The organisation representing Swiss expatriates is considering the introduction of a law to increase the legitimacy of its executive.
At a meeting in Bern on Saturday, the Swiss Abroad Council discussed a proposal which, among other things, would require council delegates to be elected directly by expatriate voters.
“Such a law would allow the government to define its policy towards the Swiss abroad clearly and encourage expatriates to participate more in public life,” the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) said in a statement.
Swiss clubs in each country currently choose the delegates, and it was some of these delegates who spoke out against what they see as an unrepresentative election process.
“I am a delegate from Israel,” Philippe Weil told the council’s spring meeting. “There are 14,000 Swiss living in Israel. There is one Swiss club, which has 300 members. I was elected by the board of this club, which consists of about eight people. Can I claim that I represent Israel’s 14,000 Swiss?”
OSA president Jacques-Simon Eggly said the aim of the new law was to democratise the council in order to give it more legitimacy as a political force.
Eggly said the organisation would like to see the government automatically consult with it, any time the cabinet tables a proposal affecting the expat community. The meeting heard that there are currently 11 different laws that affect Swiss abroad.
The change to the Swiss constitution to include an article on the Swiss abroad would be a “strong and positive signal” for expats, who would like to play a larger role in the political affairs of their homeland, the OSA statement said.
The law would also help ensure more uniformity when the government formulates policy impacting the Swiss abroad.
The new voting procedure would have to overcome some logistical hurdles before it can be introduced.
“One would have to go to a Swiss embassy or consulate and register themselves in order to receive the right to vote,” said Thérèse Meyer-Kaelin, a Christian Democrat member of parliament who headed up the working group that hatched the plan.
Meyer-Kaelin also said an e-voting system would need to be approved to allow expats to vote online.
Meyer-Kaelin rejected criticism from some delegates present at the meeting that the new system would make Swiss clubs irrelevant. She argued that only their responsibility would change. In future, it would be the job of the clubs to find suitable candidates and to make them known among voters.
The assembly also used the Bern meeting to criticise government plans to cut its financial support of swissinfo.ch. Delegates also urged the authorities to increase funding for the Swiss Revue magazine.
“The government cannot be interested in seeking Switzerland’s isolation,” Eggly said.
Eveline Kobler, swissinfo.ch (Adapted from the German by Dale Bechtel)
Swiss Abroad Council
The Council of the Swiss Abroad is made up of 160 representatives of the expatriate community and of public life in Switzerland.
The assembly, which meets twice a year, is the senior body of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA).
Swiss expat community
According to the foreign ministry, 676,176 Swiss lived abroad in 2008 (+1.2% on 2007), compared with 7.6 million residents in Switzerland.
124,399 expatriates aged over 18 have registered to vote, an increase of 4.2%.
Since 1992 Swiss abroad have the right to take part in federal votes/elections via mail from abroad.
More than 40 Swiss abroad candidates stood for the October 21 parliamentary elections. In 2003, just 17 people living abroad stood for election.
There is currently no Swiss expatriate in parliament.