteiner, a star player at Juventus Turin and one of the few players without migration background, started the debate when two players with a long history with the national team were cut from the roster for the qualifier against Estonia in March 2015. He angrily told the rightist Basel daily Basler Zeitung: “To me it is not about the`true Swiss’ and the ‘other Swiss,’ rather it is about the question whether people still can identify with the the national team.”

Observers believe that this was a public acknowledgment that a powerful Albanian bloc has emerged in the Swiss national team and that the team is not nearly as integrated as perceived by the public. Lichtsteiner’s statement certainly did not not improve the public image of the Swiss national team at best and played into the populist rhetoric at worst. In that context, Albania was the worst-possible opponent for Switzerland. It is a good thing that the Albanian-Swiss managed to win over the Albanian team–otherwise the public backlash in Switzerland questioning the loyalty of their players would have been palpable. But then these players are professionals who want to play soccer, win games, and be successful in their careers–and who are annoyed about being drawn into integration and identification debates. So the true winners of today’s game: the Xhaka brothers.

FIFA Corruption and Small State Soft Power

Vladimir Putin made a good point in his condemnation of the indictment of 14 FIFA officials by the US Department of Justice this week: is this any of their business? Yes, FIFA is a corrupt organization. Yes, many members of FIFA’s all-powerful Executive Committee have been implicated in a number of corruption scandals. Yes, Putin has skin in the game because Russia was awarded the 2018 World Cup as part of a rigged dual bidding process in 2010 that also gave Quatar its controversial 2022 World Cup–a process that allegedly took corruption to a much higher level and that now is under investigation. Furthermore, given his aggressive and deceptive policies against sovereign nations formerly in the Soviet orbit, Putin is not a likely candidate to occupy the moral high ground in issues other than riding topless through the Siberian tundra.

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FIFA President Sepp Blatter in 2010 disclosing Russia and Qatar as hosts of the 2018 and 2022 Word Cups (BBC News)

Yet, Putin makes a point worth exploring. Here is what Putin said about the arrested FIFA officials: “They are accused of corruption – who is? International officials. I suppose that someone broke some rules, I don’t know. But definitely, it’s got nothing to do with the USA. Those officials are not US citizens. If something happened it was not in the US and it’s nothing to do with them. It’s another clear attempt by the USA to spread its jurisdiction to other states. And I have no doubt – it’s a clear attempt not to allow Mr Blatter to be re-elected as president of Fifa, which is a great violation of the operating principles of international organisations.”

Let’s look at Putin’s argument in a reversed order. So how do international organizations work? They are incorporated in the country where they are based. FIFA is incorporated in Zurich, Switzerland, as a tax-exempt “Verein”–a club or association–with few financial reporting requirements. Except that there balance sheet has a few more digits than that of the local stamp collector club. De facto, FIFA operates like a large global, post-national corporation even though its members are continental and national federations. It has become a money-making machine even though on paper it is just a non-profit club. So the legal structure within which FIFA operates is woefully inadequate for the kind of business it does.

The next question is: if FIFA really is so corrupt, and not even Putin denies this, why would the host country, Switzerland, not investigate FIFA and bring charges?  For starters, corruption per se is not a crime under Swiss law. If corruption leads to unfair competitive practices, this can be prosecuted under the Unfair Competition Act. (Ironically, the Swiss parliament currently is considering the implementation of an anti-corruption statute which actually may make a difference in the future.) This is one reason why over two dozen major international sports organizations, including the International Olympic Committee, are based in Switzerland. (Other reasons are reliable and secretive financial services, an excellent transportation infrastructure, a pleasant environment, and good shopping for their wives.) They have created a culture of collusion with Swiss authorities who are going easy on these organizations in return for them doing business in Switzerland. Switzerland sees the presence of these organizations as a source of soft power–a small state specialty the Swiss are proud of. There are cases of Swiss authorities backing off when the organization under scrutiny threatened to leave the country. In short, the Swiss authorities never would have investigated FIFA on their own, particularly as the FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, is a Swiss national.

