As part of our series of reports on the upcoming Swiss elections, euronews spoke to Anne-Frédérique Widmann, senior reporter with Swiss-French Television.
We asked her about the economy as — in contrast to what is happening elsewhere in Europe — the Swiss economy only became an issue late in the campaign. Why was that?”
Anne-Frédérique Widmann, Swiss Television
“Imagine that 100 euros was worth 150 Swiss francs 18 months ago and by this summer the two currencies had reached near parity — 100 euros being worth 100 francs. The Swiss National Bank reacted quickly, it set a minimum euro exchange rate of 1.20 euros for one franc. That changed the whole campaign, all of a sudden the economy has become Swiss voters’ major concern.
euronews: “Yes, but that’s just it, the strong franc is ultimately a sign of the Swiss economy being in a good state, so why is that a concern for voters?”
“It is true that the strong franc is a sign of good economic health: there are advantages. For example we saw the Swiss suddenly going out and buying cars across the border, paying as much as 10,000 euros less than they would in Switzerland. We saw them also going shopping, doing their weekly shop in France or Germany.
“At the same time, the real effects of this crisis on the economy are immediately apparent. So of course the areas that have been most affected are tourism, finance, and especially exports.
“To remain competitive, Swiss companies have had to cut their profit margins, they have taken unprecedented measures, they have asked their employees to work longer hours for the same wages, there are a lot of people who work for Swiss companies but who live just across the border and they are being paid in euros, and of course the bosses and the unions have begun to talk about layoffs and even moving production away from Switzerland. While this has not yet happened, Switzerland is predicting that next year the unemployment rate will reach 3.4 percent, which is still a good rate compared to the rest of Europe. Still, the Swiss have a gloomy outlook.”
euronews: “You mentioned the euro; a recent survey shows that only one in five Swiss wants to join the European Union and even fewer want to adopt the euro. Are the voters afraid of what they see happening to their neighbours?
“Yes of course they’re afraid, they fear the crisis in the euro zone will have an impact on them, they’re also less attracted to ‘the European project’. Looked at from here, Brussels seems inflexible, the EU seems poorly managed, and the Swiss don’t see what they have to gain from membership: on the contrary they see everything they could lose. Namely their neutrality, the means of direct democracy, sovereignty, things that are very dear to the Swiss.
“And now the idea of joining — which was, if you like, an inevitable objective here in Switzerland — that plan is suddenly no longer desirable at all.
“Until last year, only one party, the People’s Party, also known as the Democratic Union of the Centre, which is a populist, nationalist conservative party —with 30 percent of the vote, so it’s the largest party in Switzerland — it was the only party opposed to membership, but now it has been joined by the Radical-Liberal Party, that is to say the party with economically liberal policies, and in further signs of disenchantment, you can’t find a single candidate on the left or right who would be ready to defend the European project.”