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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Foreign firms continue to come to Switzerland despite problems in "paradise"

Mar 24, 2011 - 21:27

Cracks showing in business oasis Switzerland

There are not many empty flats left in Swiss cities
There are not many empty flats left in Swiss cities (Keystone)

by Matthew Allen,

A shortage of affordable homes and international schools, along with a prolonged row over tax, threatens to weaken Switzerland's magnetic pull for foreign firms.

Lured by low tax rates and a high standard of living, a steady stream of overseas companies have set up operations in Switzerland in recent years. But there are signs of growing discontent from new arrivals.

Top of the grumble list is the astronomic rise in house prices in Geneva, Zurich and Zug – a trend that has already priced many locals out of the market, and threatens to do the same for foreign workers.

"The new Eldorado has become even more of a magnet and there is a risk that this could result in a social crisis," Emmanuel Fragnière of Geneva's HEG School of Business Administration told earlier this month.

"Politicians are very happy to collect the new taxes, but they need a coherent policy to promote the location that takes into account structural difficulties."

Problems are also showing up in Zug and in Rolle, situated between Geneva and Lausanne.

Noise control

"No one imagined what would happen with so many people from outside Switzerland coming here to work," Rolle Social Democrat politician Patrick Bréchon told

"They are not really creating local jobs. The housing market is like a jungle. House prices have shot up unbelievably and infrastructure – transport, roads and schools – is really behind."

Local complaints have also been matched with anecdotal evidence of foreign workers finding it tough going in their newly adopted country. The British magazine, the Economist, interviewed newcomers complaining of boredom and a lack of places in international schools.

"You need muscle to get kids in international schools," said one financier named only as Alex. "Otherwise it's a Swiss school, where your kids will find it hard to settle."

Others experienced problems adapting to stricter Swiss regulations on noise and refuse collection than they were used to at home.

Geneva-based relocation expert Francois Micheloud acknowledged that the huge influx of foreign firms and workers had created some structural problems, made worse by slow planning and construction rules.

Tax uncertainty

But he firmly believed that solutions could be found to ease the pressures, such as developing rural areas north of Lausanne or in canton Vaud.

"We are not like Monaco – a small piece of rock where you cannot build any more," he told "Bottlenecks will be resolved by companies spreading out to areas that are still within reach of Geneva airport."

Switzerland's vaunted tax competitiveness is also coming under sustained pressure from the European Union. The Swiss authorities have made noises that the corporate tax system could be revamped to meet some EU demands, but nobody knows how this could be done.

"Companies interested in relocation to Switzerland should know what the tax rules will be like in future," tax expert Stephan Kuhn of Ernst & Young told "They would not come to Switzerland if the tax system is unpredictable and subject to major increases."

British-based companies, on the other hand, received a boost from Wednesday's budget announcement that tax rates would be cut by two per cent in the next three years, a full percentage point more than previously thought.

Incentives remain

This prompted advertising giant WPP to consider relocating its tax base back to Britain from Ireland, where it had recently moved.

In a recent interview in the British Observer newspaper, the chief executive of pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, Andrew Witty, chided British firms for heading to cheaper tax regimes, saying they had broken their bond with society.

"We could go, in theory, anywhere for a low tax rate. But first of all, how do you know that country isn't going to change its tax rate in ten minutes?" he said.

However, Britain's new 23 per cent rate would still be higher than the Swiss burden. Depending on where a company is based, combined effective federal and cantonal rates vary between 24.5 and 14 per cent.

Francois Micheloud is convinced that the relocation of foreign firms to Switzerland will continue "for many years to come".

"The incentives for companies to come to Switzerland remain the same as before: competitive tax rates, excellent transport links, a central European location, access to a highly skilled work force, clusters of business competence and flexible labour laws," he told

"And Switzerland is still a delightful place in which to live."

Matthew Allen, swissinfo


Readers' average rating: 4.7


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EF, Switzerland
@Rene. What about the greed of the swiss communities???? I have lived here for 6 years and whenever foreigners complain (which often involves simply asking a question) they are hit with absolute vitriol from the Swiss who constantly want to proclaim that people don't integrate or that people are filth because they don't blindly accept the "CH is perfect" mantra. Why can't the Swiss take responsibility for offering up their country to foreign companies for the sake of receiving more tax revenue and more consumption (especially with regard to real estate)??? Where are the Swiss peoples vitriol about that? I've known many educated foreigners who came with the goal of integrating-- but the reality is that the Swiss are often inhospitable and downright unwilling to invite others into their coveted world. So foreigners are forced to rely on each other. Why do you Swiss want to create a society that is so fragmented-- with different groups staying in different ghettos????? You will pay for it in the end. And it is all due to your own GREED. Companies and expats can't come here without your approval-- you have been courting these companies to come here. You had better start thinking ahead as to the human and social consequences of your greed and stop blaming others.

Lisa, Switzerland
We've lived here for 4 years. In that time we have had a bike and a scooter stolen right from our locked apartment building to which our managers replied "Shouldn't have left them there" even though everyone else does. My husband had his backpack stolen off the train. He had placed it behind him rather than on a seat which then takes up a seat someone else could have used. When the train stopped in Bern a man pulled it out and took off. At the next stop when my husband went to get up and noticed it missing, the woman sitting next to him said a man took it at the previous stop. When my husband asked her why she didn't say something she just shrugged her shoulders. That was certainly being helpful (not). A good portion of the kids here act more like thugs than decent human beings. I could go on and on. The truth is there is crime here just like everywhere else, what bothers me is that the Swiss act so much more superior than everyone else, when the truth is they are no better or worse than the rest of civilization.

Rene, Switzerland
@ EF, Switzerland: Your concluding question: "But then again, why don't the companies ask more questions so they understand more than just what the tax situation will look like?" The answer is: Corporations couldn't care less about the consequences about moving their operations (operations, headquarters or P.O. Box?) to Switzerland other than the "low tax haven", fringe benefits in the name of higher net profits, share holder values and most of all greed by the corporate leadership (CEO's & CFO's), Board of Directors, and major share holders of these corporations.

DOYLE, Switzerland
My goodness, no wonder the Aussies refer to us as "Whinging Poms". Nowhere is perfect. We're all here for a reason, so just chill out and enjoy!


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