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Swiss expatriate clubs seek new blood

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The Swiss community in Britain is steadily expanding, yet membership of Swiss clubs is dwindling.

This content was published on June 16, 2008 - 11:20

Freddie Wyser, president of the Federation of Swiss Societies in Britain (FOSSUK), hopes a new initiative will help reverse this trend.

Wyser, who has lived in Edinburgh for the past 30 years, spoke to swissinfo during the 43rd FOSSUK annual general meeting held in London last weekend.

The two-day event – held in a different location each year - is a chance for Swiss clubs to share information and ideas. This year expatriates agreed on changes to their constitution whereby four Swiss – two FOSSUK members and two non-members from the wider Swiss community – will be elected as "British" delegates to the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA).

The federation hopes this move will encourage more people to get more involved in Swiss activities and join clubs and associations.

More and more Swiss are choosing to live abroad in general. At the end of December 2007 the figure stood at 668,107 world wide – 23,000 up on the previous year. In Britain there were 28,288 Swiss, up 962 on 2006.

swissinfo: Why was it so important to revise your constitution to be able to elect two non-FOSSUK candidates among the four OSA delegates representing British-Swiss interests?

Freddie Wyser: There are about 25 Swiss clubs in Britain, comprising some 3,000 members, but 27,000 Swiss are registered with the embassy – we only represent ten per cent of the Swiss in Britain; this disproportion is quite huge.

There are other clubs in Britain that don't belong to FOSSUK, but we thought it would be good to try and look for new blood from outside.

So we decided to have two OSA delegates elected from within the federation and two elected from outside to try and pull in a wider Swiss audience.

swissinfo: How difficult is it to attract new, younger members of the Facebook generation?

F.W.: There is currently a global malaise. The membership of Swiss clubs and federations is getting older and young people are not particularly interested in joining clubs, so you always tend to rely on the same circles.

Because of television and the internet it's a totally different playing field from 20 to 30 years ago, becoming much more difficult.

Some clubs are more fortunate. In Edinburgh we've been able to bring in new blood. The Swiss Club Edinburgh has about 50 members, or 80 including partners, and is one of the largest of the five clubs in Scotland. Switzerland opened a consulate in 2006, so there is a greater number of Swiss activities and events.

But other clubs are dying due to the lack of membership. No one wants to stand [for office] or attend anymore.

swissinfo: How influential are the 650,000 Swiss living abroad?

F.W.: The number of Swiss abroad registering to vote in Switzerland goes up every month. And I think because of e-voting people are suddenly feeling more involved.

The major parties don't really seem to care much about the Swiss abroad, but they're now realising that 650,000 Swiss abroad represent a large share of voters that can influence specific votes.

swissinfo: How important is it for Swiss abroad to be represented in parliament in Switzerland at communal, cantonal or federal levels?

F.W.: It's a common point of concern for many expatriates, but personally I've always said it's nonsense. How can you live in China and stand for a governmental post in Switzerland when you don't live there and don't really know what's going on except when you visit? And the costs would be so high; either you're really rich or you have someone sponsoring you, say as a member of a political party.

Last year Edgar Studer [a retired welfare officer from the southern British town of Finchampstead] stood for the Swiss People's Party. He put in a lot of effort and I applaud him for doing what he did, but the support he got was minimal – there is no interest. He is so unhappy he has resigned from his involvement with the Swiss abroad.

swissinfo: You've spent most of your life living outside Switzerland. What's your view on your homeland?

F.W.: I love Switzerland and I still consider myself Swiss. I have no other passport and will never change.

I visit four to five times a year and each time I go back I re-immerse myself in the Swiss way of life. I don't really like the big cities, Geneva or Zurich, which don't have any identity, but if I go to smaller towns like Aarau or Buchs, I really appreciate the small communities, the cleanliness, punctuality and friendliness.

But the Swiss are still narrow-minded when you look at the wider world and they're really isolated in the middle of Europe surrounded by other European Union countries.

swissinfo, Simon Bradley in London

The Swiss abroad

668,107 Swiss lived abroad in 2007 (+3.6% on 2006), compared with 7.5 million residents in Switzerland.

119,429 expatriates aged over 18 have registered to vote.

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.

Freddie Wyser, a retired chef and food industry specialist, has lived in Edinburgh, Scotland, for the past 30 years. He has been FOSSUK president for the past two years and a member of the Swiss Club Edinburgh for five years.

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