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New divisions strain main business lobby

(Keystone)

The Swiss Business Federation, economiesuisse, has been urged to heal a rift with manufacturers after a key member withdrew from the lobby group this week.

The decision by the aluminium industry to give notice on Monday comes only weeks after similar threats by the Swiss Master Builders' Association and umbrella engineering body Swissmem.

Economics professor Franz Jäger blames the growing divisions on the difficulty of juggling the diverse and often conflicting priorities of different economiesuisse members.

This has come to a head after festering for too long, the respected St Gallen university academic told swissinfo. But he believes most of the parties will find a way to patch up their differences.

"There are three main areas of conflict within economiesuisse: between large and small members, the industrial and service sectors and champions of the open market versus home market operators," he said.

"In addition, some members feel they are paying too much in subscriptions and not receiving enough representation from the federation. It is not very easy for one organisation to represent all these different interests all at the same time."

Aluminium umbrella group alu.ch said on Monday it was withdrawing its membership because the industry has turned its focus more towards Europe.

Powerful pharmaceuticals

Export-oriented Swissmem had earlier accused the federation of bowing to the demands of the powerful pharmaceutical lobby at the expense of manufacturing.

At its annual conference in April, outgoing economiesuisse president Ueli Forster called for the existing ban on parallel imports to stay in place, in part to protect the pharmaceutical industry.

"It's a very difficult situation because you have a problem if all these groups leave," Jäger said. "In the end, economiesuisse would only represent the pharmaceutical, banking and finance sectors and this would limit its lobbying power with the government."

Swatch Group chairman Nicolas G. Hayek has also been critical of economiesuisse, declaring in the Swiss press that he wants to discuss "issues" with the organisation.

All this has prompted the federation to open urgent talks with industry associations in an attempt to smooth things over. "I think they will find a solution - they must," said Jäger. "I believe Swissmem will negotiate a reduced subscription fee and stay on as a member."

Economiesuisse spokesman Urs Rellstab told swissinfo that discussions with Swissmem are ongoing, but refused to elaborate. He denied that the federation is struggling to represent the interests of all its members.

"In every European country there are organisations like economiesuisse that cover a range of themes important to the whole economy," he said. "It is our duty to cover common interests rather than those specific to different sectors."

Senior economiesuisse officials are also currently meeting to discuss a new long-term strategy to outline the federation's approach on a range of issues, including corporate tax, the European Union and foreign economic relations.

Rellstab denied a connection between the strategy review and the current problems, saying the new plan is being drawn up to coincide with the appointment of president-elect Andreas Schmid in September.

swissinfo, Matthew Allen

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.
At that time the Swiss Employers' Association decided to go it alone.
Since its founding, the federation 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) and Swissmem and the Swiss MasterBuilders' Association pay just under a third of it.

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