GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – The human urge to complain tends to lead to exaggeration and crime figures for Switzerland seem to be a current victim of that. I’m hearing and seeing claims about the rapidly climbing rate of crime that simply aren’t backed by numbers. Let’s take just one example, theft. First, let’s compare figures for 2009 to 2013, Swiss-wide, theft but no break-in and not including car theft, reported to the police:
The numbers jumped in 2011 and again in 2012 as the number of cantons included in the nationwide figures rose. Police harmonized their reporting systems starting in 2009, but some cantons asked for a longer deadline. The project to harmonize the reporting systems was part of a larger European project to do the same, so that Eurostat crime statistics can be compared more easily since 2008.
Thefts that involve break-ins, which account for about 30 percent of all theft:
|Vol par effraction (Art. 139)|
If you want to compare these to the rest of the world, it’s important to note that attempted robbery is included in Swiss statistics but it is not for all countries in Europe, according to Eurostat figures.
Two of the OECD’s most recent tables for comparing crime rates, from January 2012, are shown at left (click on the images to view larger). The term “robbery” used for the first one, includes violence, whether threatened or real.
Switzerland rises in the ranks when it comes to burglary, but it is well behind leader Denmark and has roughly 75 percent of the burglaries that Austria has.
One explanation for the impression that break-ins are on the rise could be that they are in some areas, notably Vaud, where the figure climbed from 7,265 to 10,644 between 2009 and 2012, and Geneva, where the rise is less spectacular, from 6,463 to 7,322 in four years.
ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - Ed. note: William Olenick has been active in Republicans Abroad in Switzerland, where he is a longtime resident. He sent the following email letter to friends 28 January; we reprint it in full as part of our coverage of the ongoing problems for US citizens in Switzerland.
Read the article below my comments and you will see why I also have my problems with the banks and I am tax compliant.
For the last 25 years I have been busting open niche markets for American products, contributing to lowering the trade deficit, developing new markets for US producers, creating employment for my brethren back home, increasing the tax base where they live.
The only way to do this is to be on the ground in the countries you are selling.
In my case, my markets were Europe, North Africa and the Middle East so it made sense to set up a base of operations in Switzerland, as it was close to the markets, was a well run country, my wife happened to be Swiss, from a large, close-knit family, so it was a no brainer.
Two months ago my bank informed me that I could no longer make wire transfers to the states.
That being the case how will I pay my suppliers?
These absolute black boot fools in DC are shooting themselves in the foot and biting the hand that feeds them.
Sure there were those evading taxes and there were many greedy bankers stumbling over themselves to help those evaders, but the numb nuts in Washington are ruining the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent American citizens, and just spitting in the face of our allies, by strong arming them (Remember the Nazis?) to enforce US tax law, when they have nothing to do with the US tax system.
It is the job of the IRS to prevent untaxed dollars from leaving the country but they are unable to do that, as they surely are not up to the job, so they blackmail our allies.
The complete lack of justified foresight, coming out of Washington today, is appalling.
This is forcing me to shut down my 100% legal and tax compliant operation abroad, building new long term nitch markets for US products, and to relocate back to Vermont, where I intend to farm.
What ever happened to the pursuit of life,freedom and happiness, as laid out by the constitution?
I refuse to give up my citizenship, as I am 100% American, to my bone marrow.
I could have been Swiss, through my marriage to my wife, but I am not Swiss, I was born American and will die American.
Pass these comments on as you wish and feel free to publish in what ever publication you wish.
We need to do away with the two-party system, as it serves its citizens poorly, we need to set term limits on all elected officials, coming to Washington, and should pass a law that the newly elected must bring their staffers from their home states.
These professional staffers, on the hill, are a large percentage of the problem and they are not even elected!
Don’t get me going…
William Olenick, Zermatt,Switzerland
If you don’t like it you know where to find me.”
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – It seems no matter how often the police say it or the CFF rail company cautions travelers, foreigns are anxious to hold onto the image of clean, tidy, crime-free Switzerland, a place that exists mainly in the imagination.
