Study: country-city divide replaces Swiss ‘Röstigraben’

The so-called Röstigraben – the traditional societal division between French and German-speaking Switzerland along linguistic lines – has decreased over the past decade as a new country-versus-city division emerges, according to a new study.

Study: country-city divide replaces Swiss ‘Röstigraben’
Photo: Adrian Michael

Shin Alexandre Koseki, a doctoral researcher in urban science at federal technology institute EPFL, analyzed the results of Switzerland’s federal referendums over the past 30 years.

He found that the perceived political divide between French and German-speaking parts of the country has been fading over the past decade.

Instead, voting habits are determined more by whether you live in a city or the countryside.

“Switzerland has become one big metropolis connected by its train lines,” said EPFL in a statement.

“The denizens of this metropolis have much in common and often vote in the same way.”

“In the 1980s, Swiss politics was marked by extensive fragmentation between language regions and cantons,” said Koseki. “The things people cared about varied widely from Geneva to Zurich.”

But that began to change in the 1990s, he found, and since 2000 the divide between the two major linguistic regions has been less apparent.

Instead, a growing polarization has emerged that pits the major Swiss cities, French-speaking Switzerland, Ticino and parts of the Graubünden against the suburbs and countryside in the German-speaking region.

Koseki puts this recent political alignment between cities down to the fact that people commute more, so there’s more interaction between people.

“People living in the big cities thus share the same interests and even the same values,” he said.

Rural communes in German-speaking Switzerland are among those most likely to disagree with the big cities, but vote similarly to each other, he added.

The country-city divide was apparent in the February 9th 2014 vote on the anti-immigration initiative.

While all of French-speaking Switzerland and the two biggest cities in the German part – Basel and Zurich – voted against limiting immigration, rural cantons including Aargau, Thurgau, Schwyz, Glarus and Uri were largely in favour of the idea.

One relative wild card is the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, where voting patterns are more unpredictable, mainly due to the fact there is no one large cosmopolitan city, found the study.

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World Economic Forum: Globalisation under the spotlight in Switzerland

The question of whether the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine have sounded the death knell for globalisation has dominated the World Economic Forum in Swiss resort Davos.

World Economic Forum: Globalisation under the spotlight in Switzerland

Some believe the crises have unleashed an opportunity for a transformation of international trade and supply chains as the world economy slows down.

Once advocated by anti-globalisation movements, far from the quiet rooms at Davos, talk of “deglobalisation” is back in the face of supply chain disruptions linked to the Ukraine conflict and lockdowns in China.

In the hope of building stronger networks unaffected by crises like war, deglobalisation would mean bringing production back closer to home, thus allowing the movement of goods across shorter distances.

The issue has become acute after Covid-19 and the misery at Shanghai port.

The Chinese city has become a symbol of global supply chain woes after its factories were closed for weeks and containers piled up as China sticks stubbornly to a zero-Covid strategy, causing delivery delays worldwide.

And since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, global food prices have hit an all-time high as the two countries make up a huge share of the globe’s exports in several major commodities, like wheat.

Such snags are leading many, including the world’s biggest companies, to consider what production should look like in the future.

Globalisation is “temporarily pausing”, Loic Tassel, president for Europe at the consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble said during an event at Davos.

“The price to pay or the time to wait is not compatible anymore with our industry,” Tassel said, giving the example of Shanghai, which is the world’s busiest container port.

“We are now bringing into the equation the cost and resilience of the supply chain, it was not in our mind three years ago,” he said. But rather than talk about “deglobalisation”, Pamela Coke-Hamilton, director of the Geneva-based agency International Trade Centre, preferred to speak about diversification and relocalisation — where supply chains are closer and in areas where conflict is far away.

“The change will come by the shifting to near sourcing value chains,” she told AFP.

Clouds gathering 

Sceptics said companies sought the cheapest options despite being aware of the risk of huge dependence on certain regions.

“We never imported so much from China as when we said we should rely on it less,” noted Gilles Moec, chief economist at French insurance giant Axa, on the sidelines of Davos.

“One of the reasons why people are so nervous right now is that if China was unable to meet global demand because of the pandemic, that would be a catastrophe,” he added.

Globalisation’s identity crisis comes at a time when pessimism reigns over the future of the global economy.

“The horizon has darkened,” said International Monetary Fund head Kristalina Georgieva at Davos on Monday.

And while a global growth forecast of 3.6 percent excludes the risk of recession right now, “it doesn’t mean it is out of question” for certain countries.

The clouds are already gathering in developed countries, according to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

There was only 0.1 percent growth in the first quarter of 2022, the OECD said Monday, and GDP even fell by 0.1 percent among G7 countries.

The second quarter is likely to be equally sluggish, as the adverse effects of the Ukraine war and China’s lockdowns take root.

After governments spent copiously during the pandemic, “the response to put in place is not obvious and that worries everyone a little,” Axa’s Moec said.

Meanwhile, inflation is pushing central banks, including the US Federal Reserve, to raise interest rates, which will make it costlier for both companies and consumers to borrow and slow economic activity.

The European Central Bank signalled Monday the end of negative rates despite the European Commission’s growth forecast for 2022 last week for the eurozone, from four percent to 2.7 percent.

And figures from China, the global engine of growth, revealed the pain inflicted by Beijing’s strict zero-Covid policy as retail sales and factory production slumped to their lowest in over two years, while unemployment is near record levels.