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"The Swiss abroad are better Swiss than us"

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The speaker of the House of Representatives, Christine Egerszegi, says that Swiss living abroad should be encouraged to play a more active role in Swiss politics.

This content was published on May 27, 2007 - 10:29

Egerszegi, a member of the centre-right Radical Party, told swissinfo that she sees the Swiss abroad as role models. On the one hand they embody traditional values, yet they are also open to new experiences.

The Swiss community abroad is particularly close to Egerszegi's heart in the current election year. Of the roughly 650,000 people belonging to the so-called Fifth Switzerland, more than 110,000 are signed up to vote in their home cantons.

Egerszegi is delighted by the increasing political awareness of this community and hopes that in autumn a Swiss living abroad will enter the Swiss parliament for the first time.

swissinfo: How would you describe your relationship with the Fifth Switzerland?

Christine Egerszegi: It is diverse and extraordinarily good. My brother has lived in South Africa for 40 years and my daughter in England for five. She actually wanted to return to Switzerland after her degree but stayed in London because her daughter could start [all day] school aged four – in Switzerland she would have had to wait another three years.

swissinfo: How important to you, as speaker of the House of Representatives, are the Swiss abroad?

C.E.: They are very important because on the one hand they equate to many voters and on the other they are Switzerland's business card through which we can forge contacts.

I sometimes even have the feeling that they are better Swiss than us "stay-at-homes". For me they represent Switzerland's traditional values, but at the same time they are extremely cosmopolitan and open to new experiences. This is something that is very important to me: keeping and looking after what is established, but tackling new things with enthusiasm.

swissinfo: In this election year do you have a special message for the Swiss abroad?

C.E.: I would be happy if large numbers of them were to vote. I will try hard to ensure they receive the necessary documents in time so they can form their own opinions. I will also lobby so that the corresponding budget is not cut too much.

swissinfo: Does Switzerland do enough for its citizens abroad, or is there still room for improvement?

C.E.: Obviously I would prefer it if it were possible to vote electronically, as it is in other countries. That would make it considerably easier for Swiss abroad to participate in Swiss political life.

I would also be happy if after the elections in October we succeeded in welcoming the first Swiss living abroad into parliament.

swissinfo: The Swiss abroad represent a medium-sized canton, yet their voting potential as a group is weakened by being spread across the cantonal registers. Where do you stand on quotas – for example two seats for the Fifth Switzerland in the Senate and five to ten in the House of Representatives?

C.E.: I've never considered supplementing parliament like that. But as a liberal politician I've always resisted quotas of any sort.

I can remember one case, however, when the Swiss abroad held the balance of power: the rejection of the 1998 initiative against genetic engineering was sealed in canton Aargau by the votes of the Swiss abroad – and that right in my community of Mellingen!

I personally campaigned against the initiative since it would have impeded all forms of gene technology in Switzerland.

swissinfo: Should political parties' representatives travel abroad in a bid to mobilise voters, as suggested for example by the political scientist Wolf Linder?

C.E.: I think that's a very good idea. Whenever I go on an official trip abroad, I always do that by asking the embassy to organise a Swiss evening. I invite Swiss entrepreneurs to a dinner or a drinks party. This gives me the chance to hear concerns and wishes – something I find very important.

swissinfo-interview: Renat Künzi

In brief

The Council of the Swiss Abroad is the governing body of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad.

Its main task is to promote the interests of all Swiss expatriates regarding the authorities and public opinion in Switzerland.

The council meets twice a year (once to coincide with the annual Congress of the Swiss Abroad) to examine political issues of concern to the Swiss living abroad.

The Council currently consists of 130 representatives of Swiss communities abroad and 40 members from inside Switzerland.

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Key facts

In 1992, 15,000 Swiss abroad voted. In 2006, 111,249 did.
The 2006 figure represents 22.5% of eligible Swiss voters living abroad.
This is 2% of all Swiss who are of voting age.

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Expatriate figures

At the end of December 2006, 645,010 Swiss nationals were living abroad. Just over 70% of them held dual citizenship. Three in five lived in EU countries.

The Swiss abroad are known as the "Fifth Switzerland". The other four are the country's four linguistic areas.

EU – 389,732 (60.4%) including:

· France (171,732)
· Germany (72,384)
· Italy (47,012)
· Britain (27,326)
· Spain (22,680)
· Austria (13,380)

Outside the EU:

· United States (71,984)
· Canada (36,374)
· Australia (21,291)

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