The latest dire warning to travelers comes from a writer in the UK’s Daily Mail, who recounts the tale of his nephews’ stolen luggage, then a friend’s backpack, on Swiss trains, noting that “the impeccably clean Swiss carriages are sadly no longer free of crime.”
The trains haven’t been free of crime for years. Yes, the problem has worsened over the past 10 years, as has crime in general throughout Europe. There are plenty of people who will argue that Schengen is responsible, with fewer police border checks, but there are plenty of other possible reasons, starting with the rich-poor divide. Switzerland, with one of the smallest wealth gaps in the world, is a comfortable society that makes a good target.
Whatever the reason and whatever the relative seriousness of the Swiss crime problem (European crime figures still show Switzerland’s crime level as remarkably low, including theft and muggings), we can’t say it too often: don’t invite crime by leaving your valuables surveyance-free!
The Daily Mail author says “Apparently the chancers quickly scan luggage for tags indicating foreign travellers. In the case of Geneva, it is easy pickings, as they can get off with your luggage at the city stop, before the train moves off to the airport station.”
It’s too easy to get into the “we’re foreigners, so we’re easy targets” mentality: the Swiss are also ready targets, and I can recount tales of travelers I know whose computers were stolen while they snoozed. But the Swiss don’t think of their country as a Heidi paradise, so they watch their belongings.
Men, keep your computer bags and packbacks attached to you. Women, do not set your bags on the floor in restaurants or in trains.
The problem with being a foreigner is that you’re easily distracted. The views are great, you’re on holiday, and you’re looking for something nicer than the daily grind of worries at home.
If you’re traveling in Switzerland, behave like the Swiss. Use common sense and stay focused. It’s not foolproof against theft, but it helps.
As for the luggage racks at the end of carriages, you are required to use them, if you have a large bag. Take a seat nearby and check that it remains in view at every stop. If you go to the restaurant car, take your bag with you or leave someone you know in charge.
Look around and you’ll see the Swiss doing the same.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – A sad story arrived in the mailbox from canton Valais police this morning: a 90-year-old man who was hit while crossing the road Monday died of his injuries during the night. The accident took place in the village of Ollon. The man was in the yellow crosswalk area and the 24-year-old Russian woman who hit him was driving from Ban in the direction of Granges-gare, say police.
The pedestrian was thrown 15 metres by the impact.
Police have seized the car for the investigation.
I’m writing about this here, instead of on the news page, because it made me recall a conversation recently with a woman who has been in Switzerland for four years. “I didn’t know, when I came here, that you have to stop for people who are in one of those yellow crosswalks!” she told me. “I couldn’t figure out why all these people seemed to be mad at me!”
The speed limit in most towns is 50kph and the area covered by that often extends well beyond what appears to be the built-up area. Go 20kph over the limit and you risk having your license confiscated.
When in Switzerland, slow down to stay within the speed limit and please, remember the pedestrians: they have the right of way at crosswalks throughout the country.
That said, don’t be a foolish pedestrian: cross at crosswalks, but don’t assume the driver will stop for you!
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – In fact, I, the editor was too cautious! For the past six years I have been insisting, with everyone I meet, that GenevaLunch exists because of a strong need for news in English in the Lake Geneva region and the rest of Switzerland because there are at least half a million people who speak English regularly in this country, a large number of them in western Switzerland.
It turns out there are some 739,000 of us.
The census bureau has measured this for the first time, and today the Federal Statistical Office published the 2010 figures that show 4.1 percent of the resident population calling itself fluent in English: we think in the language and consider that we have mastered it. But a much larger group, 16.5 percent of the working population, speaks English regularly at work.
A crucial point is who these people are: some are of course expatriates from English-speaking countries, but this is a minority. Look at the numbers:
- 513,775 Swiss use English at school or on the job
- 166,000 foreigners come from the European Union (Ireland and England are the only 2 English as main language countries)
- 14,000 from elsewhere in Europe
- 44,000 from outside Europe (US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, etc.).
GenevaLunch was created to provide news for the international population in Switzerland, broadly defined as anyone who uses English regularly, as well as for Swiss English-speakers. Many of the latter are Swiss who have traveled widely, or who work in international companies or attend Swiss universities, and they want to maintain a certain level of English. A demonstration of the real need for quality news in English is that we now have 105,000 pages viewed monthly, all this by word of mouth since, as a small non-profit community service organization we spend almost nothing on marketing.