There is a striking over-representation of small states in the Executive Committee, FIFA’s governing body. This is part of the FIFA system. The Cayman Islands, for instance, did nothing to investigate Jeffrey Webb, one of the vice presidents who now is suspended. It is not in the interest of small states to investigate its citizens who sit on important international boards and thus give their countries outsized influence. Of the seven FIFA officials arrested in Zurich this week, six represent small states. And then there is Teflon Sepp, the FIFA president, who so far miraculously has escaped prosecution. It is instructive, in this context, that the US has taken Chuck Blazer, its own corrupt FIFA official, out of circulation. He now is an informant for the US government.

This brings us back to the original question: what business of the U.S. is it? The indictments were brought under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act (RICO) of 1970. This implies that FIFA is treated as a Mafia-like criminal organization. As long as just one aspect of the crime, like wire fraud, originates in the U.S., the entire web of crimes can be prosecuted under U.S. law. This hook allows U.S. authorities to go after crimes that were largely committed abroad. The hook here is the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF), a regional FIFA suborganization, that is based in Miami. Not surprisingly, most of those indicted are indeed associated with CONCACAF.

This type of aggressive extraterritorial jurisdiction is mostly seen with great suspicion and contempt in other countries as it tends to show U.S. authorities as overzealous, overbearing and overreaching–even though soccer fans would be glad to make an exception here. Over the years, such extraterritorial prosecutions often are directed against small states and its citizens. A good example is the U.S. pursuit of Nazi Gold in Switzerland in the 1990s–at a time when Swiss neutrality no longer was of use to the U.S. So the question remains if the U.S. prosecution really will be able to uproot FIFA corruption. The fact that Blatter himself was not indicted makes me think that it won’t. And the other question is how long it will take for small countries to feel trampled by this very assertive U.S. prosecution. So far, authorities in Switzerland have cooperated–hence the Zurich arrests. But it is unclear how long they will. Ironically, then, the solution may have to come from within FIFA, as Blatter himself demanded today. What Blatter can’t see is that this only has a chance of working without him as president.

Islamic Extremist Iconoclasm–and Its Christian Precedents

In recent days, there has been a global outcry about the destruction of the ancient Assyrian site of Nimrud by ISIS. Over the past few years, many invaluable antiquities and irreplacable world heritage sites have fallen victim to Islamic extremists in countries like Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. The theological justification for these acts is that these artifacts are idols which propagate a false religion and seduce the faithful to stray from the path to true faith.

Perhaps the most spectacular act was the the destruction of two giant Buddhas in Afghanistan by the Taliban in 2001. Ever since then, Islamic extremists have destroyed valuable antiquities up to the most recent atrocities committed by ISIS. Aside from expunging idols of false religions, the destruction serves a second purpose: it has become part of a propaganda war in which ISIS is shocking Western audiences in order to remain relevant. The destruction of antiquities and its documentation in videos thus serve as propaganda stunts not unlike the brutal and inhuman beheading videos.

While these are despicable acts, the fact that we infidels find these acts reprehensible is part of the reason why they were committed in first place. I decided not to link images in order not to fuel this propaganda effort by the Islamic extremists. The “propaganda video featuring the apparent destruction of the Mosul Museum” also raises the possibility that these accounts are actually exaggerated. It appears that many of the destroyed artifacts actually were plaster replicas–which reinforces the point about the propaganda stunt.

It is useful to remind ourselves that the Christian tradition had its own moments of sometimes violent iconoclasm–the theologically motivated destruction of religious artifacts. In the 8th and 9th centuries, the Byzantine Empire went through two periods of iconoclasm, for instance. But the most virulent example of Christian extremist iconoclasm is the Protestant Reform of the 16th century, promoted by Lutherans like Andreas Karlstadt and the two founding figures of the Reformed Church, Huldrych Zwingli and Jean Calvin. They regarded the visual representation of the divine as a form of heresy and ordered the systematic destruction of religious art in churches they controlled.

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Damaged relief in Utrecht Cathedral, desecrated in 1566 during the iconoclast fury in the Netherlands. (Wikipedia)

The Protestant iconoclastic fervor was as virulent and extreme as the destructive energy displayed by the modern-day Islamic extremists.  In the Zwinglian part of Switzerland, and particularly in Zurich, churches were purged of all religious images in 1524. Wooden art was publicly burned, and stone sculptures damaged and destroyed with heavy tools. Similar purges happened in some South German cities in the following years. A wave of iconoclast riots swept through the Low Lands in 1566 as an expression of Calvinist assertion against Spanish-Catholic rule.

