Swiss expatriates voted overwhelmingly in favour of extending a labour accord with the European Union.This content was published on September 26, 2005 - 12:15
With "yes" votes averaging 75 per cent, the Fifth Switzerland believed that a rejection of extending the accord to the ten new EU members would have caused serious problems for bilateral relations with Brussels.
"This result is very important – also for the existing bilateral treaties with the 'old' EU countries," Rudolf Wyder, Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) director, told swissinfo.
"No one knows how the EU would have reacted if Switzerland had discriminated against the 'new' countries."
The proportion of Swiss expatriates who ticked the yes box was a lot higher than Swiss in Switzerland.
The average return from Swiss living abroad was around 75 per cent in favour of the labour accord – some 10-25 per cent above the cantonal averages.
Expatriates from Basel City returned the highest percentage of yes votes with 79.6 per cent, compared with 63.5 per cent of voters actually living there.
Swiss abroad originally from Appenzell Inner Rhodes, which was one of seven cantons to reject the accord, approved it by 72.8 per cent.
All Swiss living in the European Economic Area now have immediate and unlimited access to its employment markets.
"They now have freedom of establishment," said Wyder. "That's important for those Swiss who are not dual citizens."
Sixty-two per cent of the 623,057 Swiss expatriates are based in Europe, with 166,000 in France, 70,000 in Germany and 45,000 in Italy.
"Those Swiss also now have access to social insurance," Wyder explained. "The system is now coordinated between Switzerland and the EU. It works out who gets what pension where, and who is insured where."
Wyder said that had Switzerland said no to all this, it would have discriminated against itself.
"After all, it wasn't the EU that wanted this referendum."
Wyder said the vote was also a vote for the future – for all young Swiss people.
"They can live and work in the EU without problems – something that was stressed more in this campaign than with Schengen/Dublin."
Wyder was not slow to flag up the significance of OSA votes.
"When you consider how narrowly the vote to join the European Economic Area treaty failed by in 1992, you can see how important the votes of the Swiss abroad are."
There are 623,057 Swiss expatriates.
This is about a tenth of the total Swiss population.
62% are based in Europe, with 166,000 in France, 70,000 in Germany and 45,000 in Italy.
71,000 live in the United States, 45,000 in Canada and 26,000 in Britain.
Just over 95,000 citizens have registered to vote.
The OSA was founded in 1916 and is an umbrella group of about 750 Swiss clubs and institutions worldwide.
Swiss Abroad votes:
Geneva: 72% (58% for voters actually in Geneva)
Vaud: 75.7% (65%)
Lucerne: 75.6% (51%)
Basel City: 79.6% (63,5%)
Appenzell Inner Rhodes: 72.8% (43.6%)