A league table of Europe’s largest companies shows the Swiss continue to feature strongly, but they are losing ground steadily.
In terms of 2003 revenue, 35 of Europe’s top 500 firms were Swiss – but that figure is down from 51 in 2002 and 60 the year before.
The Euro Top 500 league, compiled annually by the Zurich-based “HandelsZeitung” newspaper, shows that Switzerland comes in fifth place overall behind Britain, Germany, France and the Netherlands – down from fourth place in 2002.
Britain, Germany and France have retained their leading positions of recent years, but Switzerland has been overtaken by the Netherlands, with 40 entrants in the top 500 – up from 34 in 2002.
The only other significant change is Russia, which has shot up to 11th place with 11 large companies, compared with just five the previous year.
Positions six to ten remain unchanged: Italy (25 firms), Spain (22), Sweden (20), Finland (15) and Belgium (13).
“This is an interesting economic indicator, in much the same sense as the regular comparisons of international competitiveness,” Rudolf Walser, chief economist at the Swiss Business Federation, economiesuisse, told swissinfo.
“However, the important thing is not so much how well Switzerland does overall, but how well it does in terms of international economic activity compared with comparable countries – particularly over longer time periods.”
Walser added that international comparisons of this kind could also be affected by factors such as temporary slumps in individual sectors or short-term currency fluctuations.
The league table shows that the overall “national champion” remains food giant Nestlé, the only Swiss company to make it into the European top ten, with 2003 revenue totalling nearly SFr88 billion (€57.4 billion at the exchange rate used for the league table).
Six other Swiss (or Swiss-based) companies made it into the top 100 – retail giant Metro, which came 14th, trading group Glencore International (17th), pharma multinationals Roche (71st) and Novartis (73rd), employment agency Adecco (87th) and engineering group ABB (96th).
Nestlé also came tenth in terms of pre-tax profit (€4.05 billion), followed closely by pharma giant Novartis.
Another area where the Swiss did very well was the list of Europe’s fastest-growing companies.
In addition to Swiss-based mining group Xstrata, which doubled its turnover to nearly €2.9 billion and came third overall, five other Swiss companies made it into the top 30.
These were Motor Colombus, Atel and BKW from the (non-liberalised) energy sector, while the other two provide more edible products – chocolate company Barry Callebaut and dairy products group Emmi.
Europe’s largest company was British oil giant BP (€185.4 billion), with fellow oil companies Royal Dutch (2nd position), Total (4th), Shell (7th) and Eni (9th) dominating the revenue charts.
Car manufacturers Daimler Chrysler (3rd) and Volkswagen (5th) were also among the leaders, along with German electronics firm Siemens (6th) and French retail chain Carrefour (8th).
In terms of profit, the oil giants again dominated the European list, taking up four of the top ten places, with pole position for Royal Dutch (€9.96 billion).
The energy sector came second, with Russia’s OAO Gazprom and Germany’s EON in sixth and seventh places.
swissinfo, Chris Lewis
Euro Top 500 League (nations):
1. Britain (108 firms)
2. Germany (91)
3. France (73)
4. The Netherlands (40)
5. Switzerland (35)
6. Italy (25)
7. Spain (22)
8. Sweden (20)
9. Finland (15)
10. Belgium (13)
In compliance with the JTI standards