Switzerland’s Big Disconnect — Integration

April 4, 2012 — 7 Comments

Switzerland likes to think of itself as an island in Europe.

Today World Radio Switzerland (WRS) told listeners that, “World Radio Switzerland, is threatened with either closure or privatisation. According to Roger de Weck, director-general of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, WRS’s parent company, an English-language radio station should no longer be publicly funded.”

This news has many Expats in Switzerland getting quite upset. While no final decisions have been made, this case presents further evidence of how disconnected the country is from how it operates in reality. Swiss politicians and many others refuse to see how interconnected business and the world economy is. This interconnectedness also directly and indirectly affects culture.

Most countries exist with their own mythologies. Switzerland’s mythology can be summed up in a few words: neutrality, industriousness, heritage and quality. These are the beliefs with which many Swiss operate. Switzerland is the wealthy country with an remarkably high standard of living thanks to its neutrality in times of conflict, the industriousness of its people and the quality of the products it produces. These make up the country’s heritage, which is respected around the world.

While there is a degree of truth in this myth – all myths are somehow founded in facts – it is a very naïve picture of the way the country operates. Thanks in part to the Schengen-Dublin agreement, but also in large part to low taxes and also its lack of qualified specialists Switzerland has seen many expats move to the country. For many Swiss the influx of Expats is an alarming trend as they continually hear about potential layoffs and the threatening economic climate. Yet, Expats don’t seem to fit into the scheme of the “fee-loading Eastern European” come to live off the social security system the hardworking Swiss have built. Because of this they must be vilified some other way. So the Expats are made out to be arrogant and seen to be refusing to integrate to Swiss life.

These trends are very unfortunate as is the view that foreign workers are simply here to take advantage of the country. Given the economic data that 71.3% of the country’s GDP comes from services, 27.5% from industry and only 1.2% from agriculture (Global Finance). These myths must be reexamined. Switzerland benefits from its Expat population and needs to work as much with Expats hoping to integrate into Swiss life as it does with the Swiss to help them understand the role Expats play in the country’s prosperity.

The news of the threatened closure or sale of WRS comes on the heels of a potential law that will forbid expatriate pupils from attending international schools in Zurich. Again the argument of integration is being used to justify the move. Unfortunately, these moves are aggressive and place Expats in the defensive and blame them for not integrating. In return, some companies may reconsider having Switzerland as their home base, or at least the canton of Zurich.

Integration is a two-way street and it must be said that it is being poorly handled by both the Swiss authorities and Expats alike. This raises the question though of how important is integration anyway? Many Expats will only spend a few years in Switzerland before moving on to another country for a few more years. Even those who end up staying for protracted lengths of time may never integrate as their job simply does not allow them to. They would be as unintegrated in their home country as they are here because long working hours and frequent travel do not allow them to have a social life. So even those who wish to learn a national language or integrate are not afforded the time required to do such.

The Swiss authorities need to provide simple to use services for those wishing to integrate, and perhaps even offer an integration bonus system that is easy to understand and use. They also need to educate the Swiss as to the importance of the Expat community. It is a major source of the country’s wealth and needs to be competently addressed without stereotypes and aggression.

Companies for their part should also do more to help their employees with integration. This is not just an HR issue where more in-house training courses for language and intercultural understanding will solve the issue. It means seriously giving employees time to integrate and learn one of Switzerland’s national languages and genuinely live in Switzerland.

Returning to the subject of WRS, it would be a shame for the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation to close the station. English is as good as Switzerland’s third language as there are more people able to effectively speak English than Italian or Romansch living in Switzerland. Furthermore, English is used by many Swiss as the default language of business when communicating with another Swiss person who speaks a different national language. By this I mean a native of Zurich is most likely to speak English when talking to a native of Geneva. Regarding the use of public funds to support an English language station when it’s not a national language, we also teach English at schools across the country and some cantons have even given English priority over other national languages, an English language radio station would further support that instruction. As Pedro Simko of Saatchi and Saatchi makes clear in his interview, English radio in Switzerland is for the public good.


7 responses to Switzerland’s Big Disconnect — Integration


    There is a running petition (over 3000 signers and counting) advocating the continued public support and funding of WRS. You can find it here: http://www.savewrs.com.

    Thanks for writing about this.


    Hi Christian,

    To some extend I appreciate your general considerations. Though, I do not generally support your sometimes too superficial observations, I can follow your points; I mean you show a legitimate way how to perceive the issue.

    Nevertheless, I can hardly support and do not appreciate at all totally wrong statements. No, there is no majority speaking English vs. Italian in Switzerland. It is quite much the opposite: in fact in the year 2000 there were almost 6.5 times more Italian speaking people living in Switzerland than English speaking ones. To be precise (following official statistics from 2000): There were 471’000 Italian speaking people, and 74’000 English speaking people.
    (c.f.: http://www.bfs.admin.ch/bfs/portal/de/index/themen/01/05/blank/key/sprachen.html)

    Of course, this changed since then due to some increase of English. But I very much doubt that there are 30’000 more people originating from native English spoken countries.

    For example, between 2000 and 2010, the saldo (balance) of immigrants for the major English speaking nations looks like the following (please be aware of there is no detailed data available for US, canada, or Australia):

    GB: +17’681 (i.e., since 2000 the Swiss population originating from GB increased by 17’681 immigrants until 2010).
    America (south and north, i.e. including USA and Canada, but also people from not English speaking countries such as Brazil, or Mexico etc.): +52’331
    Ozeanien (i.e. including Australia, but also e.g. Indonesia): +2001

    During the same period the saldo for Italians is +7081.

    (c.f. the third sheet called “Wanderungssaldo” in http://www.bfs.admin.ch/bfs/portal/de/index/themen/01/07/blank/key/02/01.Document.20661.xls)

    So the conclusion is: There are nowadays almost 5 times Italian speaking people (~485’000) living in Switzerland than English speaking ones (~100’000)!

    May I ask you to appreciate this and to follow correct statements.

    Regards and many thanks,



    Latest information for the bid to save WRS:
    – As of this writing, we’ve collected almost 3500 responses to our online petition to save World Radio Switzerland
    – Most supporters are not trapped within an Anglophone bubble: 63.6% of all respondents speak French fluently, 25.1% are fluent German speakers, and 11.1% speak Italian.
    – Many of the respondents listed “learning about Swiss culture, politics, and events” among the reasons why they listen – does this sound like resistance to integrating into Swiss society?
    – Many respondents also said that they use WRS to improve their English skills, indicating that WRS serves an important function even to its non-Anglophone listeners

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