Swiss gov’t lays out 2011 agenda

Federal Council will consult on plan for how big banks can fail, negotiate withholding tax on foreigners’ accounts

Measles, tougher penal sentences, electricity suppliers, corporate tax rates all on the 2011 schedule

Swiss Federal Council (cabinet): government publishes its 2011 agenda

Bern, Switzerland (GenevaLunch) – The Swiss Government, fresh from the defeat of its counter-initiative in the vote on foreign convicts 28 November, has set out an ambitious agenda for work it expects to complete in 2011. This will be the final session before a new parliament is elected 23 October 2011.

Two pieces of legislation, one calling for a tougher penal code and the other for greater efforts to integrate foreigners into Swiss society, were planned before the weekend vote, but they must now be coordinated with a constitutional change, the results of the 28 November popular initiative, where Swiss voters chose automatic expulsion of foreign convicts.

Negotiations over undeclared assets in Swiss banks confirmed

The council confirmed Tuesday that negotiations are already underway with some countries, and it intends to open negotiations with other key countries, to “regularize” undeclared assets coming to Swiss banks from outside Switzerland. The main tool Switzerland intends to use is a withholding tax but the government says the negotiations will also include a commitment by the Swiss to “ensure, as far as possible, that undeclared assets from [countries with negotiations] will not in future come to Switzerland”.

Bankruptcy proceedings for key banks would limit pay, free trade agreements get priority

The cabinet will consult with interested parties on the details of how banks that are critical to the national financial system would be allowed to move into bankruptcy if they fail. A particular aspect of this is the decision by the government to limit payment to bankers for any financial institution that comes under the government’s care. Wide consultation on drafts for new laws with major impact is standard procedure in Switzerland and proposed legislation is then revised based on feedback before it goes to parliament.

Trade talks to be accelerated

The government intends to set up meetings with other governments around the World Economic Forum in Davos in early 2011 to explore the possible creation of “coalitions” to work through the slow-moving Doha Round of the World Trade Organization.

Another top economic priority, as part of an overall push to increase Swiss competivity, will be to move quickly on free trade agreements that are in various stages, especially those with developing economies. Starting negotiations with China tops the list, but the Federal Council also mentions Efta agreements with India, Indonesia, the customs union of Russia-Belarusse and Kazakhstan. It will also review Efta’s efforts to negotiate free trade agreements with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Hong Kong and Montenegro. It will consider opening negotiations with Malaysia, Vietnam and Central American countries.

On the home front: measles, open electricity market, education

Closer to home, the Federal Council will continue its push to open the electricity market and to reduce unemployment, in part through encouraging more adult continuing education. The emphasis will be on encouraging programmes, while leaving the responsibility for training up to the individual. Swiss schools abroad will get more money “depending on the availability of funds”, says the council. Switzerland has 17 Swiss schools in other countries, all of which teach at least one Swiss language and English, to more than 8,000 children. If they complete the secondary school International Baccalaureate or Maturite/Matura Swiss programmes successfully, they are able to attend Swiss universities.

Switzerland is committed to eradicating measles in Europe, in line with the WHO (World Health Organization), by encouraging more children to be vaccinated. The country has lagged behind other European nations in raising its vaccination rate, and it has had several bouts of the disease, mistakenly often considered benign. Consultations have ended and it will now put in place a nationally coordinated programme to raise the rate and eliminate the disease.

Government efforts to create a more open and competitive electricity market will continue, says the council. Price hikes by electricity companies in 2010 were reviewed and rejected by the energy office, but in 2014 small electricity consumers, including households, will be able to join large ones in choosing their own energy supplier.  that consumer more than 100,000 kWh a year

Also on the agenda:

  • approving stock market revised rules, including those on insider trading
  • MeteoSwiss, national weather service, will be given a wider role, including responsibility for reducing population risks that are weather and climate related
  • medical and health care training, which is regulated by cantons, will become more harmonized and alternative medicine training will get a boost
  • penal code revisions calling for the return of short (up to six months) prison terms instead of fines and for the end to suspended sentences in some cases, with the return of judicial expulsions from Switzerland and the right to extend a sentence handed to a minor from age 22 to 25: consultations in 2010 have ended and the government will now recommend changes to the penal code.
  • new federal law that would allow electronic healthcare files, where privacy laws must be taken into account: consultations will begin
  • EU (European Union) discussions will be scheduled over equitable corporate tax rates.

Complete agenda, Swiss Federal Council 2011