The results of a survey conducted in the United States show that a dispute over tax evasion has had little impact on the perception Americans have of Switzerland.
A majority of Americans think positively of Switzerland, its products and its place in the world.
The survey, jointly commissioned by swissinfo.ch and the SonntagsBlick newspaper, was carried out in July by Isopublic, a Swiss member of the Gallup International research institute.
Asked to what extent they concurred with various views of Switzerland, Americans were largely in agreement with three of the four statements: Switzerland is in principle a likeable country; Switzerland is actively engaged in world affairs and shows solidarity; Switzerland stands for reliability and high quality.
Only when asked whether they thought the Swiss were more materialistic than Americans was opinion divided.
The positive image may come as a surprise in light of the publicity surrounding the ongoing dispute between the American tax authority, the IRS, and Swiss bank UBS. The IRS wants UBS to hand over the confidential information of 52,000 of its US clients.
However, Martin Naville, CEO of the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce, told swissinfo.ch that the tax evasion case is "not really an issue about Switzerland [but] about the discipline of Americans to pay taxes".
"For the Swiss, it's a major issue and they tend to think that for the US it's a major issue. Even on the [American] government agenda, it's not a major issue," added American professor James W. Davis, director of the Political Science faculty at St Gallen University.
In an email, foreign ministry secretary-general Roberto Balzaretti told swissinfo.ch that authorities were not surprised by the results, and that efforts to increase Switzerland's standing abroad were paying off.
"We know however that some foreign opinion leaders and media have a more critical view on Switzerland," he wrote. "That's where we need to strengthen and focus our efforts of information and explanation."
The overwhelmingly positive results from the US contrast slightly with the findings of the same survey conducted simultaneously in Germany.
While Germans like Switzerland and its products nearly as much as Americans do, they think less of the role Switzerland plays in world affairs. On this point, Germans gave Switzerland on average only 5.04 points out of ten, compared with 7.16 from Americans.
"The Germans not only have their own bilateral issues with the Swiss but there is this larger question of Switzerland's distance to the larger European project. For Germans, being pro-European Union is what being a good citizen of the continent is all about," Davis told swissinfo.ch.
The academic speaks from experience working in all three countries. Before taking up his post in Switzerland, Davis spent three years as the chair of international politics at Munich's Ludwig Maximilian University.
"In Switzerland there's much more ambivalence towards the EU, and in some sectors strong aversion. And I think that's one of the things that resonates in German discussions - somehow the Swiss are outsiders in Europe."
For Naville, Germans are influenced – and often negatively - by the daily issues arising out of their neighbourly relationship, whether it is over transport or immigration.
In the case of Americans, distance seems to make the heart grow fonder. Switzerland is viewed through the "lens of clichés" like mountains, chocolate and Heidi, according to Davis.
Naville agrees, saying US citizens are much more affected by positive impressions left over from vacations spent in Switzerland, and headlines reminding them that the Swiss represent US interests in Iran, and that Geneva is the home to many international organisations.
The two men do not see eye to eye over the need for Switzerland to increase efforts to solidify its good reputation in the US.
"The basic image of Switzerland in the US is positive and I think it's based on clichés, but that's fine from the Swiss perspective," said Davis. "I don't think there is any need for a campaign."
"It's always a bit worrisome that Switzerland is viewed through clichés," countered Naville.
"It's important that we sell Switzerland and the key role it plays in international affairs but also as a very strong place to do business – an innovative and competitive place which is not based on taxes."
Dale Bechtel, swissinfo.ch
The Swiss Institute of Public Opinion and Market Research, Isopublic, surveyed around 1,000 Americans and 1,000 Germans in July about Switzerland's image.
Participants were asked – on a scale of 1 to 10 – the extent they agreed with the following four statements (1=totally disagree, 10=totally agree):
*Switzerland is in principle a likeable country.
*Switzerland is actively engaged in world affairs and shows solidarity.
*Switzerland stands for reliability and high quality.
*The Swiss are more materialistic than Americans/Germans.
The results showed that while Switzerland enjoys a good reputation in both the US and Germany, its reputation is slightly better in the US.
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