How Brexit Could Be A Boon For Switzerland

In Geneva and other Swiss cities, people are cautiously optimistic that Britain's EU-exit vote could spur investment, boost real estate and maybe even help local universities.

Businessmen by Lake Zurich
Businessmen by Lake Zurich
Servan Peca

LAUSANNE â€" The financial centers in France, Germany and Luxembourg wasted no time after the Brexit results went public promoting themselves as possible landing points for banks and finance firms fleeing the City of London.

People have also begun to contemplate possible Brexit benefits here in Switzerland. But while opportunities do exist, there are plenty more assumptions, at this stage, than certainties.

1. Multinationals

There are an estimated 7,300 British people working in Geneva, particularly at the multinational end of the lake, and plenty of concern now about job security in the wake of the EU withdrawal. "We've gotten a lot of calls from this population worried about the consequences of Brexit," says Pierre Jéronimo, a property and relocation specialist with the real estate firm GR Mobility.

At the same time, there is speculation that the Brexit could open up new job opportunities with companies that may want to relocate here from London. "U.S. multinational corporations in particular are thinking about a back-up plan. Most of them, for language and cultural reasons, chose to install their European headquarters in the UK or Ireland," says Jéronimo.

The June 23 vote is indeed a blow for London. The audit firm Deloitte estimates that the British capital hosts 40% of the European headquarters of the world's 250 largest companies. London has 40,000 digital sector companies alone, with another 10,000 expected (prior to the vote) by 2025, according to Ernst & Young. All of that could now change, with some predicting an exodus that could reduce the London computer sector, the most important in Europe, to a trickle.

2. Banks

People are wondering if Geneva's financial sector could similarly benefit from the Brexit by attracting banks like J.P. Morgan, which made it clear before the the vote that it would relocate part of its workforce should the referendum pass.

The National bank of Switzerland in Bern â€" Photo: Blankenstijn Andrea/GFDL

Working against Switzerland, of course, is the fact that it isn't in the EU either. Banks that set up shop in London to gain a European passport will no doubt want to look elsewhere besides Geneva.

But there are still some "encouraging signs," according to Edouard Cuendet, director of the Geneva Financial Foundation. "Bunge recently repatriated trading and shipping activities to Geneva and Cargill," he notes.

The so-called "Fintechs" (Finnish tech companies), which have much their capital in London, might also seek new horizons if the banks they use snub the UK. Geneva and Zurich are trying to establish themselves as reference places in this field as well.

3. Universities

University fees for European students, including the Swiss, could double or triple in the UK. European agreements state that the tuition of European or Swiss nationals should equal those of British students. But Brexit could change that, making universities and UK schools less attractive compared to European ones.

In Switzerland, training institutions are aware of the comparative advantage they may have, as confirmed by Alexis Georgacopoulos, director of the University of Art in Lausanne (ECAL). "British universities are becoming too expensive," he says. "They are following the American trend, favoring rich students to the detriment of school's quality."

The ECAL costs 1,926 Swiss francs (1,771 euros) per year while a two-year Masters program at the prestigious Royal College of Arts in London costs 28,400 pounds (34,439 euros). European students have benefited so far from the UK government’s subsidies that divided this cost by three.

A cost explosion should reduce European demand, as acknowledged by Nunzio Quacquarelli, responsible for the QS World University Rankings. Currently, Britain is the world's second leading destination (after the U.S.) for international students, with 436,000 non-British students (mostly Europeans) in 2014/15.

4. Real estate

Grégory Marchand, an executive with the Barnes real estate company, says that unlike some of his colleagues in Paris, he hasn't gotten any calls yet from Londoners hoping to relocate. But he remains optimistic. "The region has already proven its ability to attract companies," he explains. And when companies come, so do their employees, who then need the kind of luxury real estate Barnes specializes in.

Lake Geneva â€" Photo: Damian Zech

"Switzerland's stability is a real asset," says Marchand. "With what has recently happened, this is even more true." The company director does not expect a mass exodus of British citizens, but thinks the Brexit could help revive the luxury real estate market in Lake Geneva, which has lost some color in recent years.

5. EasyJet?

The Brexit is particularly "apocalyptic" for airline companies like Ryanair, EasyJet and International Airlines Group, the owner of British Airways. EasyJet, for example, saw its stock values plummet 34% in just two days.

In its latest communication, EasyJet warns that the Brexit could cut sales by at least 5% in the second fiscal quarter. Carolyn McCall, the company's CEO, expects a resulting price-hike that could turn the low-cost carrier into something "reserved for the elite." The company also acknowledges that it's considering a possible move, perhaps to the Netherlands, France, Scotland, or Northern Ireland.

But what about Switzerland, where EasyJet already has such a large presence? The Geneva Airport, also known as Cointrin, is home to the company's largest fleet (23 aircraft) outside of Britain. More than four in 10 passengers are Cointrin customers. And there are plenty of potential travelers: As it stands now, Geneva Airport's top destination is … London.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!