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"No Crisis" at business lobby group

(Keystone)

The outgoing president of Swiss Business Federation economiesuisse insists there is no panic despite the withdrawal of his successor and a row between members.

However, Ueli Forster admits to communication problems within the organisation and has suggested a raft of reforms to heal divisions, reduce costs and give smaller businesses a greater say.

Forster was speaking at economiesuisse's Day of the Economy forum in Zurich on Friday at which he was supposed to hand over the baton to Andreas Schmid.

But president-elect Schmid stepped aside last month at the same time as resigning as chairman of Kuoni after an apparent fall-out with management at the travel company. Forster has agreed to stay on for another three more months until a new successor can be found.

Schmid's departure was the latest blow for the influential business lobby group after a dispute broke out between members earlier this year over key policy issues.

One member left while further threats to quit from the Swiss Master Builders' Association and the umbrella engineering body, Swissmem, have not been retracted.

But Forster told the packed forum on Friday that, despite some disagreements, economiesuisse "was never in crisis" and later complained that problems had been exaggerated in the media.

"It is better that the public knows that the views [of some economiesuisse members] are different than to paint a picture of unanimity that in reality does not exist," he told swissinfo.

"It's a matter of definition what you understand by crisis. This is certainly unfortunate, but in a crisis you have the feeling that there is no way out and this is certainly not the case.

"We will find a way out of this by talking, communicating and finding each other."

Reforms

Forster's proposed reforms included improving communication between the organisation's board and members, opening the doors to a greater range of small businesses, and cutting the costs involved in lobbying government and cantonal authorities.

Swiss President Moritz Leuenberger also addressed the forum about the country's relationship with the European Union. He criticised opponents of the newly opened borders with eastern Europe for being self-interested.

"By helping eastern European states, we also help ourselves. Every extra Swiss franc that Switzerland invests in [these] states returns one and a half times," he said.

"The continued success of our bilateral policies will depend on Switzerland appearing to be a conscientious partner in Europe."

Ernest-Antoine Sellière, president of the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe (UNICE), of which economiesuisse is a member, believes Switzerland's refusal to become a full EU member is not harming its economy.

"Switzerland has clearly identified where its interests lie and believes it can be competitive through the bilateral route," he told swissinfo.

"I don't think that makes a real difference today that Switzerland is not a full EU member and it is a position Switzerland can hold for many years."

swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Zurich

In brief

The dispute between members of economiesuisse has been rumbling since the beginning of the year.

The split is between members representing the industrial, pharmaceutical and financial sectors. Industrial groups feel that economiesuisse's official position on areas such as the open market and parallel imports do not represent their views.

In addition, groups such as Swissmem feel they are paying too much in contributions to be members of economiesuisse.

The Swiss Aluminium Association announced in April that it would not be renewing its membership.

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Key facts

The Swiss Business Federation was created through the merger in 2000 of the Swiss Trade and Industry Association and the economic promotion organisation.
Since its founding it has attracted more than 30 new members, including Microsoft, IBM and the SWX Swiss Exchange.
eonomiesuisse has an annual budget of SFr15 million ($12.24 million).

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