© KEYSTONE/POOL/Denis Balibouse

"Geneva, city of peace", Europe and referendums: Switzerland seen from abroad in 2021

Political topics dominated foreign media coverage of Switzerland in 2021. The highlight of the year was the summit between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva. Here, Switzerland presented itself as a bridge-builder. In contrast, developments in Swiss-EU relations attracted negative attention. Two referendums also received a lot of international coverage. Switzerland continues to enjoy a generally very good reputation abroad, according to the Nation Brand Index (NBI).

The event with the greatest resonance beyond Switzerland was the meeting between presidents Biden and Putin in Geneva. Geneva and Switzerland received by far the greatest media visibility in recent years thanks to the coverage of the summit. A number of international media outlets' extensive reporting put Switzerland in a good light. This reporting included International Geneva, Switzerland's good offices, its neutrality and traditional role as a host state. Switzerland's organisational prowess also attracted acclaim. In addition, many images on television and social media highlighted the appeal of Geneva and Switzerland as tourist destinations.

Geneva, city of peace

is the catchphrase of the year for Switzerland in the world! "President Guy Parmelin said it at the Biden-Putin summit and the international media quoted it effusively. The catchphrase demonstrates the extent to which the summit enhanced the profile of Switzerland as a provider of good offices. In a world that is once again subject to the game of major powers sparring for hegemony, our country has scored important points by organising this summit," says Ambassador Nicolas Bideau, head of Presence Switzerland.

Europe, federal referendums and COVID-19

Foreign media coverage of developments in Swiss-EU relations was less positive. In particular, the neighbouring countries' media outlets were sceptical in their assessments of the consequences of Switzerland's withdrawal from the negotiations on an institutional framework agreement.

Several federal proposals submitted to the vote of the people also generated a great deal of resonance in the international media this year. In March, the popular initiative 'Yes to the ban on full-face veil ban' attracted significant attention worldwide. Foreign media's reactions to its approval included both positive and negative commentary. Great attention was also paid to the referendum on marriage equality in September, and its definitive introduction was widely welcomed. Some media were somewhat surprised and concluded that Switzerland was apparently more liberal than stereotypes would suggest. Both proposals addressed topical social issues that are also being debated emotionally in other countries. They therefore generated a relatively high level of interest in foreign media coverage as well as in social media activity.

Foreign media reported much less intensively in 2021 than in 2020 on how the COVID-19 pandemic was unfolding and being dealt with in Switzerland.

At the beginning of the year, Switzerland received criticism of its controversial decisions to keep ski slopes open and to ease measures despite the fragile epidemiological situation. However, as the pandemic progressed, the Swiss approach, perceived as very liberal, was also viewed by some as possibly exemplary. As the year went on, international media interest waned. Like other matters, the two referendums on the COVID-19 Act attracted only moderate attention overall.

Switzerland continues to enjoy a very good reputation among the general public abroad. In the Anholt-Ipsos Nation Brand Index (NBI), which compares the image of 60 countries each year via a representative survey, Switzerland maintained its very good ranking (7th) in 2021. It scored particularly high in the NBI's Governance and Immigration and Investment dimensions, indicating its excellent international reputation in those areas. Switzerland's image is also boosted by positive perceptions of its exports and innovative prowess.

Within the FDFA, Presence Switzerland helps safeguard the country's interests by using the tools of its communication abroad. This includes analysis of image studies as well as ongoing monitoring of how Switzerland is perceived abroad by traditional media outlets and on social media platforms.

Ambassador Nicolas Bideau Head of Presence Switzerland nicolas.bideau@eda.admin.ch Tel.: +41 79 667 69 15