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Removal and public burning of religious icons in Zurich in 1524. (Wikipedia)

Citizens were incited by preachers to remove idolatric religious art and to ritualistically destroy it in an act of public performance that amounts to a publicity stunt–an aspect which is reflected in many images from the period. Pre-Reformation church art had been commissioned and sponsored by prominent noble and patrician families whose members continued to identify with it. Reformers staged these acts of destruction to shock the entrenched establishment: the point was to destroy what was emotionally dear to its members. Just like with the destruction of antique treasures, there was a theatrical aspect to Reformation-era iconoclasm. So the barbaric destruction of antiquities at the hands of ISIS is not an Islamic specialty–rather an outgrowth of misguided religious fundamentalism. The examples from Christian history vividly illustrate the point.

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Destruction of religious art in the Church of Our Lady in Antwerp in 1566, staged as a communal act. (Wikipedia)

 

Potassium Iodide for the Masses

In early November 2014, my mother who lives in Switzerland received a small package in the mail from  the Swiss Army Pharmacy (Armeeapoteke) which contains 12 potassium iodide pills. It was mailed to all 4.9 million Swiss residents who live within 50 km (about 30 miles) of a nuclear power plant, to be used in case of a nuclear accident, paid for by the operators of the Swiss nuclear reactors. As Switzerland has a resident population of about 8.2 million, 60% of all Swiss residents received such a package. The astounding fact, of course, is that 60% of Swiss residents live within 30 miles of a nuclear power plant, including residents of the Zurich, Basel and Bern metro areas.

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60% of Swiss residents live within 50 km of a nuclear power plant (red dots)

Switzerland has five operating nuclear power plants–one of the highest per capita rates in the world. They were put into service between 1969 and 1984. Current plans call for the retirement of all stations between 2019 and 2034–which would give each plant a fifty-year life span. There are no plans to replace the current plants, but it is unclear if enough alternative energy can be generated to make this plan work.

The distribution of potassium iodine happens every ten years in Switzerland–with the innovation this year that the radius was expanded from 20 to 50 km. It is an interesting scheme which only is thinkable in a highly organized small country as the logistical challenges and the political pitfalls of such an endeavor are substantial in the best of circumstances. It also is indicative of a reactive, defensive stance typical of small countries: small countries rarely have the means to determine their own destinies. They tend to be caught in a web of dependencies consisting of larger nations or international organizations. Therefore, their actions tend to respond to the external circumstances they cannot control nor change.

Form a public policy viewpoint, this initiative is a dicey proposition. On one hand, it represents an admission by the Swiss federal government that nuclear power is potentially unsafe which may erode public support for nuclear power in a small country that heavily depends on it. On the other hand, it represents an effort of a responsible government that seeks to protect its civilian population against possible dangers. The protection of the civil population has a long tradition that goes back to the early years of the Cold War over which neutral Switzerland had little influence.

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The Mühleberg nuclear power plant is located in a densely populated area just outside of Bern. (Source: Wikipedia)

While Switzerland of course controls its own nuclear power program, the potassium iodine program follows the same small-state action pattern: it accepts the existence of nuclear power generation, on which Switzerland depends, as the status quo. In a sense it also downplays the true possible consequences of a nuclear accident experiences in the disasters at Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011). It blocks out the unthinkable questions of what happens if entire landscapes where millions live become uninhabitable, and it does not consider if and to what extent potassium iodide is effective against the fallout of a nuclear accident. Therefore it also could be argued that the Swiss government is creating a false sense of security while camouflaging the real impact of a nuclear disaster.

Environmentalists point to all these pitfalls. Greenpeace, in fact, sent an official-looking flier to all affected households in which ambiguous language raises doubt about this government program it pretends to support and about the nuclear program in general. Residents are urged to seek more information at the http://www.info-jod.ch/ web site whose URL looks very official as well. Only the web site itself makes it clear that this is a Greenpeace effort that has nothing to do with the Swiss government, and further links are clearly marked as Greenpeace pages.

Such a broad distribution of potatssium iodide would be unthinkable in the United States. The web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevenction (CDC) contains some information, but citizens have to actively seek it. Furthermore, the web site explains in some detail how the medication should be administered in the case of a nuclear emergency but does not instruct the public in how to gain access to it. By comparison, the Swiss openness about this program and about the inherent risks of nuclear power are remarkable. What is not clear yet is how this Swiss government program will move the public perception of nuclear power and whether this will reduce its acceptance in Switzerland.

