How the coronavirus epidemic will change Switzerland

How the coronavirus epidemic will change Switzerland
A rapeseed plantation next to a Nescafe factory in Switzerland. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
The coronavirus crisis has laid bare Switzerland’s reliance on other countries and international supply chains. As a result, the government has proposed a ‘Switzerland first’ industry and agriculture investment program.

The coronavirus crisis has led to a rare degree of unity in Swiss parliament, with politicians from across the political spectrum agreeing that substantial changes need to be made. 

As reported in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, billions of francs are to be invested in bringing manufacturing back to Switzerland, to guarantee security of supply in times of crisis. 

Although such calls are relatively common place among members of the right-wing populist Swiss People’s Party, they have gained traction among the centre and centre-left parties on the Swiss political landscape. 

The centre-left Social Democrats – normally advocates of further European integration – have laid out a ‘Switzerland first’ investment program to encourage the country to learn the lessons of the coronavirus. 

The investment program says it aims to ‘break the taboo’ surrounding the nationalisation of production, particularly with regard to items of strategic importance. 

A shipment of personal protective equipment from China at Geneva Airport. Photo: SALVATORE DI NOLFI / POOL / AFP

A central component of the plan is to ‘reindustrialise’ the Swiss economy. Billions are to be invested in ailing local manufacturing companies, while the pharmaceutical industry is set to be forced to keep significant parts of its production domestic. 

Post-lockdown forecast: What can Switzerland expect in the immediate future?

The proposal also looks to establish what has been nicknamed the ‘Swiss Factory’, a network of production facilities which will be ready to produce essential products in the event of a pandemic. 

This includes masks, gloves and protective equipment, but it also includes medicines and high-tech machines such as ventilators. 

The scheme has won support across the political spectrum, with even the left-wing Green Party supporting the plan, albeit conditional on the inclusion of further investment in sustainability. 

The right-wing Swiss People’s Party supports the plan, saying Swiss agriculture and health care industries needed to become self-sufficient as a matter of urgency. 

Councillor Benedikt Würth (SPP) said reliability of a supply chain should be the key factor in awarding government contracts, rather than who has the best and cheapest offer. 

Encouraging domestic tourism

One aspect of the proposal is further support for domestic tourism, which has been one of the hardest-hit industries as a result of the crisis. 

The centrepiece of the support plan is to give every Swiss resident a 200 franc voucher to be spent in the Swiss tourism or hospitality industries. 

As reported by the NZZ, the vouchers can be used in hotels or with tourism operators, while the money can also go towards restaurants and leisure facilities. 

The total cost of the voucher scheme will be CHF1.7 billion. 

A shipment of personal protective equipment from China at Geneva Airport. Photo: SALVATORE DI NOLFI / POOL / AFP

Public support for local manufacturing and agriculture

There has been a clear upsurge in support for bringing manufacturing back to Switzerland as well as taking steps to ensure security of food supply. 

In a survey completed in May, 94 percent of respondents said the production of medical equipment needed to be brought back to Switzerland. 

Almost the same (90 percent) said food production should be brought back to Switzerland in order to ensure the country had food autonomy in the event of another crisis. 

Slightly fewer (80 percent) of those who responded said globalisation needed to be slowed down. 

No more mask hysteria at Switzerland’s borders

As reported by The Local Switzerland, in March Germany prevented the export of German-made coronavirus personal protective equipment to Switzerland. 

One truck, which contained 240,000 masks, was stopped at the border while another shipment of surgical gloves was also apprehended on German soil. 

Some speculated that the Swiss government’s reluctance to put in place a mask requirement was due to a lack of supply. 

It was not until mid-April when Switzerland begun to produce its own masks.

 

 


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