Swiss abroad get a voice in parliament

Christian Democrat Thérèse Meyer heads the parliamentary group

Swiss citizens living abroad are to be better represented in politics, following the founding on Wednesday of a special parliamentary group.

This content was published on September 22, 2004 - 19:38

Some 83 politicians from all the main parties formed the group to ensure that the 600,000-strong Swiss abroad community is given a voice in parliament.

The Swiss have long been accustomed to forming groups across party lines to represent their interests in parliament. Farmers, for example, constitute a major lobby, and benefit from some of the most generous agricultural subsidies in Europe.

Now, thanks to the efforts of Christian Democrat parliamentarian Thérèse Meyer and others, it is the turn of Swiss living abroad to enjoy some say in the nation's affairs.

Swiss expatriates number 612,000 people - equivalent to nearly a tenth of the country's population.

Most live in neighbouring France and Germany, but substantial numbers reside in Italy, Britain and the United States. Smaller communities can also be found in places like Israel, South Africa, Australia and Argentina.

The numbers may in fact be far higher, says Jean-Paul Aeschlimann, vice-president of the Swiss Abroad Organisation, and honorary consul in Montpellier, France.

"It's likely that 30 to 40 per cent of Swiss living in France are not registered," he told swissinfo.


Around 90,000 Swiss living abroad are registered to vote - the same number as in an average-sized canton.

Political parties in Switzerland tend to "rediscover" the Swiss Abroad briefly at election time, but the difficulty in appealing to such a diverse constituency means they tend to be forgotten once the polls close.

According to Meyer, it should not be solely up to Swiss voters abroad to inform themselves about the country. She believes they should have some support back home as well.

Aeschlimann takes the view that the Swiss abroad are an undervalued asset to the country - namely in the form of ambassadors.

He says Swiss at home have the perception that their fellow citizens abroad live in a time warp, nurturing fond memories of the way Switzerland used to be.

In reality, he says, the Swiss abroad tend to be young, dynamic, and very often in positions of influence in the countries where they live.

Meyer agrees: "We have seen that worldwide there is an impressive potential network that looks to Switzerland as home."


Key facts

About 612,000 Swiss are registered as living abroad – equivalent to nearly 10% of the population.
Some 90,000 are registered voters - the same number as in the average Swiss canton.

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In brief

A study, commissioned by the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) and swissinfo, found that Swiss expats tend to be characterised by a set of values rather than by political affiliation.

They prize modernity, openness, change, tolerance of foreigners, and a liberalised economy.

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