The head of the federal chancellery, Annemarie Huber-Hotz, welcomed around 40 children of Swiss expatriates to the Swiss parliament on Tuesday.This content was published on August 16, 2005 - 19:12
The youngsters from around the world are attending summer camps in Switzerland for young Swiss living abroad.
The role of welcoming the eight- to 14-year-olds traditionally falls to the president, but Samuel Schmid was busy defending his decision to a parliamentary committee to sell tanks to Iraq.
Huber-Hotz, who was celebrating her birthday, jumped in and, after the children had sung her "Happy Birthday", told them about the Swiss political system and fielded their questions.
Not every visitor was totally satisfied. "I'd prefer to have seen a real president," Caspar Hobi from Spain told swissinfo.
Hobi had a point. The chancellor in Switzerland is largely an administrative role and it has been estimated that only around ten per cent of Swiss can name their chancellor.
The chancellor is a staff secretary who participates in cabinet meetings and prepares the reports on policy and activities of the cabinet for parliament.
Dominik Brundler, who had come from Britain, would also like to have met the president, "then I could have given him our present".
The youngsters had cobbled together a football stadium out of cardboard and on which Real Madrid were playing against Bayern Munich. A Swiss team obviously hadn't made the cut.
Huber-Hotz accepted the present on behalf of Schmid, who is also minister for sport, and said he would be delighted.
She added that football is very important for Switzerland over the next few years – and the children knew why: "Because the European Championships are taking place in Switzerland".
Germany is hosting the World Championships next year and Switzerland and Austria are sharing the European Championships in 2008.
After a multilingual tour of the parliament, Huber-Hotz told the children in German about the Swiss political system and its development in parliament. This was then translated by the summer camp leaders into Spanish, French and Italian.
Huber-Hotz told swissinfo that it is important for children of Swiss expatriates to get to know the Swiss parliament and the people who work there.
"It is also important for me to have contact with expatriate Swiss of all generations. That always gives us ideas about how we could do things better," she said.
The children were less forthcoming when it came to asking questions. One boy wanted to know to which party the president belonged (the Swiss People's Party) and another quizzed Huber-Hotz on her age (a year younger than Schmid).
Some knew a lot about Switzerland, others – mostly those from more distant countries – learnt many new things.
"It is precisely those children who live farther away whom we should be trying to engage and inform so that they can develop feelings for Switzerland," Huber-Hotz said. "It is important that they feel at home here and not only where they have come from."
Every year the foundation for young Swiss Abroad organises two-week holiday camps for children of Swiss living abroad.
This year around 270 children from more than 50 countries spent their holidays at seven camps dotted around Switzerland.
Any child of Swiss living abroad, aged 8-14, can take part. In winter two ski camps are organised.
In compliance with the JTI standards