A word in support of WRS here, which provides news and other programming in English for Switzerland: the public radio station is being threatened with closure by its parent, Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, which must make cutbacks. The station has support from what is generally considered the expat population, but the Swiss would do well to reflect for a moment on how many Swiss people also need to hear English regularly, given its importance to the economy.
The international population includes people who have lived in Switzerland for years, many of whom are fluent in German, French or Italian. We provide news with a different slant from Swiss media; we don’t replace newspapers or radio or TV in French, but we supplement it and help people who are still trying to improve their Swiss languages skills by making it easier to follow the story in another language.
The 2010 census survey covering language and religion covers permanent residents of Switzerland:
• foreigners with a residence or work permit for at least 12 months: B, C or Foreign Affairs pass (international organization workers, diplomats and their families)
• foreigners with short-term stay permits with a cumulative time of more than 12 months
• registered asylum seekers (F or N) who have been resident in Switzerland for at least 12 months.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – “Tax haven” must be one of the most over-used and abused and least understood terms that is regularly unleashed by bureaucrats and politicians on unsuspecting voters who are angry about financial and tax inequality. I’m one of those voters, but I cringe when I see the term, especially coming from the US. This morning it was used by CBS News, which lumped together Ireland, Switzerland and the Bahamas as tax havens” in relation to Mitt Romney and his money.
If the name Delaware surfaces, “tax haven” is replaced by something like “no corporate tax” or “corporate friendly” by its fans and if it is Ireland we hear about “low corporate tax” or “tax friendly” from the big accounting firms, although Business Insider and Ireland’s Politico more bluntly call it a tax haven. Google is one of the key examples there.
Politico’s article on where FTSE 100 companies plant their money and which tax havens they use is a helpful contribution to the discussion.
The over-burdened taxpayer in the US or Ireland could be forgiven for saying yes, but these are companies that create jobs, so this kind of tax haven is okay, whereas the ones that cater to rich individuals (and Switzerland, Luxembourg and the Bahamas are likely to come to mind) are wrong because they’re just used by the rich to hide their wealth.
My sin, but your sensible tax policy
This isn’t a plea for higher corporate and wealth taxes or lower ones for those who aren’t rich. It is a plea to everyone, voters included, to stop using “tax haven” to mean a sin if you do it and sound tax savings practice if I do it. If we can get past that we might get somewhere in finding more balanced tax payment systems.
Here’s the US Government Audit Office (GAO) definition of the term, and keep in mind the list of countries mentioned above:
“There is no agreed-upon definition of a tax haven or agreed-upon list of jurisdictions that should be considered tax havens. However,various governmental, international, and academic sources used similar characteristics to define and identify tax havens. Some of the characteristics included no or nominal taxes; a lack of effective exchange of information with foreign tax authorities; and a lack of transparency in legislative, legal, or administrative provisions.”
This isn’t too far from the OECD one that has caused Switzerland trouble in the past two to three years: “factors to be considered are:
- Whether there is a lack of transparency
- Whether there are laws or administrative practices that prevent the effective exchange of information for tax purposes with other governments on taxpayers benefiting from the no or nominal taxation.
- Whether there is an absence of a requirement that the activity be substantial.”
For the record, I’ve paid taxes in four countries where I’ve lived and while there is room for improvement, I’d put Switzerland at the top of the fair tax list and the US at the bottom. A bonus: it takes me just an hour to do my family’s taxes in Switzerland.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Kirsten Gillibrand is a senator from New York who has been in Geneva this week to raise campaign funds: she is going after part of her constituency, American voters from her state who live in Europe. Democrats from New York who live in neighbouring France and Switzerland are being given an astonishingly rare treat that could provoke envy among other Americans abroad: a member of the US Congress has noticed and is listening to them.
Her trip has drawn the ire of Republicans back home, however, in the conservative press, with the state chairman of the Republican party, Ed Cox, saying “Senator Gillibrand touts her un-passed ‘Upstate Works Act’ while sipping champagne, popping canapés, and filling her campaign coffers in the shadow of the Swiss Alps. She is clinking glasses overseas when she should be cracking heads in Washington to actually get a bill passed.”
