Direct democracy and foreign policy shape Switzerland's image in 2014

Bern, Press releases, 15.12.2014

Like the 9 February referendum on the mass immigration initiative, Switzerland's many popular votes in 2014 have consistently captured the attention of foreign media. There has also been extensive coverage of the international conferences that have been hosted in Geneva, as well as of Switzerland's Chairmanship of the OSCE. This coverage has given Switzerland's good offices and peacebuilding efforts a much higher profile. The Swiss financial sector continues to be subject to criticism, although there have been signs of improvement this year. In the sporting arena, Switzerland's image has benefited from the national football team's strong performance in Brazil, and the Swiss victory in the Davis Cup. Finally, Switzerland continues to enjoy considerable popularity, as demonstrated by its excellent rankings in international image indices.

In 2014, Switzerland's image in the foreign media was shaped both by long-standing and current event-driven issues. This year's popular votes attracted an unusually high degree of media attention, especially the vote on the mass immigration initiative. Its adoption drew criticism from a variety of quarters, although the immigration debate in Switzerland was also compared objectively with similar debates in other countries. There was also broad coverage of the Ecopop and gold initiatives. On the foreign policy front, Switzerland's Chairmanship of the OSCE attracted a great deal of media interest, which concentrated above all on President Didier Burkhalter's mediation efforts in the Ukraine conflict. In addition, the Syria conference in Geneva at the beginning of the year was reported around the world. Meanwhile, the decision of the Museum of Fine Arts Bern to accept the bequest of the Gurlitt collection was mainly reported by the media in Europe and the United States.

Coverage of financial and tax issues was as intense as ever. It is worth noting that foreign media are increasingly also reporting in positive terms about developments in the Swiss financial centre. Examples here include discussions on the automatic exchange of information, and proposed reforms to the system of corporate taxation. Press coverage was nonetheless more critical with regard to proceedings against Credit Suisse in the United States, as well as undeclared Swiss bank accounts held by high-profile individuals.

2014 was also a good year for coverage of Switzerland's sporting successes. Particular attention was focused on the achievements of tennis players Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka, and especially the Davis Cup win. The Swiss national football team's performance in Brazil also made for positive headlines. Ambassador Nicolas Bideau, Head of Presence Switzerland within the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), takes stock: "In a year that has been particularly delicate on the international security front, I am delighted at the significant visibility that Switzerland's good offices have garnered. This dimension has been somewhat lacking in our foreign image in recent years. Lastly, I'm thrilled to be able to count on such image-boosters as Federer and Wawrinka. They are one of Switzerland's unique trump cards."

Switzerland's image among the public at large is less subject to short-term, event-driven fluctuation than it is in the media. This is confirmed by surveys conducted by Presence Switzerland in Europe. Like previous studies before them, they show that Switzerland enjoys a positive and stable image among the great majority of people. Respondents particularly like the beautiful landscape, the Swiss people and the high quality of life, as well as Switzerland's prosperity and neutrality. Some individuals see room for improvement in the Swiss tax system, which they believe encourages tax avoidance, and the lack of transparency in the financial sector. A small majority also criticises the lack of openness towards Europe and towards foreigners in general. Opinion on these issues largely reflects what is reported by the media. However, many respondents replied that they had nothing to criticise about Switzerland.

Switzerland's positive and stable image overall is confirmed by the results of the Nation Brands Index 2014, where it maintains its eighth place and thus ranks once again as the most highly rated small country. It fares even better in the Country Brand Index 2014, which is compiled from a survey of opinion-leaders. Here, Switzerland ranks second.   

Further information:

Nicolas Bideau
Head of Presence Switzerland
+41 (0)79 667 69 15

Further information:

Presence Switzerland: Communication abroad

Charts: Volume and Tone of the Foreign Media Coverage concerning Switzerland in 2014 and Quantitative Evolution of Foreign Media Coverage related to Switzerland in 2014(pdf, 354kb)

Address for enquiries:

Information FDFA
Bundeshaus West
CH-3003 Bern
Tel.: +41 58 462 31 53
Fax: +41 58 464 90 47


Federal Department of Foreign Affairs