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Swiss Abroad undeterred by flooding

Rudolf Wyder says that maintaining the OSA congress is an act of solidarity

(swissinfo.ch)

Rudolf Wyder, director of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA), tells swissinfo that the association's congress will take place despite flooding in Interlaken.

The annual meeting is planned from September 1 to 4, but a major folklore event, which was to be held at the same time in Interlaken - the Unspunnen Festival - has been put back a year.

The Unspunnen was cancelled out of sympathy for those whose lives have been disrupted by the flooding.

But it means the Swiss abroad travelling to Interlaken will have a rather less entertaining visit than many had hoped.

swissinfo: Why are you still going ahead with the OSA congress?

Rudolf Wyder: We reached our decision after consulting the local authorities and Interlaken's tourism specialists. For us, it is also an act of solidarity to hold our congress in an area that has suffered so much.

The meeting of the Council of the Swiss Abroad is especially important as well this year since it will be the first session of a four-year cycle.

swissinfo: One of the themes at this year's congress is tourism. You have asked the question whether Switzerland can compete with the top destinations. How relevant is this to the Swiss abroad?

R.W.: The Swiss abroad, when they come to visit Switzerland, are usually tourists themselves. They are in a position to compare Switzerland's attractiveness with that of the countries where they live and others they have travelled to.

swissinfo: You will also be discussing the upcoming vote on the extension of a labour accord accord to ten new member states of the European Union. The Swiss abroad are known for their openness to towards migrants. Do you expect them to vote "yes"?

R.W.: The council, which defends the interests of the Swiss abroad in Switzerland, has already discussed the second set of bilateral accords with the EU as well as the extension of the free movement of people agreement last year and was clearly in favour.

This time, we will discuss the September 25 poll. I'm ready to bet the council will recommend a "yes" vote.

swissinfo: What benefits would a "yes" vote have for the Swiss Abroad?

R.W.: The Swiss abroad realise that being mobile for work reasons is something that isn't just important for foreigners and isn't only valid outside Europe. They know that mobility is important for the Swiss and they should take advantage of it.

The Swiss abroad are mobile, and that's why they are well informed about this issue and are prepared to guarantee mobility.

swissinfo: What would happen if people voted "no"? Would it damage Switzerland's image, and would that affect the Swiss abroad?

R.W.: There would surely be problems if this extension were refused. The EU would not understand why Switzerland would only accept free movement of workers from the "old" member states.

If the free movement of people accord was dumped, tens of thousands of Swiss would be left to face increased bureaucratic hurdles and find their mobility restricted. I hope this won't be the case.

swissinfo: The number of the Swiss abroad keeps rising. The Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) wants to significantly reduce one of their prime sources of information about Switzerland, swissinfo. How have the Swiss abroad reacted to this plan?

R.W.. The OSA has already called in no uncertain terms for this plan, which threatens to cut back, compress or do away with swissinfo's services, to be dropped.

The Swiss abroad associations in a number of European countries have also voted for resolutions condemning the SBC's project.

The Swiss abroad really don't understand why these cutbacks are necessary. We believe it is a wrong decision.

swissinfo is the only SBC unit aimed squarely at the Swiss abroad and foreign markets. We need it in the future for Swiss citizens elsewhere and to maintain Switzerland's presence beyond our borders.

swissinfo-interview: Gaby Ochsenbein and Christian Raaflaub

Key facts

The annual OSA congress is being held in Interlaken from September 1 to 4.
The main theme to be discussed this year is tourism in Switzerland.
Around 400 to 500 Swiss abroad are expected to travel to the Bernese Oberland.
The Swiss abroad council will hold its first session of a four-year cycle.

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In brief

The best-known speakers at this year's OSA congress are the Swiss finance minister Hans-Rudolf Merz and the former defence minister Adolf Ogi.

Delegates will take part in workshops and roundtable discussions with participants such as star chef Anton Mosimann.

The congress is supported by organisations such as Switzerland Tourism, Presence Switzerland and swissinfo.

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