The legislative body of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA), the Council of the Swiss Abroad (CSA), met for its biannual meeting at the town hall in Bern on 23 March 2019. For the second time, the meeting followed on an exchange with Swiss parliamentarians for an update on political issues with relevance for the Swiss Abroad.
The CSA meeting on Saturday was chaired by OSA President Remo Gysin. Attending members of the Federal Parliament were Filippo Lombardi (CVP/TI, OSA Vice-President), Laurent Wehrli (FDP/VD, OSA board member), Carlo Zanetti (SVP/ZH, OSA board member) and Isabelle Moret (FDP/VD).
Attending as delegates from Australia were Carmen Trochsler (Adelaide), Beat Knoblauch (Sydney) and Katja Wallimann Gates (Brisbane).
Amongst the political issues discussed were the framework agreement with the European Union, the increasing opposition against e-voting and the ongoing efforts to improve the Swiss bank situation. A presentation about the Swiss Old Age insurance by representatives from the ‘Zentrale Ausgleichsstelle’ (ZAS) provided helpful information about common AHV questions.
With a view to the upcoming federal parliament elections in October a draft election manifesto was approved. The Council decided for a questionnaire to be sent to members of parliament standing for re-election. They will be asked on their position to topics concerning the Swiss Abroad, notably the right to vote, international mobility, Switzerland’s consular network and the policy of Swiss banks with expat clients.
Your Australian Delegates intervened in the following agenda items:
Election of Council Delegates
There were critical voices from within the Council against the planned broadening of the electorate (ALL Swiss Abroad registered with a Consulate should be able to vote as opposed to only the Swiss Clubs having voting rights).
Katja Wallimann Gates spoke about her experience during the pilot project of all Swiss directly voting for the delegates in Australia in 2017. Carmen Trochsler followed up with facts and actual numbers and emphasised that representation of the Swiss Abroad is only possible if all Swiss can vote. Together it was one encouraging and positive statement for direct elections.
Franz Muheim (CSA from Scotland) presented results of a working group consisting of delegates from around the world, including Roland Isler, representing Australia. The group is investigating ways for the introduction of worldwide direct election of CSA delegates to take place in 2021, based on experience with pilot projects in Australia and Mexico in 2017. The electorate would be the country in general but could also be the consular district or regions.
What does online election of delegates mean: Start early with election preparation. Search for candidates, get them checked, inform Swiss Abroad via Swiss Review, social media, local newsletters, vote via e-voting.
Given the current resistance within Switzerland against e-voting in general the question remains what would be appropriate for the election of the delegates and what can be financed.
The topic will be further discussed at the meeting in Montreux in August.
Wealth Creation through the Swiss Abroad (positive contributions of Swiss Abroad)
This initiative by Beat Knoblauch, acknowledged by the CSA, will be passed on to ‘Presence Suisse’ in Bern. The CSA and the Secretariat have not sufficient funding in place for such an in-depth study: motion carried.
Cantonal Bank of Geneva
Difficulties of Swiss residents in Australia to establish a relationship with the Cantonal Bank of Geneva (BCGE), the new partner of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad, had been addressed by Carmen Trochsler in the lead-up to the meeting. Discussions between the different parties helped to resolve the issues. Contact person for any request to open a bank account with the bank is Stephan.Vayanos@bcge.ch
Budget of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad
During the Budget Debate and setting the goals for the future, it became apparent that the CSA needs additional funding to meet the increasing demand and complexity of business in general. A motion by Beat Knoblauch was carried to put the need for additional funding on the agenda for 2019/2020
Support of political parties
While meeting in a scheduled session in Bern with Swiss parliamentarians before the CSA session, discussions were held on the coming Federal Elections in October 2020. Your delegates mentioned that the Swiss Abroad take notice of the mood of the political parties and their stance in matters concerning the Swiss Abroad. The parties were urged to make a more concerted effort to get the votes from the Swiss Abroad.
Oceania Swiss Club President’s Conference
Beat Knoblauch thanked the FDFA officially for delegating Mrs Simone Flubacher to the Oceania Swiss Club President’s Conference, held in Sydney in September 2019. In his response (by video conference from Dubai), Mr Johannes Matyassy, Director of the Consular Directorate FDFA, congratulated the organisers and offered, wherever possible, to delegate someone from the department to attend such events. New Zealand was mentioned as the next venue to host the Oceania meeting in 2020.
