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Tapping the power of the Swiss abroad

Keystone

A Swiss politician is calling on the government to strengthen ties with the Swiss abroad.

This content was published on December 14, 2004 - 16:07

One Swiss citizen in ten lives abroad, but Filippo Lombardi claims little is known of this diaspora and its influence.

“We lack an overall view of relations between Swiss expatriates and their country of origin,” says Lombardi, who is due to raise the issue in the Senate on Wednesday.

He wants the government to prepare a full report on the importance of the “Fifth Switzerland” with regard to the country’s international relations.

“I do not wish to comment on the decision, but for the time being Switzerland has chosen not to join the European Union,” says Lombardi, who is a member of the Council of the Swiss Abroad (CSA).

“Consequently, compared with other countries, it is somewhat isolated from the rest of the world.

“It is therefore all the more important that we promote our expatriate community as a way of establishing international links.”

Economic study

Lombardi is asking for a research study to be conducted on the economic advantages of having a strong Swiss community in other countries – something that the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) regards as particularly important.

“The network of relationships established by the Fifth Switzerland, and the presence of Swiss institutions abroad, is a key factor in our economic relations with the wider world,” says Rudolf Wyder, secretary of the OSA.

“And we should not forget that half our national income derives from exports.”

Those in favour of the study say it would be useful for assessing what financial support should be given to promoting the Swiss presence abroad.

Lombardi claims this is all the more important at a time when the government’s belt-tightening is having a disproportionate effect on Switzerland’s links with other countries.

He points to the reduction in federal assistance for swissinfo, the cutting of subsidies for Swiss schools abroad, and the issue of voluntary affiliation of Swiss expatriates to the country’s national insurance scheme.

Lombardi also wants to discuss the question of expatriates’ participation in Swiss domestic politics and the speedy introduction of electronic voting.

Regular meetings

One of his proposals is to organise a regular conference for politicians of Swiss origin, to strengthen ties with other countries' institutions.

"This idea has already been tried elsewhere," points out Lombardi. "I, for example, have an Italian grandmother. Four years ago I was invited to Rome, to attend a conference of parliamentarians of Italian origin from all over the world.

"My colleague on the council, Joseph Zisyadis, assures me that they also do the same thing in Greece."

Lombardi's proposals have attracted widespread support – even before being debated by the Senate – and have been endorsed by no fewer than 26 of the 46 senators. The cabinet is also behind them.

The OSA says it is delighted by this show of support.

"The proposals come at an important moment in relations between Switzerland and the rest of Europe," says Rudolf Wyder.

"The widespread support it has attracted shows a growing awareness in parliament of the problems faced by the Swiss expatriate community.

"Nevertheless, developing relations with the Fifth Switzerland is not an alternative to our integration with the rest of Europe. At best, it is a complementary measure."

swissinfo, Andrea Tognina

Key facts

According to official statistics, there are 612,000 Swiss citizens living abroad.
More than 90,000 are enrolled for electoral purposes and so entitled to vote.

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In brief

Senator Filippo Lombardi is inviting the government:

- to draft a full report on the role played by the Fifth Switzerland in relations between the Confederation and foreign countries.

- to conduct a research study of the economic importance of the Swiss expatriate community.

- to use this study to analyse funding to promote the Swiss presence abroad.

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