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EXPLAINED: How long could Switzerland survive without foreign energy?

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put greater focus on the energy interdependence of nations including Switzerland. A new study shows just how little energy Switzerland has to power itself.

A flame burning above a gas refinery. Photo by Ulises Castillo
A flame burning above a gas refinery. Photo by Ulises Castillo

If Switzerland were to rely completely on energy produced domestically each year, how far would we get until the lights went out. 

That’s the topic of a new study by the Swiss Energy Foundation (SES) – and unfortunately for residents of Switzerland, the results aren’t good. 

Switzerland only produces 28.1 percent of its own energy, which would mean the country would only make it to April 12th before the lights would go out on the following day. 

Ukraine invasion: How reliant is Switzerland on Russia for energy?

The study compares various European countries and their ‘Energy Independence Day’, a misleading term. 

According to the SES, “from Wednesday, Switzerland lives on credit” when it comes to energy. 

“The amount of energy we have produced domestically has been used up by this point. After that, we drive, heat, cook and produce exclusively with foreign energy sources until the end of the year.”

How likely is an energy embargo? 

Russia’s invasion has led to intensified discussions about weaning Switzerland off Russian energy, although no concrete plans have yet been developed to do so by the Swiss government. 

Switzerland could unilaterally decide to boycott Russian oil and gas, or it could be subject to an EU boycott. 

While Switzerland is not an EU member, it receives much of its refined and unrefined energy through the EU, meaning that if the EU decided to boycott Russian oil and gas, Switzerland would also receive very little gas and oil.

Andreas Tresch, a Swiss energy expert, told Blick that Switzerland’s gas stocks would take a hit even if only Germany decided to impose an embargo, due to the interconnected gas networks between the two countries. 

“Switzerland could expect to no longer receive any gas” in the event of a Germany boycott. 

READ MORE: How would an embargo on Russian energy impact Switzerland?

Estonia on top, Malta and Cyprus towards the bottom

The study takes into account figures from 2020 from Switzerland’s Federal Office of Energy (BfE). 

According to the SES, the system is used to better illustrate a country’s energy reliance than a simple percentage. 

Of the 24 countries surveyed, Estonia had the best result, with 89.5 percent of energy domestically produced – meaning November 22nd is ‘Energy Independence Day’. 

Iceland, Romania, Serbia and Sweden also placed towards the top of the list. 

At the other end of the spectrum, Malta, Cyprus and Luxembourg would all not make it to February, while sun-soaked Greece would run out in early March. 

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For members


‘Limited capacity’: How the Swiss right wants to shut out western Ukrainian refugees

With about 51,000 refugees from Ukraine currently in Switzerland, right-wing politicians argue in favour of introducing geographic vetting in regards to who can qualify for Status S, saying Switzerland has "limited capacity" for refugees.

'Limited capacity': How the Swiss right wants to shut out western Ukrainian refugees

After Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th, the Federal Council activated, for the first time ever, the ‘S status’ authorising Ukrainians and Ukraine residents fleeing the war to live temporarily in Switzerland.

The special status is initially valid for a year, but can be extended. Anyone who is still in Switzerland after five years receives a B permit.

Included is also the right to work, as well as free health care and language courses. The refugees also have the right to free public transportation, but this perk will end on May 31st, with no word yet whether it will be renewed.

READ MORE: Switzerland’s special ‘S permit’ visa program: What Ukrainians need to know

Now, however, “the great solidarity with refugees from Ukraine is cracking”, according to SonntagsZeitung, which reports that rightwing politicians in Switzerland are “beginning to question our country’s culture of hospitality”.

The right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which has consistently opposed sanctions on Russia, is calling on the government to limit the S status  only to Ukrainians who come from the eastern part of the country, which is currently most impacted by Russia’s invasion.  

This movement is spearheaded by MP Martina Bircher, who argues that Switzerland is reaching its limits in terms of the number of refugees it can accommodate and support, and it should therefore grant S status only to those fleeing the most conflict-ridden regions of Ukraine, like the eastern part.

Other right-of-centre groups are in favour of this “regionalisation” as well. Andrea Caroni, president of the centre-right Liberal Party, supports the idea of granting the special status based on the geographical evolution of the Ukrainian conflict, saying Switzerland “ultimately has limited capacity” to absorb refugees from Ukraine. 

He said, however, that such a measure “must be coordinated at the European level.”

Not everyone, however, agrees with Bircher’s proposal.

According to Gerhard Pfister, president of the Centre Party, adopting geographical limitations “would create two classes of Ukrainians. This is not right”.

It is unclear how the SVP would seek to draw barriers to distinguish between the east and west of the country. 

As for the Conference of Cantonal Directors of Social Affairs, vice-president Marianne Lienhard said the organisaton will discuss the proposal at its next meeting at the end of May.

Cantons are directly affected by the influx of Ukrainians, as they will eventually bear the cost of supporting the refugees — the cost which is currently borne mostly at a federal level.

The “NZZ am Sonntag” calculated that in 2022, the costs of housing, health insurance, and general support will amount to between 1.25 and 2.25 billion francs. In 2023, these expenses could climb to 7.5 billion.

“Fake” refugees

In an article she wrote for the SVP website, Bircher also argued that some refugees pretending to be Ukrainian actually aren’t.

As an MP from Aargau, she claims that out of 12 people who received the S status in a small town in her canton, only seven were Ukrainian nationals. The other five came from Africa.

Among them are  “Kenyan and Lebanese men who claim to have lived in Ukraine or who actually lived there before the war, but who do not have a Ukrainian passport”.

The S permit scheme does not only provide protection for Ukrainian citizens, but also citizens of other countries who live in Ukraine. 

While reserved predominantly for Ukrainians, the S status has also been occasionally granted to citizens of other countries. 

According to the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), about 1,000 “other” refugees received this status as well, including 238 Russians, and  people from Germany, France, Italy, the United States, Canada and Australia.

In such cases, children have a different passport from their parents, but it is the parents’ nationality and place of residence that defines whether the status is granted.

So it could happen that the parents have Ukrainian passports, while their children are citizens of other nations.

READ MORE: Swiss MPs call for Russian money to be used to reconstruct Ukraine