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Sense of duty leads to serving Swiss abroad

(Keystone Archive)

Parliamentarian Jacques-Simon Eggly may be bowing out of politics after 30 years but he is not about to turn his back on the many Swiss who live outside the country.

In an interview with swissinfo, he says he has no intention of stepping down as vice-president of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) and gives a preview of his future plans.

Next year the centre-right Liberal, who has decided not to stand for re-election, will complete his 24th and final year as a member of the House of Representatives.

swissinfo: How do you feel about leaving parliament?

Jacques-Simon Eggly: These past 30 years in politics have given me enormous pleasure. I was lucky to have a job that appealed to my sense of duty and allowed me to work for the public good.

swissinfo: How successful would you say you've been?

J-S.E.: I have not, unlike others, attached my name to any law or a proposal. I am not a man of papers, but rather of words. Thus have I fought on heated issues, like our relations with the European Union and the struggle for United Nations membership, which we initially lost but later won.

I have also served several times as a rapporteur, for example on Army reforms and on several security matters. I have been involved in pushing for a change in the law on sex offenders and for a revision – in the end successful – of the abortion law.

swissinfo: Where does your interest in the Swiss abroad stem from?

J-S.E.: There is a tradition of sorts whereby several members of the Liberal Party have been president of the OSA. Also I feel the OSA needs a strong presence from French-speaking Switzerland.

As things turned out, I eventually became vice-president. But let me be clear about one thing: even though I am leaving parliament, I am probably going to be spending more time with the OSA.

Recognition of the role played by the Swiss abroad and their political rights seems vitally important to me. Especially now that the barrier of 100,000 registered voters has been broken, giving them sufficient numbers to force a nationwide vote.

swissinfo: What would you say were the key moments of 2006 for the Swiss abroad?

J-S.E.: This year has seen the approval of accords agreed with the EU in 2005, and I imagine that our compatriots living abroad are keeping a close eye on these new relations with the EU.

During the summer our thoughts went out to the Swiss living in Lebanon. We were very impressed with how the government handled their evacuation, which was not without difficulty as it had to be done by sea with air and road links blocked.

swissinfo: Have the Swiss abroad changed?

J-S.E.: Not really. One notices – always with a certain surprise – that they are very attached to our traditions. But, probably as a result of economic developments, there are now more and more people moving between nations. A lot of people are less integrated in their new countries, and we see less of them at Swiss associations abroad and within our organisation.

And then the majority of those we see at our events are generally older. But they all know that we are here to defend their interests. This was the case for Swiss who fell victim to Argentina's economic crisis, for civil rights, etc...

swissinfo: ... and even swissinfo?

J-S.E: Yes. I am very pleased that we were able to save swissinfo from the cutbacks planned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, and above all that its position has been safeguarded.

swissinfo: And what about the future? Can you see another mass emigration of Swiss, as there was 100 years ago?

J-S.E: Fortunately, the economy is in good health. Therefore I see more and more Swiss taking up positions in branches of Swiss companies abroad. Look at the example of Ruth Metzler, the former cabinet minister, who was taken on and sent to Paris by Novartis. She has now returned to the company's headquarters, but one can imagine her heading off somewhere else in the future.

I don't think emigration will be fuelled by people who are unemployed in our country but rather by people who will further the growth of Switzerland.

swissinfo-interview: Isabelle Eichenberger

In brief

Founded in 1916, the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad groups together 750 associations and institutions.

Its senior body is the Council of the Swiss Abroad, a "parliament" of 160 representatives from abroad (three-fifths) as well as institutions and representatives from Swiss public life.

The Committee of the OSA, comprising eight members elected for four years and a president, prepares the work of the CSA and represents it.

The Secretariat of the Swiss Abroad is the executive arm and employs 21 people in Bern. It publishes the "Swiss Review".

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Key facts

At the end of 2005, there were 634,216 Swiss living abroad, of which 71.2% held dual nationality.
105,212 are registered to vote.

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Jacques-Simon Eggly

Born in Geneva in 1942.

He graduated with a law degree, became editor of the Journal de Genève newspaper and is still a political commentator for its successor Le Temps.

Before being elected to the House of Representatives in 1983, he served for six years in Geneva's cantonal parliament.

He is vice-president of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad and president of the Swiss Foundation for Landmine Victim Aid.

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