 

Swiss Direct Democracy: a Model for Europe?

Small states by definition are too small to be good at everything. So they tend to bundle their resources to excel at one or two things. Like chocolate, or watches. But small states are also laboratories for ideas–like the plan to make Sweden an oil-free society by 2020. The Swiss contribution to the global melting pot of ideas is direct democracy. In Switzerland, a sufficient number of signatures can force a popular referendum on any federal law or can require a vote on a constitutional amendment on any issue imaginable.

To be sure, direct democracy is a beautiful thing–even when people make stupid decisions. Switzerland, the haven of direct democracy, showcases both the brilliance and the absurdity of direct democracy as a system of governance. While the Swiss elect a parliament, as do citizens in other democracies, the Swiss also can use referendums to undo the work of the very same parliament they just elected. So direct democracy essentially creates a parallel system that can control and even bypass the parliamentary process.

The advantage of this system is that politicians are forced to come up with laws that most likely would withstand the test of a popular referendum. So compromise is essential for the system to work. The drawback is that ordinary people like you and I could come up with something really stupid at the kitchen table and get enough signatures to force a popular vote on it—like the successful initiative to ban minarets in Switzerland. This creates opportunities for populist groups to bypass the parliamentary system altogether. This can be a good thing as long as an educated electorate can be trusted to act in the interest of the republic. This assumption will be seriously tested in the votes coming up in Switzerland this coming Sunday, November 30.

Swiss direct democracy is the envy of democratically-minded people all over the world. But the tool of the constitutional initiative has been mostly used by populist groups on the left and on the right who do not have broad parliamentary support. While leftist initiatives, like the constitutional amendment to abolish the Swiss Army, have failed consistently, the initiatives and referendums launched by the right frequently have been successful, like the vote against Swiss membership in the European Economic Area in 1992 or the vote to curb “Mass Immigration” earlier in 2014.

It has become fashionable among the populist right in Europe to promote direct democracy, most prominently the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) in Britain and the Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany; AfD) in Germany. There are reasons to doubt that these movements are more democratically inclined than mainstream parties—in fact, there is evidence to the contrary. Rather, they promote direct democracy because of its populist potential: they see it as a tool to implement their anti-immigration and anti-EU agendas. One of the outspoken supporters of Swiss-style direct democracy is the euroskeptic Daniel Hannan, a journalist and Conservative British Member of the European Parliament. When Swiss voters banned minarets in 2009, Hannan wrote a column with the title “Switzerland bans minarets: long live referendums, even when they go the wrong way.”

So Europe will be watching as Swiss voters will cast their ballots on November 30. There are two contentious issues to be voted on, both with consequences that will reach far beyond Switzerland’s borders. One of them is the popular initiative with the official title Rettet unser Schweizer Gold (Save Our Swiss Gold). Its declared intent is to secure the Swiss National Bank’s gold reserves with the specific stipulations that the National Bank needs to hold at least twenty percent of its assets in gold, that it does not have the right to sell gold reserves, and that the gold must be physically stored in Switzerland. Its populist appeal is evident in the language: the phrases “our Swiss gold” makes it sound like the Swiss have a birth right to the gold that has been chiseled out of Swiss Alpine granite–rather than mined by sweat labor in Botswana.

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“Protecting the wealth of the people”: deceptive imagery to support the Gold Initiative.

Experts agree that the initiative does not make sense economically as the gold standard to support currencies has long been abandoned around the globe. But the impact would be felt globally as gold prices would rise substantially because the Swiss National Bank would be required to buy large quantities of gold. Furthermore, the Swiss Franc would rise in value to unprecedented heights which would do serious damage to the Swiss export industry. Already before the vote, the Euro briefly dropped to below the magic barrier of 1.2 Swiss Francs.

The second ballot issue is the so-called Ecopop initiative. It is a hard-core anti-immigration measure sugar-coated in language that feigns concern for the environment. It creates a horror scenario in which twelve Million people would live in Switzerland by 2050—the current resident population is eight million–which would cause the Swiss landscape to be paved over by concrete and destroy biodiversity. It seeks to limit net migration into Switzerland at .2 percent of the resident population or at currently about 16,000 individuals per year in order to keep the resident population stable and  to limit the environmental degradation associated with overpopulation. The increase in 2013 was about 100,000 so the impact on migration indeed would be serious.