The National Journal published an article on the trip. “Mary Boyle, a spokeswoman at the government watchdog group Common Cause, said the trip ‘shows the insane lengths that candidates and members of Congress go to raise money for their reelection campaigns.’”
The criticism of Gillibrand and underlying assumptions that Geneva = overseas Americans = wealthy Americans come shortly after James Fallows, writing “The Fatca Chronicles” in The Atlantic, has cautioned Americans abroad that when they complain about lack of representation and unfair tax regulations they are likely to be viewed as “whiners”:
“Something most overseas Americans don’t realize: The home-bound population does not view them as a hardship class. A known risk category for long-term expats is becoming whiners—I speak as someone who’s lived outside the U.S. for several multi-year stretches and has been known to whine,” he wrote 2 January in “The Fatca Menace”.
Americans living overseas, from Canada to Switzerland, have been complaining loudly in recent months about unfair treatment at the hands of the IRS, starting with double taxation and onerous financial reporting requirements, such as the FBAR and the impact of Fatca on their ability to have bank accounts in the countries where they live, pay rent or own homes and try to set aside retirement money.
Town hall meetings in Geneva and protests in Canada have made it clear that the complaints are coming, not from a handful of wealthy diletante expats, but from a large group of middle income Americans who happen to live outside the country and who ultimately help the rest of the world better understand the US through personal contact.
Many fall below the $92,000 earned income exclusion, the bar set by the IRS for double taxation, and they have been vocal in their complaints about how the system has nevertheless cost them unfairly and grossly.
A significant part of their complaint but one that has so far fallen on deaf ears in the US is that they are taxed without representation. True, an American abroad technically should have Congressional representatives to whom complaints and pleas for help can be sent, and these overseas citizens are supposed to be able to vote and can, in theory, help elect people who understand their concerns.
The system sounds fine on paper, but the reality is very different. For a start, many Americans who live overseas, especially long-term residents or children born abroad to US citizens, no longer or have never had addresses they can use in a US state, and your US address is the starting point for all congressional relations.
Offspring are told by some states, in order to vote and to have a congressional rep, to use a parent’s last address in a state, but this can make voter registration an onerous process. They are simply not eligible to vote in some states.
The Overseas Vote Foundation has been working hard to improve the situation, but few Americans in the US appear to be aware that for a large number of Americans overseas the basic representation and taxation rights that are so stridently defended during electoral campaigns sadly do not apply to all citizens.
Groups like Geneva-based ACA (American Citizens Abroad) have been working hard to draw attention to the issues.
But even if all US citizens abroad managed to find a senator or representative willing to listen to them, this group is dispersed, so its voice remains weak. Their common concerns appear through a prism of all the states, so few politicians see them as having enough weight to be important.
Gillibrand isn’t just raising money for a campaign. She’s opened a conversation with a group of Americans who are often ill-treated by their own government because its elected leaders too often focus on larger vested interests. She should be given some credit by Democrats and Republicans alike for doing her homework and taking her responsibilities seriously.
ZURICH, SWITZERLAND – I haven’t stopped looking at international comparisons for cost of living and wealthy individuals, but I have stopped paying attention to them if they’re dollar-based. They’re mostly nonsense.
Looking at media reports about Credit Suisse’s new “Global Wealth Report” I almost dismissed it, thinking it would be just another list, until I took the time to look at the report itself.
We learn that the number of extremely wealthy Chinese is growing rapidly. And we learn, as TSR points out in its story about this, that household wealth in Switzerland has grown far faster than anywhere else – in dollar terms. The only real purpose that information will serve is to add to the jealousy of Switzerland that is already a small feature of life in Europe.
What matters in this report, is the groundshift it lays out clearly.
“The global wealth currently held by 4.4 billion adults has increased 72% since 2000 to reach USD 195 trillion. Driven by robust economic expansion in the emerging markets, the Credit Suisse Research Institute estimates that global wealth will grow 61% to USD 315 trillion by 2015. The middle segment of the wealth pyramid is composed of one billion individuals who are located in the fastest-growing economies of the world and who hold one-sixth or USD 32 trillion of global wealth.”
