An urgent budgetary shortfall resulted in a markedly subdued annual general meeting of the Federation of Swiss Societies in Britain (FOSSUK) in London.
The federation held its 45th AGM at the Swiss Embassy on Saturday. All corners of the country were represented with members coming from as far away as Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Guernsey.
It soon became clear even FOSSUK, the umbrella organisation representing Britain’s 24 Swiss societies and clubs, was not immune to the effects of the global economic downturn.
Traditionally, delegates and attending dignitaries have combined the business of Swiss affairs with a number of social and cultural activities.
Last year’s meeting in Wales opened with an evening of classical music by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conducted by Switzerland’s Thierry Fischer, and closed with a resounding concert by a group of choristers from Cardiff and a 40-strong choir from Ticino.
The annual event, which normally is spread out over two to three days, was this year stripped back to an afternoon at the embassy followed by an evening meal at a Swiss restaurant in central London.
Money matters seemed to have become so acute half the AGM was devoted to spelling out the current financial shortfall and making members aware of the urgency to raise funds.
Hard times ahead
The current budgetary concerns were due in part to a two-year sponsorship deal with banking giant UBS coming to an end with no sign of a further deal in sight.
At the moment the federation’s sole income comes from the Swiss clubs and societies, where either a modest £1 subscription fee per member or a £20 minimum total per club is paid into FOSSUK’s coffers.
Freddie Wyser, president of FOSSUK, offered a sobering projection if the current situation continued indefinitely.
“We need to work hard to secure extra revenue from outside help.” he said. “Otherwise if figures don’t look healthier next year in a very short time we will not be in existence.”
Despite the sombre prediction, delegates outlined a number of potential revenue-generating initiatives to help balance the accounts.
Perhaps the most encouraging proposal was to sell advertising space on the FOSSUK website.
With what was considered an impressive 70,000 online visitors annually, delegates felt they were in a strong position to persuade businesses to buy into the concept of advertising online.
There are also plans to update the website more frequently and negotiations are underway to possibly stream news reports from swissinfo.ch.
It was recognised that if FOSSUK were to develop more as an information hub in Britain, it would increase traffic to the site, which in turn would be more attractive to businesses.
There was also a general consensus that to ensure continued support from the expat community FOSSUK had to be more pro-active in engaging with its members. The treasurer, Daniel Pedroletti, admitted people only had a vague idea of what they did.
“The federation can no longer afford to be known just for organising the AGM and supporting the four ‘British’ delegates in their role within the Organisation of Swiss Abroad (OSA) in Bern.” He said. “That’s why we started the series of forums in March to explore pressing issues concerning Swiss expats.”
This first forum was considered one of the great successes of the year. More than 70 people from southeast England attended the London meeting three months ago and topics raised varied between the controversy surrounding biometric passports, the voting process for expats and the Swiss minaret ban.
There are plans to hold similar events in the north of England later in the year and then in Scotland early in 2011.
Switzerland’s ambassador to Britain, Alexis Lautenberg, supported proposals to raise the profile of FOSSUK. He also believed the Swiss community wanted to be more informed about global events.
“It seems to me that beyond the more social dimension of friendly gatherings in the clubs and societies, new and appealing forms of information and debate would help us understand what people think, which could then be conveyed back to the various cantons in Switzerland,” he said.
Further good news came from one of the invited dignitaries. Ambassador Markus Boerlin, head of the Political Division 6 Foreign Affairs department in Bern, told the audience that only two weeks ago the ministry had decided to create a new position, a director general for consular affairs.
This meant for the first time the service for Swiss living abroad and aspects related to Schengen and visas would come under one directorate.
Boerlin was confident this would offer expats greater power and influence within the Swiss foreign ministry and the federal administration in general.
FOSSUK is a voluntary, non-profit, non-party political organisation of a co-coordinating and interactive nature.
FOSSUK and its constituent societies, clubs and institutions, otherwise known as corporate members, fall within the general guidelines of the OSA.
Swiss Abroad Council
The Council of the Swiss Abroad is made up of 160 representatives of the expatriate community and of public life in Switzerland.
The assembly, which meets twice a year, is the senior body of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA).
Swiss expat community
According to the foreign ministry, 676,176 Swiss lived abroad in 2008 (+1.2% on 2007), compared with 7.6 million residents in Switzerland.
124,399 expatriates aged over 18 have registered to vote, an increase of 4.2%.
Since 1992 Swiss abroad have the right to take part in federal votes/elections via mail from abroad.
More than 40 Swiss abroad candidates stood for the October 21 parliamentary elections. In 2003, just 17 people living abroad stood for election.
There is currently no Swiss expatriate in parliament.