The Council of the Swiss Abroad has called for Switzerland's existing network of consulates across the world to be maintained.
The assembly meeting in the town of Brunnen on Friday passed a resolution protesting against the overhaul of the network, notably in central Europe.
“The visibility of Switzerland on the international stage suffers; access for the Swiss abroad and for Swiss tourists is becoming longer and more difficult,” the resolution says.
Among the changes at some consulates, services such as long-term and employment visas and services for the Swiss abroad will be handled by other countries. The first such reorganisation has happened at the Swiss embassy in Tirana. As of April 1 such services were transferred to a regional consular centre in Pristina, according to a message on the embassy website.
The foreign ministry is also considering setting up mobile consulate services and hiring additional local personnel where required.
The reorganisation of Swiss consulates mainly affects countries in Europe, Gerhard Brügger, a senior foreign ministry official, told the assembly.
He said the network was adapting to geographic and demographic needs and would optimise resources. But he did not exclude consulate closures at a later stage.
“The reform takes account of changing demands. It is aimed at providing an adequate and efficient public service,” he said.
Several council members harshly criticised the foreign ministry for its plans and the information policy on the issue in particular.
In other business, the expatriate assembly has slammed Swiss banks for imposing high fees for Swiss abroad living in the United States, Germany, Israel and Singapore keeping an account in Switzerland.
The council called on politicians to intervene against what they called “discriminatory treatment”.
The assembly also approved a manifesto ahead of October’s parliamentary elections and called on the authorities to extend trials for the introduction of electronic voting.
It wants e-voting to be in place for Swiss expatriates in all countries of the world by 2015.
The council meeting came ahead of Saturday’s festivities for the 20th anniversary of the Swiss abroad ‘square’ in Brunnen – a small park on the shores of Lake Lucerne.
There are currently about 700,00 Swiss expatriates living mostly in European Union countries. But there is also an important expat community in North America.
The council is made up of 140 members of Swiss expatriates’ organisations as well as representatives of institutions and the Swiss public sphere.
More than 695,000 Swiss citizens live abroad, about 10% of the total Swiss population, according to official data from December 2010.
Founded in 1916 the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad represents the interests of the expatriate community and is considered its official voice.
The Council of the Swiss Abroad is an assembly of 140 delegates from Swiss expatriates' associations as well as representatives of institutions and from the Swiss public sphere. As a rule they meet twice a year.
Registered Swiss expatriates can take part in nationwide votes and elections since 1977.
In 1992 registered Swiss expats were granted the right to vote by postal mail.
Swiss expatriates are taking part in trials with electronic voting underway since 2005.
To be able to take part in ballots, an expat has to register with the Swiss authorities. The vote counts for the commune she/he lived in before leaving the country; alternatively it is the commune the family originally hails from.
Parliament is set to approve an easing of the registration procedure by October 2011.end of infobox