The Swiss expatriate community has warned against a proposal to abolish the mandatory registration of citizens living overseas. The assembly also discussed a government report on e-voting and a row with France over inheritance tax.
The Swiss Abroad Council, an assembly of more than 140 representatives from all over the world, unanimously rejected a voluntary reporting system as “incompatible with a draft law aimed at boosting the status of the expatriate community”.
The meeting on Friday agreed that it is crucial for the authorities to be able to contact their citizens abroad in case of a crisis. Making registration of Swiss expatriates voluntary could also reduce the visibility of the community at a political level, it was claimed.
Delegates, who had gathered in the mountain resort of Davos, also criticised shortcomings in a draft law dealing with political participation, information and insurance coverage for expats.
Nevertheless, they agreed that the proposal, sponsored by Senator Filippo Lombardi, is an important step.
The council said it served as a “good blueprint for further discussions and includes key elements of a resolution by Swiss Abroad Council from 2010”.
Rudolf Wyder, director of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA), said it was important to make the voice of the expat community heard in public. The bill, still to be discussed by parliament, defines the role played by the 715,000-strong expat community in Swiss politics and society as well as in the economy.
The planned law would merge clauses from eight existing legal provisions and aim for a more coherent policy, giving the foreign ministry the sole responsibility for expat matters at government level.
It could come into force in 2015.
E-voting and consulates
The assembly also welcomed a planned extension of electronic voting trials, following publication of a government report in June.
However, a statement approved by the delegates called for technical improvements to protect the e-voting systems against cyber-attacks.
In an effort to encourage Swiss citizens abroad to take part in votes and elections, the council urged the cantonal authorities to implement e-voting for the 2015 parliamentary elections.
Defying a call by OSA president Jacques-Simon Eggly, delegates insisted on discussing the government’s policy of modifying the network of Swiss embassies and closing consulates.
Speakers pointed out that consular staff were suffering from an increased workload, while a senior foreign ministry official tried to explain the reasons for the cost-cutting programme.
Roland Büchel, a parliamentarian and member of the expat council, has pledged to mount pressure on the government to suspend any further attempts to reduce Switzerland’s diplomatic network.
New OSA directors
Ariane Rustichelli and Sarah Mastantuoni will take over as joint directors of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) as of the beginning of next January.
They replace Rudolf Wyder, who is to retire after more than 25 years at the helm of the OSA secretariat.
Rustichelli has been head of the communications department and Mastantuoni served as legal advisor for the organisation.
They will both have be elected formally by the Swiss Abroad Council next March.
The delegates heard explanations by the French ambassador to Switzerland about a controversial tax treaty between the two countries.
Michel Duclos defended the amended double taxation agreement as a strategy to crack down on tax cheats in an increasingly globalised world.
He said that by approving the accord, Switzerland could win more legal security, despite perceived disadvantages. Parliament is still to discuss the issue.
Under the accord, in cases where the deceased used to live in Switzerland, French beneficiaries of any inheritance would henceforth be taxed in France.
A considerable number of wealthy French citizens have moved to neighbouring Switzerland to escape French inheritance tax. The majority of Swiss citizens in France have dual nationality.
Swiss Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf is due to give a keynote speech at the Congress of the Swiss Abroad on Saturday. The annual two-day gathering focuses on the challenges Switzerland faces in an globalised world.
Swiss in France
A dispute among the Swiss expatriate community in France prompted an upset at Friday’s meeting of the Council of the Swiss Abroad.
As a result of the spat, which mainly concerned the representation of the different Swiss associations and clubs, France’s seat in the council’s leadership committee will remain vacant until at least next March.
It took several rounds of balloting on Friday to reach a legally-binding decision.
There are about 180,000 Swiss citizens in neighbouring France, making it the largest Swiss expat community.
By Urs Geiser in Davos, swissinfo.ch