Move over USA, make way for Asia
This middle segment is composed of people whose average wealth per adult is $10,000 to $100,000, and 60 percent of them are in Asia.
The report underscores a shift that anyone who has recently spent time in the US will have felt, that this powerhouse of consumers is losing its strength to move the world’s economies. The introduction to the report states it baldly. “The Credit Suisse Research Institute believes that wealth provides people in the middle segment with the financial security they need to become the world’s emerging consumers and that the middle segment will replace indebted US households as the global economic growth locomotive.”
Switzerland and Norway, the report shows, are currently, in dollar terms, “the richest nations in the world in terms of average wealth per adult, which stands at USD 372,692 and USD, 326,530 respectively. They are followed by Australia, which is in third place with average wealth per adult of USD 320,909 and Singapore with average wealth per adult of USD 255,488. Figures for Australia and Singapore have both doubled in the last decade.”
Where there is wealth, there is often poverty
Growing wealth has not meant the disappearance of poverty, no real surprise, but the numbers are sobering. “At the base of the wealth pyramid there are three billion people with average wealth per adult of below USD 10,000, of which 1.1 billion own less than USD 1,000 and 307 million are in India.”
The report is, after all, published by a group backed by a bank, and one curious detail is tucked in here. “Some 2.5 billion people are as yet unbanked. As the wealth of this significant group grows, it will both require and fuel the creation of new financial services.”
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Who is growing faster, who is winning which bit of the world stakes – The Economist does a better job than anyone of tracking India versus China and the latest chart is a nice addition. Switzerland has just hosted India’s president for a couple days and aid and trade questions will be very much on Swiss political minds in coming days.
“How the Asian superpowers compare on various measures of development” incidentally draws a stark picture of the rich-poor divide in the two countries, worse in India, if not great in China.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Switzerland in Chinese: even without Mandarin you can follow these unusual TV travel documentaries on the Switzerland you thought you knew! Occasional travel feature contributor to GenevaLunch, Liam Bates, who spends much of his time as the host of a popular Chinese TV travel show that usually tours hidden corners of China, brings his TV crew to Switzerland to show them his home country, taking a look that goes deeper than pretty scenery. The six shows are being aired this week and the ones below can now be seen on the Internet.
Switzerland in Chinese, for the rapidly budding Chinese travel market:
- episode one, Swiss TV star visits his mountain home for the national holiday, complete with digging garden potatoes, picking raspberries and visiting the neighboring cows, plus delivering gifts from China for the family and childhood memories of where how he became interested in China and traveling, ending with a dusk raclette chalet dinner (note: Liam is my son, so you see GL editor Ellen Wallace at home)
- episode two, visit to the famous Gemmi festival above Leukerbad, alphorn concert in the Alps, dawn cheese-making high above Crans-Montana and a picnic as the sun rises
- episode three, making sense of armed neutrality and citizen militia duty: training with the Swiss army’s search and rescue service and cooking with the world champion Swiss army chefs, taking time out for the Weeping Lion monument in Lucern, hitting the summer slopes in Zermatt near the Matterhorn (last is a preview for episode 4).
- episode four, summer sports like climbing and fast glacier-skiing/snowboarding in Zermatt with a former Swiss ski team champion, then Swiss mountain rescue services in action: Rega system with Air Zermatt, Air Glaciers and the amazing work of the Redog rescue dog teams. Preview of episode 5 – making Swiss chocolate, behind the scenes, mmmm.
- episode five, adding Chinese spice to a chocolatier‘s kitchen, awash in Swiss chocolate!, Barry and the St Bernard Hospice dogs including a new batch of extremely cute puppies, making the perfect Swiss army knife at Victorinox factory. Preview of episode 6 – Lake Geneva, high Alpine Furka pass steam train.
- episode six, at home in Saint Prex, Vetropak glass recycling, Furka steam train with conductor, dining and wining in Locarno, Geneva’s Slowup
Ed. note, 2 October: more than 1.3 people have viewed the first show alone on the Internet, possibly the most popular-ever China Travel Channel complete episode online!