Monday, February 09, 2009

Update - Freedom of Speech

In case you were dying to know: the extension of the EU alliance (including agreements with Bulgaria and Romania) did pass by 60% from the voting population. A defeat for the conservative right whose spokesman is a man often compared to a certain, deceased German Chancellor (he who must not be named....).

Meaning: those within the EU countries will continue to have access to employment (and unemployment, health and pension) opportunities in Switzerland with far less red-tape than those who are not from EU countries.

Funny - it occurred to me that this would make a great Jay-walking (Tonight Show) question: "When did the US join the EU?" Because some people would try to give an answer!!!
If you watch the show, you are astounded, as I am, at the lack of brain-power on the sidewalks. I'm sure none of you reading this would answer incorrectly (answer is NOT, US is not part of the European Union) BUT my guess is, a lot of people would take a stab at it.

And, the voters of Canton Zurich decided that the 137 ueber-rich foreigners who are currently paying a negotiated "flat-tax" as a benefit of keeping their residence there, should pay taxes like the rest of the ueber-rich Swiss. Wonder if that means Tina Turner will move back to the US?

Speaking of red-tape and continuing along the international news front: The new Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) system is now in place for VISA-free visitors to the United States. I am blogging about this as I have visitors coming from the US in March (YAY!!!) and they were "alerted" to this requirement. As this was news to me, I thought I'd share:

  • This requirement is for those who are traveling FROM VISA-free countries to the USA. Countries such as England, France, Germany and Switzerland are considered VISA-free - you don't need a visitor's VISA for stays under a certain time frame (generally 6 months).
  • It is not yet clear to me (I got my info. off the Homeland Security website) whether US passport holders (like me) have to also obtain ESTA before a trip home (living in another country and buying round trips). Stay tuned...
  • They will be requiring the ESTA before the purchase of a plane ticket and according to the website, authorization should be granted within 72hrs - and authorization will be good for up to one year. (not convenient for emergency trips!)
  • It asks for information that is currently given via a green information card filled out on Int'l flights prior to landing and supposed to "ease" the customs process.

I find it very interesting that as we scrutinize our border more, much of Europe has loosened theirs. To explain, Switzerland recently joined the Schengen Alliance which provides for "free movement" within alliance countries - much like our movement between States. I wondered why there were relatively few passport checks at the borders lately and then came upon the Schengen story in the Swiss News.

Don't get me wrong - if you are not from a Schengen alliance country, they WILL check your passport. Only certain borders are "free." They are still trying to move away from the cold war era impression of restricted travel. We drive like Germans in a car with Swiss plates so tend not to get stopped....heeheehee

Now - there ARE Swiss who feel this is just one more scrutiny the US is placing on visitors that they are not reciprocating. Typically, they just look at our passport as we come in and wave us through.

Visitors to the US, even from VISA-free countries must also provide fingerprint data before entry. Did you know that? I didn't 'til I moved here and listened to a table of other moms discussing whether they'd travel to the US or not - because they didn't feel it was right for another country to have their fingerprints on file - a violation of their privacy.

That all said, the head of Swiss security has said recently, and supported the findings of former President G.W. Bush, that certain terrorist groups are stronger than they were a year ago and they know these people travel around Europe before heading to the US. The Swiss are also trying to encourage the US to step up it's involvement in Interpol I'm getting off track.

You don't really come here for political news.

I'll end the politics with feeling of conflict - how much privacy do we give away in order to have Freedom. Do we really have as much as we think? Many don't feel the US is any "Freer" than their own country anymore. There are rules, regulations and oversight wherever you go. Our world has changed and technology, while allowing me to communicate so easily from so far away, allows for some really nasty stuff out there.

I'll end on a Fun Fact note:

The Swiss Chocolate Market was "up" for the 5th year in a row. In spite of other Market declines, the world is still consuming chocolate - for solace perhaps? The Swiss alone consume chocolate at the average rate of 12.4 kilo per person (approx. 27lbs) annually.

I've seen them check out at the grocery - It's true!


Linds said...

I loved this post, but then I know quite a bit re Switzerland and the EU.
I had just emailed my daughter to make sure she gets her visa thingy done before she buys her ticket home in May.
And as a foreigner who has been in transit in the States, you have NO idea what an appalling experience it is. Most people never repeat the experience and fly to NZ and Aus the other way. I had no intention of stopping in LA en route to NZ, but they needed my iris scan and finger print nonetheless. It is an absolute outrage.
The general consensus among "foreigners" is that if Americans had to go through the same procedure in Europe there would be uproar!
But I will still go to the States for a holiday one day, of course.
Great newsy post, Susan!

Olson Family said...

You're absolutely right Linds! And all the 'moms' who didn't want to fly were the Aussie's & Kiwi's - they go through Singapore or Dubai instead.
I've had unpleasant experiences in US Customs myself. I wrote a post a while back re: the worst and best airports, I should dig it up again!

MOM E said...

Having been appalled & embarrassed by our customs & immigration services frequently the past few years at Washington Dulles, I have to admit some improvement when I returned last month. (Of course the passenger volume was down and the weather good.) I've sent them so many nastygrams, perhaps they read a couple!

As to the chocolate, I have assisted in getting those numbers up the past few years.