Survey: Swiss optimistic about Brexit effect

Most Swiss now think Brexit will have a positive effect on Switzerland, according to a new survey.

Survey: Swiss optimistic about Brexit effect
Many Swiss reportedly now see Britain as an ally. Photo: Chris J Ratcliffe/AFP

The survey of 1,010 people, conducted by research institute gfs.bern on behalf of Swiss bank Credit Suisse, found that 55 percent of respondents think economic benefits are likely following Britain’s decision to leave the EU, with some even seeing “major benefits for the Swiss economy”.

Meanwhile 54 percent think Brexit will have a positive impact on the negotiations between Switzerland and the EU over Switzerland’s self-imposed requirement to implement immigration curbs by February 2017.

“Optimism is not only apparent among those who are fundamentally critical of the bilateral agreements, but also among those who support the agreements,” said Credit Suisse in a statement.

By contrast, under 30 percent of respondents thought Britain’s exit would have economic and political disadvantages for Switzerland, with less than ten percent fearing “major disadvantages”.

Only very few – under ten percent – had no opinion about Brexit’s affect on Switzerland, showing that the topic was “of high interest” in the country, said Lukas Golder, co-head of the gfs.bern institute.

Speaking to The Local, Golder said he was initially surprised by the level of optimism but then became “convinced that this result really represents what is happening in Switzerland”.

The survey was conducted over a three-week period following the Brexit referendum and showed optimism growing as time passed, he said.

“We saw that optimism was really rising and insecurity and pessimism were really reducing from week to week, first in the economic and [then] in the political context.”

While the survey did not question people about why they were optimistic, Golder said he thought the British decision was increasingly seen by many Swiss as vindicating Switzerland’s own position outside the EU.

Since the financial crisis “there was a high level of uncertainty in the identity of Switzerland,” he said, but that has strengthened in the last two years and now “we are quite convinced that our independent way is very successful”.

The country now feels it has “a real ally” in Great Britain, he added.

“[Initially] there was uncertainty because of Brexit and then people really formed their own opinions and this was more guided by their own optimism that Switzerland is on the right [path].”

Golder also said confidence was high among the Swiss public regarding the country’s negotiations with the EU, despite the fact they have been complicated by Britain’s decision to leave the bloc.

Switzerland has until February 2017 to find a way to implement the principle of immigration quotas, approved in a 2014 public vote, without contravening its bilateral agreement with the EU over the free movement of people.

The EU froze its negotiations with Switzerland while Britain decided its future, and since the shock result of the British referendum the alpine country has been unable to find a deal.

Many fear the EU is so preoccupied with the British question that Switzerland may not be able to find a mutually satisfactory deal before the February deadline, forcing the country to implement a unilateral solution which could then jeopardize Swiss-EU relations.

However the survey showed the “high level of self confidence the country has at the moment,” Golder told The Local.

“It’s not that they [the public] are not aware that there is a problem of negotiation, and maybe that these negotiations are even harder to have than before. People know that, but they still think that it needs both parties and that we have enough to offer so that the EU may really be ready to negotiate still.”

The Brexit opinion survey forms part of the wider Credit Suisse Worry Barometer, which collates annual data on the biggest worries of the Swiss population. The full survey will be published in November.

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Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”