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Ecopop horror scenario: deceptive images showing Lucerne littered by highrises by 2050.

The consequences would be dire: it would stop immigration almost completely (which is the true intent of the initiative), deprive the Swiss economy of a much-needed labor force, irreversibly harm Swiss universities and research institutes, and force the cancellation of the extensive system of bilateral treaties with the EU which are critical for Switzerland–which is another undeclared objective of the initiative. As a result, Switzerland would lose direct access to EU markets and all the benefits the country enjoys from its current status of de-facto integration without the burdens of full membership. It also would embolden Euroskeptics in EU member states to demand similar measures in their countries.

Both ballot initiatives show the difficulties of addressing complex issues in a globalized and networked world by means of direct democracy. It is easy to convince ordinary voters to tell the National Bank to keep their gold in their piggy bank and to keep the Swiss landscapes from getting sullied by concrete. All that is needed are simplistic slogans using emotion-laden language that caters to  base fears in the population. But it is much harder to make a reasoned argument that demonstrates the extreme dangers these ballet issues will pose if passed. While the ramifications for Switzerland and Europe would be extremely serious, it is unclear if Swiss voters have the capacity to understand them. Of course, this could be decried as an elitist viewpoint–an argument often used by populists to defend their brand of direct democracy.

Direct democracy is a good indicator for popular sentiment and allows for a more nuanced expression of popular will than parliamentary elections and therefore is a very important political institution. But it also is prone to falling prey to populist seduction and deception. Many in Europe believe that some form of direct democracy could help address the perceived democratic deficit within the European Union. But recent Swiss votes raise doubt whether direct democracy really offers a viable alternative. The vote this coming Sunday will go a long way to answer that question. In a sense, the two ballot issues also will be referendum on the viability of Swiss direct democracy.

So Why is Walgreens Moving to Switzerland? (And What Can We Do about It?)

The other day, a petition from Campaign for America’s Future ended up in my in-box. Its subject line read: “Why is Walgreens Moving to Switzerland?” Of course, Walgreens is not moving to Switzerland. My Walgreens still will by around the corner from my house. And most corporate jobs will remain in Chicago.  The first line of the e-mail reads: “Walgreens is an American success story.  Or, at least, they used to be.” Wrong again: it still is, and will remain so even after Walgreens moves its corporate headquarters to Switzerland. It just will not pay taxes in the US anymore. But that, too, is very American. Ever since Ronald Reagan declared the government the enemy of the people, paying taxes no longer is a civic virtue. Avoiding taxation altogether is considered smart because the money would only serve to bloat the government.

The planned move by Walgreens was precipitated by its merger with Alliance Boots, a British drugstore chain. Alliance Boots moved its corporate headquarters to Zug, Switzerland, in 2008 which caused the very same discussion about corporate citizenship in Britain. Alliance Boots never had more than a mailbox in Zug. According to The Guardian, the move comes at a cost of £100 million to the British taxpayer every year. In 2013, the company headquarters were moved to Bern as Alliance Boots already had operations there. While Zug is the quintessential corporate tax haven, the move to Bern, which was missed by Bloomberg News, does little to change the story. A move to Switzerland by the Walgreen Corporation would have similar benefits. A few weeks ago, analysts from UBS, a global bank based in Switzerland, claimed that stocks in the Walgreen Corporation would rise 75 per cent if corporate headquarters were to be moved to Switzerland.

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Modest multi-party office building at Baarerstrasse 94 in Zug. Alliance Boots was based here until 2013.

Clearly, Walgreens does not want you to read this. In 1904, Charles Walgreen traveled from his small-town home in Dixon, Illinois, to Chicago and opened a pharmacy and soda fountain. It is the quintessential American success story, but today’s corporation has little to do with its humble beginnings. Walgreens want you to believe that they are an American company that pays their taxes, that they are being a good corporate American citizen, and that they live up to their iconic status as a quintessential American corporation. In a wicked way, of course, they are: like so many other American corporations, they are moving their corporate headquarters offshore.

