Switzerland: from Heidiland to High-Tech Land
COMMUNIQUE DE PRESSE / Berne, le 26.3.2001
Switzerland: from Heidiland to High-Tech Land
Federal Councillor Pascal Couchepin,
Minister of Economic Affairs,
Convention Center (CC),
26 March 2001
check against delivery
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to be here today, addressing you on
behalf of the Swiss government.
The title of this talk, Switzerland: from Heidiland to High-Tech Land,
is most appropriate in more ways than one. Indeed, on the 7th of July
this year, it will be a hundred years since the death of Johanna
Spiri, the author of Heidi. A new film version of Heidi will be
released shortly, featuring a decidedly modern Heidi communicating
with her friend Peter using SMS and e-mail messages. But
traditionally, Heidi brings to mind picturesque villages against a
backdrop of immaculate Alpine scenery. Other traditional images of
Switzerland might include chocolate, cheese, watches and possibly also
You may be surprised to hear that today's clichés were already clichés
a hundred years ago.
When Heidi was written in 1880, Switzerland was an established world
leader in several fields known for their technological sophistication.
Watches, yes indeed, watches, precision engineering, optical
instruments, textile machinery, electrical turbines and financial
services, to name but a few. Many of the companies active at that time
still exist - just think of names such as Nestlé, Schindler or Sulzer
- and the label Made in Switzerland was, and still is, synonymous with
the highest standards of quality.
But the Alpine scenery cliché does have a certain degree of relevance.
The Economist recently ranked Zurich, Berne and Geneva among the top
five cities in the world with the highest standard of living. For
executives of companies which move to Switzerland, this may mean
ending up working where other people spend their holidays.
Switzerland is not only beautiful, it is also high tech, and this
leads me directly to CeBIT. CeBIT is a fair for companies at the
cutting edge of technological sophistication. So it comes as no
surprise that so many Swiss high tech companies are represented here
Switzerland is home to many very competitive high tech companies doing
business all over the world. Switzerland thrives on cultural and
linguistic diversity. Its work force is internationally-minded,
resourceful, highly-skilled and hard-working.
The result is there for all to see. Every third computer mouse sold
world-wide is produced by a Swiss company, Logitech. One third of the
most sophisticated textile machines sold world-wide are Swiss made.
Nine out of ten ball-point pen tips are made on Swiss machines.
Microcut, another Swiss company, revolutionised the precision
engineering industry last year by devising a new automation system.
The watch industry remains at the cutting edge of technology; Mr.
Hayek of Swatch will make a presentation in few minutes. Last but not
least, Swiss high tech made it to Mars. The electrical micro engine
driving Pathfinder, the robot which explored the surface of Mars, was
produced by Maxon in Sarnen.
Research and development is a key to this success. As the Minister
responsible for technology, among other things, I have a particular
interest in ensuring that a favourable R&D environment is maintained
and further developed in Switzerland. Technological progress is an
essential ingredient of long-term economic growth. It provides
solutions to many social and environmental challenges.
Swiss standards in R&D are very high. In per capita terms, Switzerland
has among the highest number of Nobel prize winners in the world.
According to the 2000 World Competitiveness Report of the IMD,
Switzerland is world leader in per capita R&D expenditure. Switzerland
is also world leader when it comes to the number of patents per
Joint ventures between private companies and universities or research
institutes are easy to set up in Switzerland. In this context, I can
mention a recent programme called Top Nano 21 in which the Swiss
Federal Institute for Technology in Zurich earmarked 62 million Swiss
francs to encourage interdisciplinary research and enhance links
between science and industry.
I would like to recall that the Swiss government does not intervene in
the high tech business. Switzerland has no industrial policy and would
never favour a specific company to promote a cluster. Clusters have
occurred naturally in Switzerland, the result of business decisions
made by private investors in Switzerland and abroad. Strong clusters
already exist in biotechnology, nanotechnology, microsystems and
information technology. The task of Swiss policy makers is limited to
setting up and maintaining the best possible framework conditions for
business to operate in.
Apart from the quality of its R&D, Switzerland offers other advantages
to foreign investors: moderate taxes, a high-quality infrastructure, a
stable monetary policy, a high level of protection of intellectual
property, a very central geographic position, and effective entry
conditions for companies.
Further elements which make Switzerland attractive as a business
location are a high level of political stability, social peace (that
is to say virtually no strikes or other conflicts between employers
and employees), low incidental labour costs and high productivity: on
average, a Swiss employee works 1,856 hours per year, 173 hours more
than his German counterpart.
Taken together, all these factors make Switzerland an ideal location
for high tech companies.
Finally, I will briefly come back to Switzerland as Heidiland. Many
executives of international companies tell me that Switzerland is one
of the most pleasant places to do business. This is a decisive
motivating factor for entrepreneurs and employees alike, who work hard
but also want to play hard.
I would also like to recall that Switzerland is an essentially liberal
society. Free enterprise and individual freedom are core values in
Switzerland. So all I can now do, for those of you who have not yet
set up shop in high tech Heidiland, is to say: come and see for
A number of representatives of Location:Switzerland are here with us
tonight. They will be delighted to provide any further information you
I will now give the floor to Nick Hayek Junior, Delegate of the Board
of Directors of Swatch, a company with a long history of adjusting to
Robin Tickle, chef de la communication DFE, 079 211 62 28