Geneva welcomes hundreds of expatriate Swiss
Representatives of Swiss living abroad will be looking to make their presence felt back home when they hold their 85th congress in Geneva, starting on Friday.
Rudolf Wyder, director of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad, tells swissinfo that education cuts and the shrinking consular network are just some of the concerns shared by expatriates.
swissinfo: What is the point of a congress, such as the one you're holding in Geneva?
Rudolf Wyder: These congresses are always dedicated to a theme that is of interest to the Swiss abroad who come to Switzerland for the occasion.
This year the Council of the Swiss Abroad picked Switzerland's humanitarian mission, which is one of the country's great traditions. It is a field in which many Swiss living abroad are involved.
swissinfo: What are the hot topics that will be addressed by the council in Geneva?
R.W.: Firstly the question of Swiss schools abroad. The budget from the government for 2008 is being reduced by quite a bit. This threatens the future of certain schools.
It is not the first time the budget has been cut. The council has fought on several occasions – successfully more than once – for Bern to increase it.
The consular network is another issue. Consulates general are closing one after another, mainly in Europe. This loss is felt deeply by our compatriots abroad.
Switzerland's presence around the world is suffering. And for expatriates to have to travel 1,000 kilometres to have a document certified or a passport extended is a form of discrimination.
swissinfo: But is the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad really capable of forcing these issues?
R.W.: The Council of the Swiss Abroad has a moral authority, which is respected by the authorities and the media. It can't make things happen overnight, but it can draw attention to issues.
Its influence has grown following the creation three years ago of an inter-parliamentary group, which brings together a third of the country's elected representatives. These are parliamentarians who are interested in issues specific to the Swiss abroad.
swissinfo: Do you have enough resources to defend the interests of expatriates?
R.W.: We never have enough. Clearly we would like to have more weight and influence. But we already have influence. This increases commensurately with the active participation of the Swiss abroad in politics.
At the moment more than 110,000 voters abroad are registered in Switzerland. The more their numbers increase, the more they will have a say on the issues that concern them.
swissinfo: Do you think the idea of having seats in parliament reserved for expatriates will come to fruition in the near future?
R.W.: I don't want to make any predictions. Perhaps as a result of what happened in Italy, Swiss parliamentarians are looking more closely at the possibility of creating seats for the Swiss abroad. This debate is only just beginning. We are very interested in what this may lead to, hoping of course for tangible results.
swissinfo-interview: Pierre-François Besson
85th Congress of the Swiss Abroad
This year's theme is "Solidarity and commitment: the Swiss in humanitarian action". Participants will hear addresses from Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey and the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Jakob Kellenberger.
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, will sit 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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