Elisabeth Schneider-Schneiter on a future-oriented economic policy for Northwestern Switzerland.

As a longstanding member of the National Council, Elisabeth Schneider-Schneiter knows the political establishment better than virtually anyone else. And, as president of the Basel Chamber of Commerce and a board member of economiesuisse, she also has a profound knowledge of the economy. In this personal interview, she gives us her assessment of the recovery phase in the different sectors in the aftermath of the pandemic and explains the relevance she attaches to Basel as a congress location.

Messe Basel Elisabeth Schneider-Schneiter Voices
Elisabeth Schneider-Schneiter

Ms Schneider-Schneiter, signs of a recovery are gradually emerging in our part of the world as far as the pandemic is concerned. How have your organisation and members been coping with the crisis?

Certain sectors are still feeling the impact of the pandemic and the associated restrictions very strongly. It will doubtless be some time still until the entire economy is back on the growth path it would have been following had the crisis not occurred. Despite this, it is gratifying to see that large parts of the local economy have mastered this challenging situation relatively well and that the domestic economy is recovering rapidly.

The Basel Chamber of Commerce has also had to adapt its role during this exceptional period. Through our AskForce, we have been providing our members with economically relevant information in a straightforward and prompt manner and have facilitated access to experts for those with specialist questions. Even during these times of crisis, we have been actively putting forward the concerns of the business world at the various government “round tables”. To ensure we can keep in contact with our members and partners, we have switched to virtual platforms, staging a range of different online events and livestreams. We are delighted that these new options have been so well received.

Which industries have been particularly affected and how has this been manifested? And are there also sectors of the economy which have experienced a growth in sales, counter to the general trend?

The big victims of the pandemic are tourism, the catering and hotel trades, the event sector, the retail trade and all the suppliers associated with these. The impact is taking its toll on many of these companies and they will not recover so quickly. The construction industry is more confident, since it is able to benefit from private and state infrastructure projects. The machinery industry can also look to the future more optimistically – thanks to the stimulus provided by the Asian market. The crisis resistance of the life sciences industry is similarly gratifying, since this remains a stabilising factor for both our regional economy and the national economy.

Promoting foreign trade is one of your central concerns. Which markets do you consider to be particularly attractive for Basel?

The EU is by far the most important market for export-oriented companies – some 51% of all Swiss exports go to the EU. It is thus all the more essential for economic relations with this, our most important trading partner to remain stable now that negotiations on a framework agreement have broken down. Key markets are also to be found in the USA or Asia, however. A smart and sustainable free trade policy is what is required.

What specific action is needed at economic policy level in the current situation?

The Federal Council must do everything possible to ensure that the bilateral agreements with the EU are not eroded and it must take up negotiations with the EU again as soon as possible. We will need to conclude an institutional agreement at some stage in order to secure our access to the EU single market over the long term. This process must now be initiated soberly and without any ideological blinkers.

Your General Meeting, which is also a meeting of the Who’s Who in the business world each time, is being held in the Congress Center Basel on 17 August 2021. What importance do you attach to such live events in future?

Precisely after these countless video conferences made necessary by the pandemic, we are looking forward to having in-person discussions with our members again. A strong network is essential for corporate success. Being able to rely on infrastructure such as that provided by the Congress Center Basel is an indispensable prerequisite for staging this major event. To ensure that this remains the case in future, it is important to continue promoting and strengthening Basel as a congress and event location. This potential has a direct impact on our business location and will continue to ensure our prosperity.