Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey has reminded expatriates of their role as bridge-builders between Switzerland and the rest of the world.This content was published on August 18, 2007 - 18:45
Speaking in Geneva on Saturday at the annual congress of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA), she promised to look more closely at the needs of citizens living outside the country.
"You chose to live abroad and yet remain Swiss," said Calmy-Rey. She pointed out that citizens living abroad provided a valuable "social, cultural, political and economic link" with other nations.
"We are proud of our diaspora," she added. "Whenever the Swiss abroad can make their voices heard, we are participating in a constructive dialogue."
The president admitted that citizens living outside the country also carried more political weight these days, calling it a "mathematical fact." She added that with the possible introduction of the electronic vote, the interests of the Swiss abroad would be better represented.
Around 650,000 Swiss live outside the county, equivalent to nearly ten per cent of the population, and the OSA has been calling for parliamentary representation for years.
She warned though that it would be difficult for expatriates to be elected to the House of Representatives, given that they have to registered with a party in a particular canton and pass a pre-selection before being added to an electoral list.
For the upcoming federal elections in October, the rightwing Swiss People's Party, the centre-right Radicals and Christian Democrats and the Greens will be fielding candidates from abroad.
The centre-left Social Democrats have no candidates, but have demanded permanent representation for the Swiss abroad, and that expatriates be treated as another canton.
Calmy-Rey said that setting aside seats in parliament as suggested would be difficult though since it would require a constitutional amendment.
The president, who is also the country's foreign minister, was tackled by congress participants over the closure of consulates in Europe during a question-and-answer session.
Calmy-Rey defended the decision by stating that the resources gained from shutting down some representations were needed to increase Switzerland's presence in Asia.
There was also criticism of the compensation paid to honorary consuls who have taken over some of the workload of the closed consulates. The president promised to discuss the matter with the OSA.
Politics also snuck through the back door in a perhaps more surprising manner during the congress. Participants were surprised to receive a how-to-vote flyer from the People's Party among their official documents.
The brochure explains how to register to vote in the upcoming elections, and one of the rightwing formation's candidates from abroad explains why he chose the party.
According to the OSA, the People's Party was the only party to make use of the possibility of inserting paid political advertising among the official documents.
85TH CONGRESS OF THE SWISS ABROAD
This year's theme is "Solidarity and commitment: the Swiss in humanitarian action".
The congress also provides the main political parties with a platform to solicit votes, with elections two months away.
The senior body of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad, the Council of the Swiss Abroad, also holds a sessions during the congress.
This "parliament", which meets twice a year, comprises 160 representatives from abroad, as well as those from institutions and public life in Switzerland.
The Swiss abroad
At the end of last year there were 645,000 Swiss living abroad – 11.1% more than in 2000.
Almost a third of them are based in the European Union, mostly in France (171,732), Germany (72,384) and Italy (47,012).
Elsewhere in the world, 71,984 Swiss live in the United States, 36,374 in Canada, 21,291 in Australia, 15,061 in Argentina, 13,956 in Brazil, 12,011 in Israel and 8,821 in South Africa.
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