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Deiss calls on Swiss abroad to set example

Expatriates can play a part in making the country more open, according to the Swiss president, Joseph Deiss.

(Keystone Archive)

The Swiss president, Joseph Deiss, has called on the country’s expatriate population to help Switzerland become more open and receptive to change.

In his speech to mark the country’s National Day, Deiss described expats as positive symbols of globalisation and an example for all Swiss.

Deiss used the speech, which is traditionally given on August 1 to celebrate the founding of Switzerland, to urge the country to break free of its isolation and become more competitive.

“There is an imperative need for greater openness if we want to find the path back to solid economic growth in Switzerland,” said Deiss.

“There needs to be more competition on the domestic market, greater incentive to innovate and start up new businesses,” he added.

Role models

The president said that the Swiss abroad - of which there are now over 600,000 – were good role models for those who were sceptical about the impact of globalisation on the country.

“You demonstrate to us at home that we have no grounds to fear losing our identity in a more globalised world,” said Deiss.

He said that expatriates defended the values of tolerance, liberalism and change alongside Switzerland’s traditional image of solidarity.

Deiss added that Switzerland tended to become more inward-looking during times of economic stagnation and political wrangling over public spending cuts.

He therefore urged the Swiss living abroad to support the government in its efforts to spur an economic upturn.

“Stronger growth will enable us to face the economic, political and social challenges of the future more courageously,” he said.

Growing community

The number of Swiss living abroad has been growing steadily over the last few decades.

There were more than 612,000 Swiss citizens living abroad at the end of last year - an increase of 2.3 per cent on 2002, according to the foreign ministry.

The biggest communities of expatriates are based in neighbouring France (163,000) and Germany (70,000), as well as in the United States (71,000).

Just over 70 per cent of the registered Swiss citizens living abroad have dual nationality.

The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA), which represents expats’ interests in Switzerland, has been trying to encourage more of those living abroad to vote as a way of increasing their political influence.

Political voice

According to the OSA, nearly 90,000 expatriates were registered to vote last year. They first received the right to vote in 1992.

“We are moving closer to our goal of 100,000 registered voters,” said Georg Stucky, the organisation’s president.

This is particularly important for the OSA as it is the number needed to launch a people’s initiative.

Politicians have also been weighing up ways in which expatriates could be given increased power, such as being given their own “virtual” canton and parliamentary representatives.

swissinfo, Urs Geiser

Key facts

Last year there were 612,562 registered Swiss expatriates, 70% had dual nationality.
Nearly 90,000 were registered to vote in 2003.
The right to vote for the Swiss abroad was introduced in 1992.
The biggest expatriate communities are in France, the US and Germany.

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