Europe is closing ranks
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Europe is closing ranks

Two years of a pandemic and more than six months of military attacks on Ukraine have changed Europe and Switzerland's view of Europe. The Swiss are taking another, albeit small, step toward the EU.

Thirty-two percent of Swiss voters believe that the events of the last 12 months have strengthened the European Union. This may not seem impressive at first glance, especially considering that a whopping 57% believe the opposite. But the trend tells a different story: Today, three times more people are expressing this positive opinion than in 2019 (10%).

This is because 52% realize and recognize that the war in Ukraine has helped Europe to join forces. What's more, the consensus reached on aid and economic sanctions – however difficult it was to obtain – underscores a fundamental feeling of solidarity like never before. Furthermore, the rift caused by the pandemic is significantly less pronounced than it was in 2021. However, 63% (–7pp) still say that Europe has drifted apart in the wake of COVID-19.

Slight uptick in trust

The assessment of "Better, but not yet good" with regard to Europe is an underlying theme of the Worry Barometer. Trust in the EU has risen steadily since 2019 from 14% to 22%, but it is still at a modest level. It is also quite low compared with the Federal Council, the police, and the Federal Supreme Court, which have earned the trust of about two-thirds of the population. Only the political parties and the churches inspire a similarly modest amount of trust.

People's self-assessment of their own country remains high by international comparison, but the pandemic and war have laid bare Switzerland's vulnerability. For 92% (–3pp) of voters, the Swiss economy is in rather good / very good shape compared with other countries, which is an excellent result. This figure has only been lower once since 2012 – namely in 2017 (89%).

33 %

believe that Switzerland's image abroad has deteriorated.

The situation is similar for the image that Switzerland enjoys abroad. In the eyes of 82% (–5pp), it is rather good / very good, but in this case as well, the value has been lower only once in the last ten years (in 2015, at 73%). The change in self-assessment is even more striking when we look at how Switzerland's image has changed over the last 12 months. Twenty-one percent (–15%) feel it has improved, while 33% (+6pp) say it has worsened.

Is this the direct result of the end of negotiations on the framework agreement in May 2021? Now that some time has passed, what do voters think about this political situation? Forty-nine percent (–2pp) of voters consider the decision to be mostly correct / definitely correct, while 42% (+2pp) are convinced of the opposite. In other words, not much has changed here.

Hope for a new framework agreement

Of the seven options available for governing future relations with the EU, the negotiation of an institutional framework agreement is still clearly favored. In second place and in departure from the previous year is accession to the EEA, which is now considered a better path than suspending the bilateral treaties without further development. The termination of the agreements on the free movement of persons is also mentioned as a possible solution, while the rejection of the bilateral treaties or even of special relationships with the EU is considered just as futile as accession to the EU.

Statements about the future relationship between Switzerland and the EU

Consequently, the discussions on an institutional framework agreement must continue, as 76% (unchanged) of voters consider stable relations between Switzerland and the EU to be important. The same figure of 76% (+1pp) applies specifically to the bilateral agreements.

On a scale of 1 to 10, the assessment of the Worry Barometer shows an average of 6.4 in terms of the importance of a breakthrough in negotiations with the EU and 5.0 in terms of confidence that a satisfactory agreement will be reached. Many are looking to the Federal Council in particular. Forty percent said that responsibility lies with the federal government, and 21% pointed to the Swiss delegates in Brussels.

Responsibility for new solution with EU

By contrast, only 14% consider the EU to be chiefly responsible. Altogether, therefore, a clear majority of 61% of eligible voters believe that, when it comes to developing ties with the EU, the ball is now primarily in the Swiss government's court. This opinion has been voiced by members of all political parties. Although the supporters and members of some mainstream parties (SVP 25%, FDP 17%) are most likely to see responsibility as being with the EU, they also assign some responsibility to the Federal Council (SVP 37%, FDP 38%), although not to the same extent as the Greens (50%), the SP, the GLP, and nonpartisan voters (44% each).

These figures are in line with the classification of Swiss foreign policy as rather defensive / very defensive. This year, a hefty 71% agreed with this assessment (+5pp) – more than ever before. Accordingly, a low percentage of Swiss, namely 20% (–5pp), feel that the country's foreign policy is on the offensive. They may have expected a rapid negotiation offensive, including alternative proposals. Consequently, no less than 76% (+1pp) are calling for an active approach, while only 16% (+2pp) feel restraint is needed.

Moving away from a niche policy

Fifty-four percent (+4pp) believe that Switzerland can compensate for difficult access to the EU market by stepping up trade relations with third countries, while 37% (–5pp) see this differently. At the same time, only 36% (–9pp) are in favor of Switzerland having a niche policy – in 2020, it was 53%. The majority of the population – namely, 52% (+11pp) – believes that negotiating power on economic issues can be improved by moving closer towards a unified EU position.