They have much in common, but are spread around the world – so, to meet their own needs, young Swiss abroad have created an online youth parliament that makes use of Facebook, Skype and e-voting.
The first task of the Youth Parliament of the Swiss Abroad (as they call themselves) was to elect a steering committee to coordinate their activities, represent their interests, and promote their issues. The committee now has 13 members. They live in various parts of the globe and were chosen from a list of 17 candidates.
They were elected on October 18, by on-line vote. This was a symbolic date – the same day on which, back home, the 50th regular parliamentary elections took place.
Expat youth assembly
The Youth Parliament of Swiss Abroad is non-partisan and open to all Swiss nationals between 15 and 35 residing abroad, or who have lived abroad for at least ten years.
According to its constitution, “it is committed to the needs of young Swiss abroad and aims to support political education, participation in and co-determination of the political process, and social development of young Swiss abroad”.
The youth parliament’s steering committee is made up of 13 persons, elected by the members of the parliament for a period of two years. Anyone entitled to vote can indicate two preferences: one for a candidate from their own continent, and one for a candidate from another continent. The idea is that the committee should include representatives from all the continents. (At the first election, they did not yet have a candidate resident in Asia.)
It was chosen to emphasise their feeling of belonging to their country of origin, explains Davide Wüthrich, one of the movers of this initiative who has himself been elected to the youth assembly.
The feeling of belonging can be somewhat tenuous, though, because young Swiss abroad have the feeling of not really getting much attention. The more than 750 Swiss clubs around the world do not always meet the needs of the younger generation of expats, who often stay away from them as a result.
Network for the young
Some of these young Swiss have now come up with the idea of taking their own destinies in hand and building an association to meet their particular needs. The goal is to create a network allowing young Swiss scattered around the world to exchange ideas and information, share their experiences, and work on common projects.
“With a network like this, you can get people together who on their own would likely never meet,” says Wüthrich.
This parliament naturally aims to develop policies for youth, but it is strictly non-partisan.
“We definitely do not want this to be a propaganda platform for the political parties,” emphasises Wüthrich.
With this assembly, rather, “young Swiss abroad can keep abreast of the opportunities and methods of voting, and get to understand Swiss democracy”, explains the young Italian Swiss, who is currently working on a doctorate at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne.
As an organisation run by the young people themselves, this youth parliament does not intend to compete with Swiss clubs and the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA), but to work in close cooperation with them.
“The idea would be to have our representative on the Council of Swiss Abroad, which is regarded as the mouthpiece of the Swiss who reside in other countries, says Wüthrich.
Italian-Swiss show the way
This new movement has come out of Italy, where the first parliament of young expatriates was started last autumn, under the name ‘Association of Young Swiss’.
“They are really well organised, they have reps in every region of Italy and are doing fantastic work, with a lot of commitment, dedication and enthusiasm,” says Daniel Bijsterbosch, who heads the Youth chapter of the OSA.
Their achievement has also been recognised by the “Collegamento Svizzero”, the umbrella organisation for all the Swiss clubs in Italy, which has now co-opted the president of the youth group onto their steering committee.
This experience certainly provided an impulse for the decision to found a worldwide youth parliament, which was made by a group of young expats taking part in a seminar at the annual Congress of the Swiss Abroad last August in Geneva.
The young Swiss of Italy were motivated to extend their initiative to the rest of the world and were able to convince their age-mates resident in other countries that such a project was feasible.
One of the tasks of the worldwide youth assembly’s committee will be to start up parliaments of young Swiss in different countries. A series of startups are already planned, beginning with Britain in November and Chile in January.
Launched on Facebook last August 17 with 15 members, the Youth Parliament of Swiss Abroad is steadily signing up members all over the world. Currently the membership is around 300.
Getting more and more people is a positive signal that strengthens the motivation of the activists, says Wüthrich. This is needed, he adds, because it is quite a challenge to locate the young Swiss scattered around the world.
Facebook and Skype are a way for members of the parliament and the committee to communicate and meet, even if it is only virtually.
But the first task is to make sure that potential participants know about the existence of the platform. It’s not easy, concedes Wüthrich, but he hopes that parallel activities to the work of the Youth Parliament of Swiss Abroad, and now the assemblies in each country, will accelerate growth.
Dialogue with young Swiss back home
The key to success is finding “lasting projects, not occasional actions”, says Bijsterbosch, saying he believes that the young Swiss are taking the right approach.
The newly elected committee members have lost no time in getting into the thick of things.
A delegation participated in the Swiss Conference of Youth Parliaments recently. This mosaic of youth parliaments from cities and towns, regions and cantons across the country thus got an added international flavour, which should help to promote dialogue between the young generation of Swiss at home and abroad.
Current members of the steering committee
Europe: Timothy Foreman (17), Czech Republic; Marie Lingl (17), France; Guido D'Auria (21), Italy/Switzerland; Davide Wüthrich (27), Italy/Switzerland; Edoardo Trebbi (22), Italy; Lis Zandberg (19), Netherlands; Wanja Kaufmann (19), Sweden
North America: Samuel Cremieux (16), US; Michael Valente (16), Canada
South America: Laura Derrer (19), Chile; Francisca Espinoza (17), Chile
Africa: Najib Bourkhis (20), Tunisia
Oceania: Ryan Cooper (19), Australia
Translated from Italian by Terence MacNamee, swissinfo.ch