Background - 30.09.2022 - 00:00 

Opportunity Day discusses EU-Swiss relations

What is the state of the relationship between Switzerland and the EU? This was the question addressed by the “Chancentag 2022”. At SQUARE, interested parties from a wide range of fields discussed how to conduct a constructive and solution-oriented dialogue.

30 September 2022. The Opportunity Barometer is a representative survey conducted annually across Switzerland. This year, the focus of the study, led by HSG political scientist Prof. Dr. Tina Freyburg, was on the attitudes of the population towards future cooperation with the EU. At the start of the event, the results were presented at a media conference.

From opportunity labs to panel discussion

In addition to the release of the study results, an important goal of Opportunity Day was to involve different target groups and bring them closer to opportunity topics and perspectives. A citizens' lunch, four opportunity labs with experts, a panel discussion and a closing event for the exchange between culture, media, politics, business and science were on the programme. The four expert workshops primarily addressed students and members of the StrategieDialog21. They served to increase one's own creative power and dialogue competence in order to be able to get more involved in society. A discussion with extreme mountaineer Michi Wohlleben, for example, focused not only on victories but  how failures can open up opportunities for further development.

The panel discussion on Europe was entitled "1x relationship, please! Pragmatism instead of Ideology". Guided by Jonas Projer (Editor-in-Chief NZZ am Sonntag), on the stage were Georges Kern (CEO Breitling, HSG Advisory Board), Jobst Wagner (Initiator StrategieDialog21, entrepreneur), Prof. Tina Freyburg (HSG) and Camille Lothe (President SVP Stadt Zürich) to discuss the topic. The participants raised the questions of why Switzerland lacks a pragmatic approach with the EU and how to achieve more action instead of reaction with its most important trading and peace partner.

Open to a reshaping of EU relations

This year's survey on Europe clearly shows that the Swiss population is much more open to a reshaping of relations with the EU than the public debate would suggest, Jobst Wagner explained. The failure of the Framework Agreement had led to a standstill and steady crumbling of the treaties, Tina Freyburg emphasised. But stagnation is never a good option for action. In order to rebuild relations with Europe, active action is urgently needed. Georges Kern was convinced that the time for negotiations has never been as favourable as the current situation. Switzerland needs optimal relations with Europe in order to maintain its prosperity. On the other hand, Europe needs Switzerland as a solid pole, especially now, when it is struggling with various problems in its own ranks.

It was an illusion to believe that the political parties would tackle the issue of Europe before the next elections, interjected Camille Lothe. No one wants to burn their fingers with the difficult issues surrounding relations with the EU. Georges Kern replied that he did not believe that the parties alone were responsible for the stalemate. In his opinion, the biggest problem is that Switzerland does not really know what it wants. And this is not a good basis for a successful negotiation strategy.

An analysis is urgently needed
The majority of the panelists agreed with this view. It was stressed that an analysis was needed that would not only consider the bilateral agreements as a solution, but also alternatives such as "EU membership light" or other options. It was important not to conduct the debate with ideological views or trench warfare, but to explore a common denominator in constructive cooperation. The population should be brought on board and informed comprehensively about the advantages and disadvantages of the different options. 

The audience also participated actively in the discussion. "In view of the current geopolitical changes, Switzerland is dependent on a strong Europe that is able to act," said one speaker. Another speaker said that a new body should be set up as soon as possible to redefine the opportunities offered by an optimal relationship with Europe. 

The various events had shown that thinking in terms of opportunities works, explained historian and political scientist Joseph de Weck in his summary of the discussions. If you want to tackle challenges successfully and achieve something, it is essential to believe in opportunities. During the lunchtime debates as well as in the workshops and in the panel discussion, it became clear that there are many challenges currently but that it is up to us to tackle them. 

More about the Opportunity Barometer at:

Claudia Schmid 

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