Europe Barometer: Majority favors further developing bilateral relations
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Europe Barometer: Majority favors further developing bilateral relations

A narrow majority of Swiss citizens support the continued development of relations between Switzerland and the EU – including signing the institutional framework agreement – but do not want Switzerland to make greater concessions. These are among the findings of the third Credit Suisse Europe Barometer in collaboration with the Europa Forum Lucerne.

A clear majority of Swiss voters believe 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.

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 percent; Western Switzerland: 67 percent).

Importance of EU development

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."

Attitude toward compromise to secure the bilateral path

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.

Replacement for trade relations

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, Head of Public Affairs and Policy at Credit Suisse, 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."