Large corporations are de-nationalized entities which nimbly navigate the global financial and fiscal system while maintaining the fiction of national citizenship for public consumption. Two years ago, Gregory D. Wasson, the chief executive of Walgreen Corporation, sought tax breaks from the state of Illinois the company is still based. At that point, he stated: “We are proud of our Illinois heritage. Just as our stores and pharmacies are health and daily living anchors for the communities we serve, we as a company are now recommitted to serving as an economic anchor for northeastern Illinois.” At the time Wasson made this statement, the merger with Alliance Boots was essentially a done deal.

Walgreens is not the first and probably not the last US corporation to move their headquarters overseas for tax reasons. But Walgreens is different in that it is part of daily life in the US. My Walgreens is not just a pharmacy, I go there as well when I am out of dish detergent or beer. When Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon platform which caused the huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, moved its corporate mailbox from Houston to Zug in 2008, nobody took notice. But Walgreens lives off he daily contact with American consumers, and in that it is seen as a quintessentially American brand that cannot be relocated so easily. And herein lies the chance to create public pressure not just to prevent Walgreens from moving to Switzlerland but to expose the fraudulent global scheme of corporate taxation.

So what does Campaign for America’s Future want you to do about this? They want you to send them ten bucks so they can “expose this scam, pressure Walgreens to do the right thing, and shut down the tax loophole that allows this to happen.” You can also sign their “Tell Walgreens: Don’t Desert America” petition. While I cannot argue against closing tax loopholes, this approach is merely cosmetic.

In 1998, the OECD published a report entitled Harmful Tax Competition: An Emerging Global Issue which arrives at the stunningly simple analysis: “Where activities are not in some way proportional to the investment undertaken or income generated, this may indicate a harmful tax practice.” Ultimately, the OECD had to abandon its efforts to develop non-abusive global taxation standards due to resistance from the wealthiest countries. The OECD report makes it clear that it is unethical for Swiss cantons (and other entities) to allow foreign corporations to incorporate and that it is harmful for tax jurisdictions where the actual economic activity of these corporations takes place. This practice particularly hurts developing countries, as Nicholas Shaxson argues in Treasure Islands (2012), that as a consequence become more dependent on foreign aid. Yet, fighting individual predatory jurisdictions, like many Swiss cantons, would only be marginally productive as corporations easily can move their mailbox to a different, equally beneficial jurisdiction.

One of the OECD recommendations was that a global standard should be established by which corporations should be taxed where their economic activity is taking place. We need to vigorously push for this standard, and we need to seek a fundamental change in how corporations are taxed globally. Corporations need to be taxed where they are producing goods and services and where they are using the infrastructure, not where they are having their corporate headquarters, i.e. their mailboxes. Such mailbox headquarters create a windfall for the host tax jurisdictions which in turn allows them to drop the corporate tax rates even more to attract even more corporate mailboxes. The Swiss canton of Zug is a textbook example for that.

The only real solution, ultimately, is to end tax competition between jurisdictions. In competitive tax environments, corporations win and taxpayers lose. Corporations and their lawyers always can move more nimbly than politicians and the polities they represent. Corporations can move their mailboxes as they please, pick where they pay taxes, and play tax jurisdictions against each other. Tax jurisdictions cannot move their citizens or their infrastructures. Unless we change the very system of how corporations are taxed, the Walgreens of this world will always have their way and citizens will lose out.

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One of many mailboxes at Baarerstrasse 94 in Zug: Künzi Treuhand AG. About 50 corporations and business groups receive their mail here–meaning that this is where they are legally incorporated. One of their advertised specialties: helping foreign corporations set up and manage corporate headquarters here. This is big business, and there are many such companies in Zug.

 

Small-State Reaction to Crisis: Let’s Hoard Food

Ever since I read the two volumes of the graphic novel Maus by Art Spiegelman two decades ago, I have been thinking how the historical context that marked our parents’ formative years impacts our lives today. My parents are not Holocaust survivors–they spent their teenage years during WW II in northern Switzerland, about 20 miles from the German border. Switzerland was completely surrounded by the Axis powers, food and other daily commodities were scarce, and practically everything was rationed. Not to speak of the daily routine of going to bed with the fear of waking up to German tanks rumbling through town.

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My father operated this artillery gun at the underground Fürigen fortress which was tunneled into the rocky cliffs overlooking Lake Lucerne in 1941-42. The fortress is a museum now.

