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Swiss abroad flex their muscles

The CSA met in Bern swissinfo.ch

The issue of how best to represent the 600,000 Swiss living abroad has dominated the spring session of their representative assembly.

This content was published on March 28, 2004 - 15:16

The Council of the Swiss Abroad (CSA) rejected moves to give expatriates more political power, preferring instead to increase their lobbying efforts.

The CSA - an assembly representing expatriates’ interests at home - said that Switzerland’s sizeable expatriate population was still not adequately represented in its homeland.

In the last years there have been calls for expatriates to be better represented in parliament, including the option of giving them their own canton or parliamentary seats.

But at a meeting Swiss capital, Bern, the CSA decided against all these proposals, saying that they were not practical.

“Despite its weaknesses, the present system, which treats the Swiss abroad and those living in Switzerland equally, is preferable to variants of which the political appropriateness and feasibility are only hypothetical,” said the CSA in a statement.

They also rejected the idea of giving the Swiss abroad their own elected body.

Lobbying

The council’s 70 members present agreed that the interests of the Swiss abroad would be better served by bolstering the present system – by lobbying and raising awareness of the problem.

To this end, a parliamentary group focussing on the concerns of the Swiss abroad is being created and should include 20 parliamentarians from all parties.

“Parliamentarians must realise the considerable economic importance of the Swiss abroad,” said Radical parliamentarian and council member, Yves Guisan.

The CSA said it was also aiming to increase the number of expatriates registered to vote, currently 90,000, to 100,000 - the number needed to launch a people’s initiative.

E-voting

The CSA’s president, Georg Stucky, said another way of increasing the influence and political participation of those living abroad was e-voting.

“Swiss democracy needs e-voting and needs it tomorrow rather than the day after tomorrow,” Stucky told the assembly.

A recent survey by swissinfo found that 80 per cent of expatriates were hooked up to the internet.

However, the foreign ministry says that voters abroad will have to wait until 2010 before e-voting can be fully introduced due to technical and bureaucratic reasons.

“The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad is working with the federal chancellery so that e-voting is available to all Swiss abroad as soon as it has been introduced nationally,” said the Swiss abroad’s special ambassador in the foreign ministry, Peter Sutter.

Glimmer of hope

Stucky said that despite not being fully represented, he was optimistic about the political future of the Swiss abroad.

He said that in October’s elections, the concerns of the Swiss abroad were the subject of much media and political party discussion. He added that there were also more Swiss expats who had put themsleves up for election.

Stucky said that although none of these candidates were elected, there was a glimmer of hope in the fact that an expatriate was recently voted in to the cantonal parliament of St Gallen.

One of the other topics up for discussion at the assembly was situation of Swiss citizens living in Argentina, a country which has gone through a severe economic crisis. Although conditions are improving, the CSA approved the creation of hardship funds for those in need, to be put into effect this summer.

The CSA also reaffirmed its position concerning the revised television and radio law, recently passed in the House of Representatives.

The council said that the government should continue to finance half of the costs of swissinfo, which has the mandate to inform the Swiss abroad about events in their home country.

swissinfo, Pierre-François Besson

Key facts

The CSA represents the Swiss abroad, of which there are 600,000.
It consists of 68 expats and 23 home members.
The CSA meets twice a year and is the supreme body of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad.
Its job is to defend the interests of Swiss expatriates.

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