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Expat woes


Swiss banks slammed for expat business policy


By Urs Geiser



The Swiss Abroad community is calling on the government to ensure their right to a savings account. They also want parliament to maintain the mandatory registration of expats in case of political crises and other emergencies.

The Council of the Swiss Abroad (CSA), meeting in Aarau on Friday, passed two separate resolutions with overwhelming majorities.

Roland Büchel, a vice president of the assembly, said the time was right to push ahead with demands for the majority state-owned Post Finance to provide Swiss expatriates with an account to keep their savings, pensions or other declared funds as well as to make it possible for them to take out mortgages for their properties in Switzerland.

“It has finally become an issue of domestic interest in Switzerland after more than five years,” he said.

During an extended session, the assembly heard numerous complaints by delegates about harsh and discriminatory treatment by Swiss banks.

Several speakers said the Swiss Abroad were “collateral damage” of the mistakes made by many banks in the past.

“It’s unfair to be made the scapegoat,” said Erich Bloch, delegate from Israel.

Political pressure

Other delegates, including Marcel Grossenbacher from Nigeria, cautioned against hasty decisions and called for a realistic approach without resorting to blunt “bank bashing”.

Büchel, who is also a parliamentarian, hopes the resolution will boost his chances to increase pressure on a political level. He says an estimated 100,000 expats could benefit from a guarantee for an account with Post Finance.

A leading consumer protection group will reportedly investigate ways to force Swiss banks to give all Swiss citizens – and notably the 732,000 registered expatriates – access to an account and provide them with certain financial services.

Following moves by the United States to crack down on tax fraud, many Swiss banks have asked their customers, notably expatriates, to close their accounts amid concerns of reprisals.

The Swiss Bankers Association says offshore asset management has become too costly and risky in many countries.

“The Swiss Abroad have to pay taxes in their countries of residence and are subject to the local law. The banks have to know the rules and regulations of the respective states. This is costly and carries certain risks,” says association spokesman Thomas Sutter.

Mandatory registration

As parliament is due to resume discussions on a new law on the Swiss Abroad, the assembly adopted a resolution on Friday calling for maintenance of the mandatory registration of expatriates.

The delegates said it was crucial to know the whereabouts of individual expatriates in cases of conflicts and disasters.

However, Jürg Burri, head of the consular unit in the Swiss foreign ministry, said it made little sense to enshrine mandatory registration with Swiss representations abroad in a law if violations of the planned regulations cannot be enforced.

Instead he called on Swiss expatriates to register voluntarily as responsible citizens and as part of their civic duty.

The issue is still pending in parliament, as the Senate and the House of Representatives disagree on mandatory registration after a first round of debates.

E-democracy

The council meeting in Aarau, attended by about 90 delegates from around the world, came ahead of the Congress of the Swiss Abroad in the nearby town of Baden.

The congress will focus on the role of social media and electronic voting in democracy. The keynote speaker at the two-day event is Interior Minister Alain Berset.

The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) is pushing for the introduction of e-voting for all expatriate citizens for the 2015 parliamentary elections.

Currently about 155,000 Swiss citizens have registered to take part in ballot box decisions, including regular votes on issues or in elections.

Swiss Abroad Council

  • The 140-member assembly is part of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) and meets twice a year.
  • The assembly is made up of representatives of Swiss clubs and associations abroad and of members of domestic institutions.
  • It represents the interests of Swiss expatriates before the authorities and public opinion in Switzerland.
  • The meeting took place ahead of the two-day annual Congress of the Swiss Abroad.


By Urs Geiser, in Aarau, swissinfo.ch



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