Prize-winning jams at the show

There was a deep irony in the massive congestion around Geneva airport in Switzerland last week. The heavy traffic and long delays for people trying to catch flights was due to the city’s annual motor show, described by pundits as the biggest and most important in Europe.

I arrived on time in the centre of Geneva for a series of unrelated meetings, thanks to the ever-efficient Swiss railway system. But navigating the city was difficult, due to the crowds and the increased traffic. The motor show takes place at the Palexpo centre out by the airport, some way from the centre of town. Yet tens of thousands of extra people swamped Geneva and its surrounds. Many, it seemed, eschewed the railways and came by car. Continue reading

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Swiss vote for pay limits won’t matter

Some say it’s akin to allowing a tabloid newspaper dictate the legislative agenda. Others that it’s true democracy at work. Whatever it is, Switzerland’s use of referenda produces quirky results at times. And it’s now given birth to a seemingly radical vote to let investors veto executive pay proposals and vet appointments to companies’ boards.

The direct democracy system lets voters have a popular vote – and the results  have to be heeded by lawmakers. It  means issues that  would  not get on to the public agenda elsewhere can get vigorously debated in Switzerland. With offbeat, even controversial results – three years ago the Swiss voted to ban the building of new minarets on mosques.
Continue reading

Swiss not immune to food crises

The horsemeat scandal has shone a bright light into a hitherto murky area of food supply – how meat actually gets from the abattoir to our plate. The complicated and convoluted logistics process behind the processed foods industry mean no one can be too sure where the meat in their pies, burgers and ready meals originated. Nor now that it is actually what it purports to be. Beef? Lamb? Horse? Who knows!

Up to now, Swiss retailers were confident they were immune. But is this confidence misplaced? There are warning signs. The Coop, Switzerland’s second-biggest supermarket group, has found traces of horse in some of its lasagna, produced by the French company Comigel – which also provided beef lasagna to Findus UK. Continue reading

Compulsion sometimes the best medicine

Politicians in Britain believe taking radical steps to deal with the pension shortfall would be electoral suicide. The idea people should take personal responsibility for their retirement income even seems unreasonable to some. But is it? It’s been done elsewhere. 

Another day and another survey claiming people don’t want to retire at 60 or 65 because they ‘don’t feel ready to stop working yet’ or have a ‘fresh attitude towards retirement’.

This kind of research is inherently suspect. Continue reading

Housing data and the illusion of recovery

That great barometer of UK consumer confidence, house prices, seems to be moving up. A glance at some of the British tabloids today shows that the combination of a very slight rise in house prices and a fourth consecutive monthly rise  in the number of people managing to buy their own home is front page news.

Why so?

Housing data has long been seen as a bellwether for economic confidence. Continue reading