False pretences 01/09/2016

There is hardly a month or even a week without a publication, specialized or not, dedicating an article to the ”sad situation” of Switzerland, because of the strong Swiss franc, prices in general, supposedly much higher than in the neighbouring countries, and pointing out the obsolescence of some facilities, the lack of hospitality or insufficient distractions in resorts, etc.

This too simplistic view deserves attention. First of all, the question of prices : with the exception of taxis, certainly more expensive than abroad (they could also benefit from subsidies for the purchase of vehicles and petrol prices), on equal quality and services, Swiss prices are not higher than abroad. If we look at hotel rates outside our borders, in cities of a certain size, they are equivalent or in some cases much higher than ours. The same is valid for restaurants. What price must we pay in Lyon, Paris, Milan or London for the average to upper range? As for various articles, we have as everywhere else, Hermes, Vuitton or Prada, but also Zara or Hennes & Moritz.

There is an inclination to be whiny among our citizens. First, the situation is not so stupendous in other countries where shopkeepers are also complaining, both of decreasing visitors and restrained consumption.

At the company level, many Swiss firms and by no means the least, like Givaudan, Ems Chemie, Roche and Novartis do record, despite the strong Swiss franc, more than respectable results, singularly superior to their foreign counterparts.

The Swiss problem, and there is one, originates elsewhere, more specifically in the lack of foresight of a finance minister, dazzled by public treasuries or the nimble language of former ENA students, who signed anything, with anyone, without compensation, opening a gaping Pandora’s box, before returning to her canton, cradle of wolves and bears, which she should never have left. This is reminiscent of those movies where we see pirates devastating a region before returning to their mountains.

Swiss banks used to serve myriad clients, French, Italian, Spanish, German who had held portfolios of a few hundred thousands francs for decades. Once or twice a year they were visiting their banker to collect the revenues or the product of capital gains which they spent during their stay.

These unfortunates were threatened, intimidated and chased out mercilessly, often within a few weeks. Disgusted, they left, keeping a bitter memory of Switzerland, not without trying to sell off their apartment or chalet. Can we imagine that they will come back as if nothing had happened ? Nay ! What to do then ? Chase exotic clients, who are not always affable, but also travelling with filed down budgets?

Fortunately, Swiss people are often more reasonable than their leaders ! Recently, they confirmed their willingness to keep fiscal packages. Here, there is a place to take and to strengthen. And let no one talk about tax justice : Portugal grants unprecedented conditions to foreigners, while London, freed from the shackles of the EU, will play all its cards to attract wealthy residents, not to mention the USA or Emirates.

Apart from the climate of security (always fragile!), the tax package is one of our last cartridges. The state should tackle this seduction campaign, with the support of banks, that would finally have the opportunity to redeem themselves, as well as of specialized law firms, that could launch road shows in Europe, like their foreign colleagues who, in the past, did not hesitate to go through and canvass the main Swiss cities.