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Credit Suisse Europe Barometer: Majority of Swiss favors further developing bilateral relations – but have little interest in compromise
A narrow majority of Swiss citizens supports the continued development of relations between Switzerland and the European Union – including signing the institutional framework agreement – but do not want Switzerland to make greater concessions. A majority also believes that trade with large non-EU countries could sufficiently offset any trade losses that would result if Switzerland's access to the EU market were restricted. These are among the findings of the third Credit Suisse Europe Barometer, a representative survey conducted by gfs.bern on behalf of Credit Suisse in collaboration with the Europa Forum Lucerne.
A clear majority of Swiss voters believes the existing bilateral treaties between Switzerland and the European Union (EU) are important. A narrow majority would also like Switzerland to further expand its collaboration with the EU, if possible by ratifying the institutional framework agreement. However, voters do not want Switzerland to make concessions to the EU. They hold very strong opinions about hot-button issues like wage protection and the adoption of EU regulations. These findings are all the results from the third Credit Suisse Europe Barometer, a representative survey conducted by gfs.bern on behalf of Credit Suisse in collaboration with the Europa Forum Lucerne. They are also part of the broader 2019 Credit Suisse Worry Barometer, which will be published on December 5, 2019.
Manuel Rybach, Head of Public Affairs and Policy at Credit Suisse, says, "With the Europe Barometer, which is part of the Worry Barometer, Credit Suisse is making an important contribution to the public debate on European policy, which is particularly controversial this year. We're pleased to be publishing the third annual Europe Barometer in collaboration with the Europa Forum Lucerne and to have continued to deepen our partnership this year."
Christof Wicki, Director of the Europa Forum Lucerne, adds, "The Europe Barometer shows where Swiss public opinion stands on current issues relating to Europe each year. It's a highly relevant, representative sampling that provides guidance for Swiss policymakers."
In general, Swiss voters attach great importance to the EU's economic and political development, with 66 percent of respondents rating it as "quite important" or "very important." Although that figure is down 8 percentage points (pp) from last year, it is still considerably higher than the share of respondents who attach little or no importance to EU economic and political development (23 percent). In all, 73 percent of voters gave the bilateral accords between Switzerland and the EU a rating of "very important" (27 percent) or "quite important" (46 percent) – and 76 percent consider stable relations between Switzerland and the EU to be quite or very important. There is also broad agreement on the importance of the bilateral treaties across the country's language regions. However, the share of Italian-speaking Swiss who consider the accords very important or quite important was just 63 percent, somewhat less than in the rest of Switzerland (German-speaking Switzerland: 75%; Western Switzerland: 67%).
Limited public awareness about the institutional framework agreement
The Swiss Federal Council has been considering a draft of an institutional framework agreement since November 2018 that would serve as a comprehensive framework for the five accords that currently govern Swiss access to the EU market, as well as any future accords. The 2019 Europe Barometer conducted by Credit Suisse and the Europa Forum Lucerne reveals that only 60 percent of the electorate have even taken notice of the ongoing negotiations between Switzerland and the EU – despite broad media coverage. And asked which aspects of the negotiations they had heard of, they cited first and foremost the topic of wages/minimum wage/wage dumping. The topic was perceived as controversial by 23 percent of respondents. Next in line was the question of foreign jurisdiction over certain matters (11 percent), the free movement of persons (6 percent), and the adoption of EU regulations and the topic of workers' rights as well as the role of unions (4 percent each).
Narrow majority favors continued development of bilateral relations
The Europe Barometer also showed a narrow majority (52 percent) in favor of further developing Swiss-EU relations. Another 24 percent would like to at least maintain the status quo, while only 15 percent believe Switzerland should scale back its cooperation with the EU. Among those in favor of further developing relations, many also support the institutional framework agreement: 63 percent feel that Switzerland should continue the bilateral treaties by ratifying the framework agreement as it stands, while 17 percent believe the framework agreement should be renegotiated. Few respondents support joining the EEA (8 percent) or the EU (7 percent). Of the 15 percent of survey participants who would like Switzerland to reduce its cooperation with the EU, 7 percent want to terminate the existing bilateral treaties and 33 percent simply do not want Switzerland to sign the framework deal even at the risk of eroding the existing accords.
When voters were asked which, if any, concessions Switzerland should make in order to secure the bilateral path under a framework agreement, no clear preference emerged from among the possible responses, which were to adapt the social insurance rights to EU regulations (Citizens' Rights Directive), adopt regulations, and/or adjust wage protections. Nevertheless, with 31 percent responding "yes," 50 percent "no," and 19 percent with "don't know" or no response, the latter option (adjusting wage protections) came the closest to reaching a potential majority given a statistical sampling error of +/-2 percentage points. That is rather surprising given how widely the topic has been debated in the media.
Lukas Golder, Co-Head of gfs.bern notes, "Adjusting wage protections is more widely accepted in Ticino than in the rest of the country. The greatest support for this concession comes from FDP supporters. The Citizens' Rights Directive finds the most support in the French-speaking regions of Switzerland and among SDP voters."
Confidence in trade with non-EU countries is strong
The results of the 2019 Europe Barometer also show that the Swiss are more optimistic about Switzerland's prospects if the nation were to lose access to the EU market. In all, 17 percent (+1 pp) of voters believe that Switzerland could "definitely" offset any decline in trade with the EU by stepping up trade with other countries like the US and China. Another 43 percent (+ 5 pp) of respondents said it would "probably" be possible. On the other hand, only 28 percent felt that it would "not likely be possible" or "definitely not be possible" to replace EU trading volume. When asked which strategy Switzerland should pursue with respect to the political power struggles among the world's biggest economies, 49 percent favored Switzerland pursuing its own niche policy. Only 34 percent favored joining with a unified EU in order to strengthen Switzerland's negotiating power.
Manuel Rybach says, "It makes sense that people are paying attention to the growing economic importance of the emerging markets and Asia in particular and to Swiss trade policy efforts to respond. However, the numbers show very clearly how crucial the EU Single Market is. Switzerland trades more with the two German states of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria than it does with all of China. No doubt, free trade agreements with countries outside the EU are important, but for the Swiss economy they can't replace access to the EU market."
About the Credit Suisse Europe Barometer
The Europe Barometer survey has been conducted since 2017 as part of a collaboration between Credit Suisse and the Europa Forum Lucerne. The results of the survey are based on the findings of the Credit Suisse Worry Barometer, which has been studying the main concerns of Swiss voters, their trust in political and economic actors, and questions related to identity since 1976. Respondents participated about the relationship between Switzerland and Europe as part of the survey for the 2019 Worry Barometer. A total of 2,495 Swiss voters were questioned in a mixed-mode survey conducted between June 10 and August 5, 2019. The 2019 Credit Suisse Worry Barometer will be published on December 5, 2019.
About the Europa Forum Lucerne
For more than 20 years, the Europa Forum has fostered constructive dialog among leaders, promoting a strong Switzerland and a strong Europe. It is the leading platform for discussion and idea sharing, bringing together representatives from the worlds of business, politics, academia and science, and society. The Europa Forum in Lucerne provides guidance for navigating an increasingly complex world. The Annual Meeting will take place on December 3-4, 2019, at the Culture and Congress Centre in Lucerne. More information can be found at europaforum.ch.