My father was a soldier in the Swiss Army starting in 1943. He never fired a shot. I cannot possibly compare the history of my family with the tragic fate of the Spiegelman family. Yet what happened to my parents marked an entire generation in Switzerland and has been passed on to my generation. I grew up in a house of food hoarders. An entire pantry was dedicated to the storage of non-perishables, such as flour, sugar, rice, canned food and of course soap. My mother stored potatoes and apples in our cool, dark cellar, and we ate home-made jam that was always about three years old. Yes, my mother had a sophisticated labeling and rotation system.  It was clear that my parents were not ever going to suffer food shortages again.

I had a dinner party at my house a week ago, and one of my sons made fun of the extraordinary amount of pasta in my pantry. This was one of these Maus moments in my life. We all laughed, including myself, because it is funny. And we had laughed about this before, and will again. Yet I know I always will store ample food supplies. I would not feel comfortable without a full pantry. And freezer. When in 2005 Hurricane Rita hit the Gulf Coast and even threatened my home in Austin, my house was ready for six additional people who had been displaced by the storm while everybody else was at the stores clearing shelves of anything that was edible.

This morning I read this headline in the online version of the German news magazine Der Spiegel : “Swiss Army chief hoards emergency supplies.” Of course, I knew right away that General André Blattmann was a kindred spirit. Apparently, he is storing about 80 gallons of mineral water (non-carbonated, in case you were wondering), wood for heating, and all kinds of food supplies. The title of the interview General Blattmann gave to the Swiss Sunday paper Schweiz am Sonntag, on which the Spiegel report was based, makes it plain that he would like all Swiss to do the same: “The Army chief advises the population to store emergency supplies.”

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General Blattmann (in uniform), food hoarder, at a political event in 2010. (Wikipedia, Creative Commons)

Blattmann points out that contemporary society has become very vulnerable to a number of threats: the crisis in Ukraine with the potential for armed conflict, the growing risk of cyber-attacks, and the possibility of accidents in nuclear power stations in or near Switzerland, all of which could cause a systemic loss of electric power and disrupt the supply of food, water, and other necessities of life. And he paints a bleak picture for the role of the army: “We need the army to prevent looting when ATM machines don’t work anymore and there is nothing to buy.” Here is the lesson Blattmann takes away from this: “If you cannot defend yourself, history will tell you what you will have to do.”

This is the essence of small-state thinking. Small states do not have the resources to shape international politics. But small states can prepare for worst-case scenarios to ensure their own survival. Switzerland always has taken the concept of Zivilverteidigung (civil defense) very seriously, and after 1945 enormous resources were spent to create nuclear shelters and underground hospitals for the general population, culminating in the publication of the Zivilverteidigungsbuch (Civil Defense Book) in 1969 which was distributed to all Swiss households. Storing food supplies and asking citizens to do the same was part of that effort. But my parents did not need that reminder.

This kind of preparedness has been the essence of the long-standing Swiss policy of neutrality which has been practiced successfully since the 16th century: keeping out of conflicts between other countries to ensure survival, and being prepared militarily to create a deterrent. The lesson of WW II clearly has been that Switzerland as a nation, but also individual Swiss citizens have to prepare the resources to be self-reliant in times of crisis as the country cannot control the outcomes of international conflicts and cannot count on being bailed out by a larger power. According to Blattmann, the conflict in Ukraine and the threat of future asymmetrical conflicts have shown that we are entering a renewed period of uncertainty that requires a higher degree of preparedness.

Blattmann’s response to this new sense of insecurity clearly is a small-state response. Just imagine General Dempsey requesting that all Americans do the same. It also is anchored in this hoarding reflex the generation that came of age during the last war has instilled in their children and grandchildren. Just check the general’s basement–or my pantry. But then, I sleep better that way, even in Texas.

Switzerland Discovers the Ugliness of Offshore

In recent days, Johann Schneider-Ammann, the Swiss Minister of Economic Affairs, has become the target of criticism for the tax dealings of the Ammann Group in Langenthal, the company he led between 1987 and 2010. From 1999 to 2010, Schneider-Ammann served in the National Council, the lower chamber of the Swiss parliament. He only gave up control of the Ammann Group when he became a member of the Swiss Federal Council, the federal cabinet, as Minister of Economic Affairs in 2010.

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Official 2014 picture of the Swiss Federal Council. Schneider-Ammann is on the left.

