Week in Switzerland

The Olympic Games dominated the headlines this week in Switzerland, as in many other parts of the world. On the political front, parliament began its regular autumn session, while voters geared up for a weekend of voting.

This content was published on September 23, 2000 - 10:50

Switzerland got off to an exceptional start at the Olympics in Sydney, collecting a gold and a bronze on the opening day. Further medals followed during the first week of competition. Outstanding results came particularly from Swiss women fencers and triathlon athletes who won a handful of medals.

On the political stage, Switzerland prepared for a weekend of voting. Among the issues to be decided is a controversial proposal to limit the number of foreign residents and the introduction of a levy on non-renewable energy.

In the capital, Berne, parliament began its regular autumn session on Monday. The first week was dominated by debates in the Senate on maternity insurance and abortion.

No final decisions have been taken, but it looks as if Switzerland is finally moving towards the introduction of a paid maternity leave for women.

Switzerland is the only country in western Europe which still doesn't have obligatory maternity leave, despite it having been enshrined in the constitution more than 50 years ago.

The debate in the Senate on easing abortion laws highlighted an apparently unbridgeable gap between the two opposing camps and the discrepancy between legal regulations and reality.

An estimated 12,000 abortions are being performed by licensed doctors in Switzerland every year, although the practice is still illegal. Conservative parties and pro-life groups have made it clear that they will challenge any liberalisation of the abortion laws at the ballot box.

Language teaching in schools is another issue which prompted highly emotional debates in Switzerland this week. It was triggered by a decision in the German-speaking canton of Zurich to give priority to teaching English rather than a second national language, French or Italian, at an early stage in schools.

Supporters of the current situation say the teaching of another national language is essential to the country's cohesion. Others say better knowledge of English is a key factor on the labour market, and is already widely used, particularly among young people communicating with other people from different language regions of Switzerland.

by Urs Geiser

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