News from the Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA)
Presented by Simone Flubacher, Delegate for Swiss Abroad Relations:
- Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis will participate at the Swiss Abroad conference in August in Montreux.
- The 2018 Swiss abroad statisticwill be published on 28 March, available through use of an interactive database.
- The new virtual desk (Online Desk) of the Department of Foreign affairs had 17,000 users in 2018.
- Young Swiss Abroad are important to the EDA.
- A new website for young Swiss abroad was created to provide helpful information incl. a short film.
- Successful ‘Jungbürgerfeiern’ have been held at clubs all over the world. The EDA provides a welcome package for young Swiss Abroad on this occasion.
- Goals 2019 / What are the services provided in the future?
- Improved Digital offers (like Itineris app)
- Website for young Swiss abroad will be completed by webpage for young families abroad. Example: Consulate General in Nyon organised a ‘Kinderfest’.
News from Swissinfo
Swissinfo would like to launch an app for Swiss Abroad with a daily briefing specifically for Swiss Abroad. They also want to give Clubs a chance to raise their voice ahead of the elections by organising a roundtable discussion for later this year.
SVP Member of Parliament, Claudio Zanetti is one of the founding members of the committee to put a stop to e-voting. Being at the same time a board member of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad, he put forward an interpellation with the goal to allow for voting material to be sent out via email.
John McGough (CSA from Hungary) put forward a motion to sue PostFinance in court, in the hope of forcing the company to grant expatriate Swiss clients the right to hold an account.
Both the OSA president, Remo Gysin, as well as senior council member and Senator Filippo Lombardi, warned against launching into long and costly legal dispute with very limited chances of winning. They believe political solutions hold more promise given a reshuffle of the Swiss government at the start of the year and parliamentary elections due October.
Lombardi said he was confident that it will be worth launching new proposals in parliament to achieve an improvement of the current situation.
The delegates in the end called for equal access to the services of PostFinance, but did not support John McGough’s proposal.
Old Age Insurance
Representatives of the Old Age Insurance presented general and practical information about the topic AHV for Swiss Abroad.
- Zentrale Ausgleichsstelle (ZAS), part of this is the Schweizerische Ausgleichskasse (SAK), responsible for all insured with residence abroad.
- 13,000 Swiss Abroad have voluntary old age insurance.
- Communication will be improved, working on online solutions/digitised services, e.g. Platform ESAK or contract with SwissPost for IncaMail (secure emails).
- Life Certificates: 800,000 have been sent out in 2017 for completion
- Change of address ideally via guichet virtuel / Online Desk of FDFA.
- Individual figures can’t be accessed yet online however good website with different forms relating to old age insurance. Also, pension estimate can be calculated online
The Life Certificate can apparently be returned via email.
Election Manifesto / Recommendation for elections
The Council approved an election manifesto. The charter lays out a procedure to recommend candidates and political parties for the forthcoming national elections.
Based on how much they support our manifesto on what they have done in the last 4 years.
Discussed, will be revised and decided on at the next meeting in Montreux.
The results will be used as a basis for the elections in October.
Gedenkstätte Schweizer Opfer des Nationalsozialismus
Presentation by Gregor Spuhler, Head Archive for Zeitgeschichte, ETH Zürich.
Representation in Parliament
According to the report of the working Group Vincent Croset (GB), fixed seats in Parliament for Swiss Abroad would require an amendment of the constitution.
Important dates in Switzerland for Swiss Abroad
- 13.4. – 29.9.2019: Forum Schweizer Geschichte Schwyz. Switzerland elsewhere (Die Schweiz anderswo). Exhibition about the Swiss Abroad.
- 16 – 18 August: Congress of the Swiss Abroad in Montreux.
- 18 July – 11 August: Fête De Vignerons. Vevey. Recognized by UNESCO on its list of intangible cultural heritage.
The meeting closed at 6pm.
Carmen Trochsler, Beat Knoblauch, Katja Wallimann Gates, Australia