The Ammann group was founded in 1869 by an ancestor of Schneider-Ammann’s wife and has been specializing in the production of construction machines. Since 1931, Ammann has been the exclusive importer of Caterpillar products to Switzerland. Today, the company has a worldwide employment of about 3,700–2,500 of them abroad.

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Ammann road construction machines (Pavel Ševela / Wikimedia Commons)

One of the allegations, first reported by Swiss TV in late January, is that the Amman Group sold Caterpillar equipment to Iran after the 1979 revolution, thus circumventing the US embargo. Two retired truck drivers, Werner Zwahlen and Robert Z’Rotz, claim to have delivered many truckloads of Caterpillar products to Teheran and Baghdad between 1975 and 1984: “We picked up the machines and spare parts in Belgium and the Netherlands and brought them to Ammann in Langenthal. There we got new papers and, without ever unloading, drove on to Teheran and Baghdad.” As Schneider-Ammann entered the company in a leading position in 1981, it stands to reason that he knew about this scheme–which to be sure was not illegal under Swiss law.

The more serious allegation is that the Ammann Group set up offshore schemes to evade–or avoid–taxation in Switzerland.  In 1976, the Ammann Group founded Manilux SA, a financial holding corporation, in Luxemburg. In 1996, they founded another financial subsidiary, Jerfin Ltd., on the Channel island of Jersey. Schneider-Ammann himself was listed as the chief of Manilux which had neither employees nor offices in Luxemburg, nor elsewhere, even though 250 million Swiss Francs were invested there. Manilux and Jerfin were dissolved in 2007 and 2009, respectively, and the funds transferred first to Jersey and then back to Switzerland.

In an interview with the Zurich daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung on February 8, Schneider-Ammann confirmed the basic facts but denied any wrongdoing: “This was about reserves which we optimized in terms of taxation. The funds were intended for the strategic development of the international Ammann Group and were used to protect jobs. Everything was legal, everything was transparent, the taxation authorities had complete insight at any time. They confirmed this to the company again on Friday.” Entrepreneurs today, according to Schneider-Ammann, have to resort to such offshore schemes because companies are part of a global competition where this is standard procedure: “If you want to secure domestic jobs in an international corporation, it is legitimate to optimize taxes. From an entrepreneurial perspective, it would be a mistake not to take advantage of all legal options.”

While many corporations set up much more sophisticated tax avoidance schemes with a more complex web of subsidiaries in numerous jurisdictions, this is a textbook example for how offshore works. “Optimizing” tax liabilities becomes part of what corporate leaders do in order to increase profits or just to remain competitive. At the other end of the bargain, jurisdictions compete to offer the most attractive conditions to get companies to incorporate there. This is the mechanism Schneider-Ammann described quite frankly: “The Ammann group has to compete in a brutal environment. Before the turn of the millennium, this type of a tax break did not exist in Switzerland. That is why it was recommended to us to invest money in offshore corporations to shelter it from taxation. In the last few years, similar tax shelters were created here [in Switzerland]. This is why we brought the money back to Switzerland.”

This is how the offshore race to the bottom works: corporations create shell companies to move their money to the jurisdiction that offers the most advantageous conditions–and ordinary citizens all over the world shoulder an ever-increasing percentage of the tax burden. Jurisdictions in turn adjust their tax schemes to make their location even more attractive to corporations. When Switzerland matched the conditions offered by Luxemburg and Jersey, repatriating the accounts made business sense for the Ammann Group.

So why did revelations about the business practices of their Minister of Economic Affairs create such a stir in Switzerland to the point that some demand his resignation? Switzerland is one of the pioneers of the offshore system and for well over 80 years has created offshore opportunities for corporations and individuals who are based elsewhere. Mr. Schneider-Ammann has delivered a high-profile example for how offshore looks from the point of view of the jurisdiction that gets cannibalized–a perspective the Swiss are not used to seeing. And all of a sudden, it is very easy to comprehend just how wrong and unjust this system is.

The question is not just whether Mr. Schneider-Ammann’s tax schemes were legal but whether a corporate leader who actively pursued offshore strategies to avoid paying corporate taxes in Switzerland can be a trusted guardian of the common good and more specifically is fit to be its Minister of Economic Affairs–who sits at the table when tax issues are discussed with foreign entities. And just perhaps the offshore system has become odious enough for even the Swiss to understand that the global offshore system they helped create–and from which they profited immensely–may be legal but is morally corrupt.