The head of the Credit Suisse Group, Lukas Mühlemann, says Switzerland needs to undergo radical privatisation therapy. While such proposals are not new, Mühlemann's comments have reopened a debate on Switzerland's political reform process.This content was published on January 4, 2000 - 17:52
The head of the Credit Suisse Group, Lukas Mühlemann, says Switzerland needs to undergo radical privatisation therapy. While such proposals are not new, Mühlemann's comments have reopened a debate on Switzerland's political reform process.
Mühlemann did not mince his words.He proposes to::
- privatise hospitals, schools, and public broadcasting
- relax environmental and zoning laws
- lower public funding for welfare and unemployment insurance
- put limits on direct democracy - one of Switzerland's most cherished institutions
Mühlemann is not breaking new ground with the proposals. The United States under Ronald Reagan in the 1980s went a long way to make conditions more attractive for big business, and Margaret Thatcher transformed Britain through radical privatisation reforms.
In Switzerland, a controversial white paper with similar proposals put forward by Swiss industry was published in the mid 1990s. But Switzerland's main business lobby, The Association for Industry and Trade, believes the time is right to put political and economic reforms at the top of parliament's agenda.
"We are at the beginning of a new parliamentary term, and against this backdrop, we hope that Mr Mühlemann's proposals gave a new impetus to a fruitful debate about economic policy in Switzerland", said Robert Walser from the association.
The newly-elected parliament may be more willing to listen. Not only can industry count on votes from the traditional pro-business party, the Radicals, but the People's Party, led unofficially by the industrialist, Christoph Blocher, is now the second largest party in the House of Representatives.
The criticism from the left, as expected, has been scathing. Some trade union leaders say Mühlemann's proposals are nothing short of insane. Political analysts say the union reaction has been understandable.
Julian Hottinger of Fribourg University said the unions have made concessions to industry in the past and even "helped to dismantle certain sectors of the state" but they are not willing to go any further.
Rudolf Walser admitted that Mühlemann may have gone too far with some of his recommendations, but he praised him for doing what many other captains of industry have not -- speaking his mind instead of seeking more attractive conditions outside Switzerland's borders.
By Dale Bechtel
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