Faster Horses

Zug, 26.04.2018 - Blockchain Summit Zug, 26 April 2018 Speech by Federal Councillor Johann N. Schneider-Ammann, Head of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research EAER Check against delivery

Mr Ruch,
Cantonal Councillors,
Mr Mayor,
Dear parliamentary and local authority representatives,

Ladies and gentlemen,

In the first half of the 19th century, doctors worried about whether the human body would be able to withstand speeds of 65 kilometres an hour travelling in a steam locomotive.

In the twentieth century automobile pioneer Henry Ford said: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

In other words: it is in the nature of technological revolutions to break with the old. On the one hand, this often sparks hope and a frenzy of activity; on the other, it may give rise to fears and criticism.

Ladies and gentlemen

People’s fears and anxieties have to be taken seriously. Firstly, because new technologies never come without risk. Abuses need to be stopped – regardless of whether they’re analogue or digital. Secondly, in Switzerland’s democracy it is not governments and parliaments that have the final say, it’s the people. If those voices are ignored, it rarely ends well.

But banning things is not the right response to such fears. Instead we must afford the greatest possible degree of freedom. And where rules are needed, smart, restrained and effective solutions need to be found. But on top of that, there needs to be open debate to win over the public and instil a sense of optimism in the adventure that is the digital economy.

And it really is an adventure. If we make all the right decisions in the coming months, we will go from having an internet which brought us globally networked information exchange and monetarisation of data to a new internet of falling costs for transactions, monitoring and implementation of economic agreements.

This must and will be a network based on integrity, cooperation, security, and data protection in all transactions. This decentralised internet does not only allow users to participate, it requires them to do so. We should indeed be optimistic, since we are looking at ground-breaking technology that is not open to manipulation, or barely. One that opens up new applications in all aspects of life. And which can generate future jobs and prosperity in our country.

We must show the general public the huge opportunities offered by blockchain technology. But this dialogue needs the involvement of actors from business, academia, politics and society. That’s why I am extremely pleased to be here at this Blockchain Summit today to hear the recommendations of the Blockchain Task Force, also on behalf of my colleague, finance minister Ueli Maurer.

I am delighted that so many actors from this new branch are involved in the task force. Within the space of just a few months you have put together your ideas. You actively want to help make Switzerland an attractive Blockchain location with an impeccable reputation. The federal government is already active: its Blockchain / ICO working group will be sure to take your recommendations on board.

Initial reactions to the framework for crypto-businesses, already set out by the Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA), have so far been good. The Canton and City of Zug started doing their homework thoroughly some time ago – so thank you cantonal councillors Michel and Tännler along with your administration!

All this goes to show just how well business and government work together in Switzerland: in partnership in search of pragmatic solutions. It allows us to make the most of the opportunity to build on our current position as the number one location for innovation, and as an excellent location for business.

That is also the aim of the Swiss Entrepreneurs Foundation, of which I am patron. Five hundred million francs in venture capital will be invested in start-ups from a private fund. And the foundation will work to strengthen the eco-system for young businesses – and that of course includes Blockchain businesses.
Ladies and gentlemen

When I spoke of Switzerland as a crypto-nation at the Crypto Finance Conference in St. Moritz in the winter, not everyone was delighted. But that doesn’t matter… as a politician it’s hard to be popular. But today I can say it was a mistake to speak of Switzerland as a ‘crypto-nation’…

I should have said a Blockchain Nation!

But in all seriousness, no-one is questioning our desire to be a strong manufacturing nation. A financial centre. A leader in pharmaceuticals. These sectors will remain important pillars of our success. But it is also clear for me that Switzerland should also play a leading role in one of the most promising future technologies.

I will, however, repeat the point that I emphasised in St. Moritz: it is not that I naively and enthusiastically applaud anything to do with digitalisation. There are also risks associated with Blockchain technology. And these need to be addressed in a serious manner. But what we want to do is offer an open environment, optimal conditions and basic support to anyone wanting to carry out research, develop ideas, start up a business or invest in Switzerland.

Naturally, as economic affairs minister, I would not want to pass up the chance to bang the drum for Switzerland in front of such an exceptional international audience. But the great thing is that I don’t even have to. For what has been done here in Zug in recent years speaks for itself.

But I will say it explicitly nonetheless: As the most competitive, innovative and liberal country in the world, Switzerland offers an optimal framework for business – even in the digital age. On that note I would like to extend a particularly warm welcome today to all the guests from abroad – hopefully not just for this Summit, but perhaps considering a move to Switzerland!

Ladies and gentleman,

In closing I will stress that Blockchain is a huge opportunity. For you as start-ups, investors, researchers or employees; for established companies wanting to explore new avenues; and for consumers. For us as a country wishing to be among the most innovative, competitive and prosperous in the future. Let’s make the most of this opportunity – and minimise the risks together through smart, liberal regulation.

That way, everyone wins.

Thank you very much and I hope you have a successful summit.

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