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Congress of Swiss expatriates flags up UN membership

Swiss expatriates participating in this year's congress in Davos


The annual congress of Swiss expatriates is underway in the mountain resort of Davos. The three-day meeting brings together several hundred Swiss who have taken up residence abroad, and it this year focuses on Switzerland's ties with the United Nations.

The president of the Organisation for the Swiss Abroad, Georg Stucky, opened this year's congress on Friday, and he underlined the importance of the close ties many Swiss expatriates maintain with Switzerland.

One of the highlights of this year's congress is a keynote speech by the foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, on Saturday.

This year's convention aims to provide more information on the UN. Swiss politicians and experts, who have been working for or within the UN, are debating Switzerland's contribution to the world body and how the work of the UN affects Switzerland.

Switzerland is one of the last countries in the world not to be full member of the UN, although it is contributing financially as well as with know how and manpower. In a nationwide vote next year the Swiss electorate will decide on whether Switzerland should join the UN. A similar proposal was overwhelmingly rejected in 1986.

Ahead of the three-day congress in Davos, the Council of the Swiss Abroad, an assembly representing the interest of expatriates at home, discussed the future of Swiss schools overseas.

Stucky pointed to the dire financial situation of many of the recognised Swiss schools abroad. He urged the federal authorities to increase their financial support, but also called for concerted efforts to establish an international network of public and private Swiss schools at home and abroad.

The council also debated the possible impact on Switzerland of the Euro as single currency for the European Union. The Euro will become the official currency at the beginning of next year within the EU, but Switzerland is not a member.

Other controversial points discussed in the council meeting included social security and health insurance issues.

The assembly was briefed on plans to hold next year's Congress of the Swiss Abroad in Biel, one of the sites of the National Exhibition, expo .02. The Organisation for the Swiss Abroad said it is preparing a series of events at the exhibition, including a special day dedicated to Swiss expatriates.

There are currently more than 591, 600 registered Swiss nationals who live abroad, according to latest figures from the foreign ministry. Most of them settled in EU member countries.

One in four Swiss expatriates have taken up residence in France (154,730), followed by Swiss communities in the United States (68,821) and Germany (68,564). An important number of Swiss citizens also emigrated to Canada (35,177), Britain (25,416), Australia (19,536) and South Africa (8,769).

The Organisation for the Swiss Abroad was founded in 1916 to ensure the voice of the Swiss expatriates is heard at home. The organisation also acts as umbrella group for about 750 clubs and institutions, including 17 Swiss schools around the world.

by Urs Geiser

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