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Neutrality is still vital for Swiss today

A new study reveals 94 per cent of Swiss favour neutrality Reuters

Swiss citizens value their independence and neutrality highly and are leaning more to the right politically, according to a study published on Tuesday.

Desire for political neutrality has not been this high – 94 per cent of respondents are in favour – in the past 20 years of the annual security issues study by the Military Academy of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

Swiss optimism about their homeland also peaked at 84 per cent, rising by 15 per cent in the past year. At the other extreme, pessimism about the international situation has never been as strong, a feeling shared by half of those interviewed.

Autonomy remains a high priority, resonating with 77 per cent of respondents. Just 37 per cent of people wanted closer political ties to Europe and 19 per cent wanted Switzerland to join the European Union.

“With the economic crisis in the EU these results were more or less expected,” Tibor Szvircsev Tresch, a sociology lecturer and head of the research project told

“With their good economy the Swiss like to be very autonomous, but I’m a little surprised about the younger generation. Because now this generation seems to be more conservative than ever before.”

In most countries people aged 20-29 are the most liberal and progressive members of society, he says. Not so in Switzerland, where that age group is more conservative than those aged 30-50.

“At the moment I think the most liberal people in Switzerland are middle-aged people. Maybe this is a change in Swiss society.”

Shift to the right

It’s not surprising that along with such ambitions for neutrality and autonomy comes a shift to the political right, Tresch said.

Of the 1,209 people surveyed from all ages and across the country, 420 had rightwing views, 450 were in the middle and 240 leaned to the left.

“This is also very common in Europe and now we have also this trend in Switzerland.”

“But I think this is also related [to other issues] because people whose thinking is more to the right are also more in favour of an autonomous Switzerland or are against the EU, or are for a very strong armed forces,” said Tresch. 

In contrast to some countries, the police are the most trusted form of authority for Swiss.

The force gained an average score of 7.1 out of ten. Next in line with 6.6 points were the courts and economy, and then the army. The media was the least trusted.

Tresch explained that in Switzerland the police force is closely connected to the public. Out on the beat every day, they have a greater presence than the army, which, conversely, people in other countries may trust more than the police.

Traditional Switzerland

The survey found that the Swiss have an “ambivalent” relationship with the army. While 79 per cent of respondents said having an army was necessary, only 43 per cent thought the Swiss army’s defense capabilities were adequate.

People only have a “vague idea” of their army’s involvement abroad, with 14 per cent never having heard of any Swiss military action in conflict zones.

Defence Minister Ueli Maurer responded to the survey, saying the growing support for neutrality was confirmation that it should be a Swiss policy. “It’s a Swiss characteristic and we should maintain it rigorously.”

Overall, the results show neutrality and autonomy are still important values for Switzerland, which has prided itself on its independence in the past.

However the concept of neutrality has evolved since the 1980s, says Tresch.

Today neutrality is rated very highly when it comes to people’s Swiss identity. People also want Switzerland to use its neutrality to good effect, by continuing to offer its good offices by mediating in international situations.

The survey was carried out by pollster organisation DemoSCOPE for the Military Academy and the Center for Security Studies of the Swiss Federal Institute for Technology in Zurich.

1,209 people were interviewed by telephone for the survey between January 17 and February 4, 2011.

The margin for error is around 3%.

The survey on security concerns has been carried out since 1993.

Autonomy and neutrality in foreign policy scored higher than ever before.

37% of people want closer political ties to Europe (13% fewer than in 2010)

19% want to join the EU (12% fewer than in 2010)

Optimism in Switzerland’s future grew by 15% in 2010 to 84%

Pessimism about the global situation fell 11% to 50%

Police are the most trusted (7.1 out of 10), followed by courts and economy (both 6.6), the army  (6.3), the government (6.2), parliament (5.9) and political parties and the media (both 4.9). Only faith in the economy rose in 2010.

Confidence in the army was below the average since 1993. However, only 37% were against conscription.

Swisscoy is the most well-known Swiss army action abroad. 33% know something about Swiss army involvement abroad and 14% have no knowledge. Approval for Swiss involvement in UN missions fell, with just half of respondents in favour.

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