Business leader sounds alarm for Switzerland

Fritz Blaser says mediocrity is threatening Switzerland Keystone

The outgoing president of the Swiss Employers' Association, Fritz Blaser, has warned that Switzerland is heading for a major crisis.

This content was published on June 27, 2003 - 10:36

He has called for strong action and a "change of course" to stop the country sliding into mediocrity.

"Switzerland is today faced with challenges of a dimension not seen since the Second World War," he told the association's general meeting in Zurich.

"If we do not change some of our policies in the years to come, we will increasingly sink into the international middle ground, lose our leading positions in education, research and technology, and become average on world markets," he added.

Listing a catalogue of measures to put Switzerland's economic house in order, Blaser said there had to be a trustworthy economic framework, sufficient capital in the medium and long term and flexibility in the labour market.

He added that there needed to be major investment in education and research centres, less demand on the state and the restoration of confidence.

Blaser highlighted a number of developments in Switzerland which he considered "preoccupying".

Real threat

He cited the "alarming" increases in public spending and taxes, which he considered a real threat to the country.

"With economiesuisse [the Swiss Business Federation], we have presented a vast array of proposals aimed at reducing public spending," he said.

It was now up to the politicians to take painful measures at last, because the country's debt of SFr120 billion ($89.18 billion) could not be allowed to swell.

"We are calling on politicians to tell people clearly that we are living above our means, that we are leaving our children with debts that are impossible to repay and that no more new desires can be satisfied," he said.

It had to become clear that "comfortable" state services must be abolished and a fresh look taken at major projects that had become impossible to finance.

Bad shape

Blaser said that Switzerland's social security system was in bad shape, citing estimations that social insurance as a whole would cost the equivalent of eight extra percentage points of value added tax by the year 2025.

"The Swiss economy cannot carry such a burden without suffering. The damage will make itself felt in the form of a lowering of competitiveness and job losses," he warned.

Blaser also homed in on the dwindling lack of solidarity between the country's political parties.

"While the search for compromise was traditionally the common goal of our members of parliament, it seems today that it's rather the spirit of opposition or obstruction that is predominant under the federal cupola," he said.

Moralising media

He then rounded on the tabloid press for moralising and self-righteous campaigns against the economy.

"For this kind of press, the facts are clear: the economy is made up exclusively of unscrupulous and overpaid managers of multinationals, of failures sitting on company boards and of profiteers whose only aim is to cream off the salaries of humble citizens and people's savings to enrich themselves," he said.

He added this was a particularly "unjust" picture because the Swiss economy was 99.7 per cent composed of small and medium-sized companies.

But Blaser said the economy also had to take a critical look at itself, particularly when it came to managers' salaries and bonuses. And he said it should share the blame for having too many cartels and "comfortable" arrangements.

Blaser added that companies' taste for risk was not as great as had been the case a few years ago. He said investment was insufficient and innovation was falling off.

swissinfo, Robert Brookes

Key facts

Fritz Blaser, born in 1941, holds a degree in economics from the University of St.Gallen, Switzerland.
He joined Lonza in 1967, where he now heads up human resources.
Blaser has been the chief administration officer of Lonza Ltd since 1994 and a member of the management committee of Lonza Group Ltd since November 1999.
Blaser is being replaced at the head of the Employers' Association by Rudolf Stämpfli, chairman of the board of Stämpfli Holdings in Bern.
Stämpfli, born in 1955, he is married with three children.

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