Over the weekend more than 400 Swiss expatriates gathered in the mountain resort of Davos for this year's Congress of the Swiss Abroad. In his keynote speech, the foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, called on voters to approve Swiss membership of the United Nations at the ballot box next year.
The three-day convention in Davos focused on relations between Switzerland and the United Nations. In a series of speeches and panel discussions, Swiss experts explained the different aspects of the UN and its agencies, as well as the role of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The debates focused on how Switzerland could improve its position on the world stage by promoting democratic values and the role Swiss expatriates could play in this process.
In his keynote speech on Saturday, Deiss pointed out that Switzerland could boost its credibility if Swiss voters decided to join the UN in next year's referendum. A similar proposal was overwhelmingly rejected by the electorate in 1986.
However even though Switzerland is not a member of the international body, it does contribute financially to the organisation and its various agencies, as well as being home to the UN European headquarters in Geneva.
Deiss said Switzerland could better represent the interests of its citizens as a full member of the UN, but emphasised that UN membership would not infringe upon Switzerland's traditional neutrality. He said there was no reason for Switzerland to be virtually the only country in the world to stay outside the UN.
Ahead of the Congress, the Council of the Swiss Abroad, an assembly representing expatriates' interests at home, debated the financial situation of Swiss schools overseas and social security issues.
Expo 02 project
The meeting also heard proposals for a "Swiss Abroad" special project at next year's National Exhibition, Expo .02, on the shores of Lakes Neuchâtel, Biel and Murten.
There are currently just over 591,000 registered Swiss citizens who have taken up residence abroad. More than two in three expatriates have dual nationality. About 60 per cent of all Swiss expatriates live in European Union countries, mainly in neighbouring France and Germany.
There are also important Swiss communities in the United States, Canada, Australia and South Africa make, totalling about 132,000 people. But only 13 per cent of all Swiss expatriates are registered voters.
The Organisation for the Swiss Abroad was founded in 1916 to ensure the voice of Swiss expatriates is heard at home. The organisation also acts as umbrella group for about 750 clubs and institutions, including 17 Swiss schools around the world.
by Urs Geiser