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After 100 years, the Swiss Abroad Congress remains politically significant

The Congress of the Swiss Abroad, taking place July 11-13 in Lucerne, will mark the 100th time that Swiss citizens living abroad will meet in Switzerland.
Keystone / Urs Flueeler

The 2024 Congress of the Swiss Abroad will be a singular event: it will be the 100th edition. While the Congress has evolved over the years, its core mission remains the same: to unite the Swiss Abroad and raise awareness of their specific needs.

The Congress of the Swiss Abroad, taking place July 11-13 in Lucerne, will mark the 100th time that Swiss citizens living abroad will meet in Switzerland.

The idea of fostering closer ties between the Swiss Abroad and their homeland emerged in the context of the First World War through the initiative of the New Helvetic Society, which still exists today. The first meeting took place in April 1918, coinciding with the Basel Mustermesse, a major industrial exhibition showcasing Switzerland’s development.

The centenary edition is being celebrated in 2024, rather than 2018, due to interruptions caused by the Second World War and, more recently, the Covid-19 pandemic. The event’s enduring spirit remains a testament to its historical significance.

A Social and Political Forum

The Congress serves dual purposes. It’s a social gathering for Swiss expatriates to share experiences and maintain connections; and it’s a political platform for addressing the interests of the Swiss Abroad. This political dimension is managed by the Council of the Swiss Abroad, which traditionally holds one of its two annual sessions during the Congress.


Ariane Rustichelli, Director of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA), reflects on this dual role: “The form has sometimes varied, but this dual dimension, both social and political, has always existed; it’s a form of continuity that we’ve seen throughout all the Congresses.”

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Increased Political Influence

The Congress has garnered varying levels of attention from the country’s political leaders over the decades. In the 1940s, up to four federal ministers attended the Congress. Since the Swiss Abroad gained the right to vote by post in federal elections in 1992, their political visibility has increased significantly.

“The Swiss Abroad make up a potentially significant electorate, which is why various political parties are turning their attention to them,” says political analyst Claude Longchamp. “The political weight of the diaspora may not be decisive, but it can be important for certain parties.”


This influence is evident in the fact that all the major parties now have an international section that targets the Swiss Abroad specifically. It can also be seen in the growing number of political party stands at the Congress and the “political party dinner,” which will be held for the second time this year.

Looking to the future

This 100th edition is also an opportunity to look to the future. In just over a century, the very face of the Swiss diaspora has changed.

“At the time of the first Congress, people who emigrated were seen as people who would never return to Switzerland again,” says Longchamp. “But now, many of them are much more mobile. They sometimes go abroad for professional reasons and regularly commute between Switzerland and their country of residence. They are no longer people who have left Switzerland for good, but people who can return.”

Modern means of communication have also changed the situation. Even when living on the other side of the world, it is possible to have instant contact with loved ones in Switzerland or to keep up-to-date on what is happening in their home country. This raises the question of whether a large annual meeting such as the Congress is still useful.

Rustichelli is convinced that the social aspect of the Congress remains as important as ever.

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“Human beings are by definition social beings,” she stresses. “People who take part in the Congress enjoy seeing each other and talking to each other. The pandemic has shown that the new communication tools cannot completely replace face-to-face meetings. Attending conferences can also be an opportunity to immerse yourself in a Swiss atmosphere. You can follow what’s going on in Switzerland from a distance, but there will always be a little added value in coming to experience the Swiss reality in Switzerland.”

The fact remains, however, that attendance is down. This year the Congress, which traditionally takes place in August, has been moved to July in an attempt to make it more accessible.

Given these developments, it is possible that the Congress of the future will take a hybrid form, as is already the case for Council meetings, with editions in Switzerland and others online. “It is conceivable that in the future the Congress will no longer be held in Switzerland every year, but every two or three years,” says Rustichelli.


Hosted by: Emilie Ridard

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Edited by Samuel Jaberg / Adapted from French by Alexandra Andrist/gw

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