The expatriate Swiss community has called for equal access to the services of PostFinance, but it stopped short of taking the state-owned company to court.
The delegates of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA)external link approved a proposal, urging a “non-discriminatory” treatment of expatriate Swiss clients compared with residents in Switzerland.
The decision came after the 140-member Council of the Swiss Abroad discussed a proposal at its bi-annual meeting in the capital Bern on Saturday.
John McGough, an OSA delegate from Hungary, initially wanted to sue PostFinance in court, in the hope of forcing the company to grant expatriate Swiss clients the right to hold an account.
“Swiss citizens need a bank account,” he told the assembly. He also criticised the company for charging fees that are five times as high as those for domestic clients.
His demand was supported by a delegate and council member from Israel. Erich Bloch accused the Swiss government of ignoring the needs of the expatriate community.
“Therefore, it is important to build up powerful political pressure,” Bloch said. However, he admitted that chances of winning the case in court were slim. He suggested shelving the proposal and resuming discussions at a later stage.
Both the OSA president, Remo Gysin, as well as senior council member and Senator Filippo Lombardi, warned against launching into long and costly legal dispute with very limited chances of winning.
They believe political solutions hold more promise given a reshuffle of the Swiss government at the start of the year and parliamentary elections due October.
Lombardi said he was confident that it will be worth launching new proposals in parliament to achieve an improvement of the current situation.
Over the past decade, Swiss banks became increasingly reluctant to do business with expatriate Swiss clients amid international pressure to crack down on tax evasion.
Several attempts in parliament to alleviate the banking woes of the Swiss Abroad failed in the past few years. For its part, the government argued that it was not willing to intervene to undermine the freedom of competition in the financial industry.
Council of the Swiss Abroad
The 140-member assembly is part of the Swiss Abroad Organisation (OSA)external link and meets twice a year.
It is made up of representatives of Swiss clubs and associations abroad and of members of domestic institutions, including swissinfo.ch.
The assembly presents the interests of Swiss expatriates before the authorities and public opinion in Switzerland.
Geneva Cantonal Bank
The OSA negotiated an agreement with the Geneva Cantonal Bank and with PostFinance last year, facilitating access to banking services.
“The OSA shares the anger of expatriate clients over PostFinance,” Gysin said. He praised the cooperation notably with the Geneva Cantonal bank.
The delegate from Hungary, who had filed a similar proposal in 2017, told the assembly he would suspend his initial proposal for legal steps against PostFinance in favour of the compromise.
But he vowed to continue his fight at the next council meeting in August. “I will not yield,” McGough said.
Swiss in Europe
The delegates also heard a presentation about a controversial agreement about the future of bilateral relations with the European Union by representatives of the four main Swiss parties.
The statements ranged from outright rejection of a so-called framework accord by the rightwing Swiss People’s Party to approval with or without reservations by the Radical Party, the Christian Democrats and the leftwing Social Democrats.
The Swiss government said it would decide on the proposed agreement by the end of June following a consultation among political parties, cantons, parliamentary committees, the business community and trade unions, as well as the research community.
Several delegates pointed out the importance of ties with the EU, given the 28-nation bloc is Switzerland’s main trading partner. They also stressed that most expatriate Swiss citizens living in neighouring France, Germany and Italy.
Overall, there are about 760,000 expatriate Swiss across the globe. The community grew by about 1% in 2018 compared with the previous year. Around 170,000 of them have registered and can take part in votes and elections in Switzerland. Official data on the Swiss Abroad will be published by the foreign ministry next week.