Representation

 

Supporting and defending the interests of Swiss citizens living abroad before the Swiss authorities and public.

 

The OSA is recognised by the authorities, the media and the public in Switzerland as the representative organisation of the Swiss Abroad.

 

The OSA is strongly committed to improving the legal status of Swiss citizens living abroad. It has successfully opposed the dismantling of the optional old-age and disablement insurance (AHV/IV) on several occasions. Other significant achievements have been the introduction of the right to vote by mail in federal matters in 1992 and most recently, the OSA has been involved in the creation of the ‘Swiss Abroad Act’ – a one-stop-shop in federal Bern concerning all matters relating to Swiss Abroad, consolidating the interests of the growing Swiss diaspora. This Act is important to Swiss citizens living abroad because it clearly defines their rights and responsibilities, as well as the obligations that the federal government has towards the Swiss Abroad. The new legislation has become law in November 2015.

 

 

The Banking Problem

Since 2008, as a result of worldwide changes in the banking industry, many Swiss Abroad today are faced with Swiss banks cancelling accounts, which in many instances were held for many years. The OSA strongly believes that this is unfair and discriminatory. 

  

The CSA has called on the government to oblige the Swiss Post Office’s financial institution ‘PostFinance’, which is run similar to a bank, to give all Swiss citizens abroad the opportunity to maintain a basic banking relationship with Switzerland. Since then a number of parliamentary initiatives were launched: In September 2014, Roland Rino Büchel, National Councillor and member of the OSA Executive Board, had launched a parliamentary motion based on that CSA resolution, which the National Council had supported but was rejected by the Council of States. In September 2015 he launched a further motion, demanding that the ‘too big to fail’ banks be obligated to accept Swiss Abroad as customers and provide them with basic banking facilities. The Federal Council has rejected the motion and so did the National Council by a very narrow margin of 82 to 79 votes. The postulate (enquiry) by State Councillor Konrad Graber based on the CSA resolution was also answered in the negative by the Federal Council. In June 2017, State Councillor and Vice-President of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA), Filippo Lombardi (CVP/TI) has lodged a motion in relation to system-relevant banks, which was signed by 35 members of the Council of States. He calls on the Council of States to ensure that all Swiss nationals can open an account with such a bank.

 

Despite several political initiatives, finding a solution through legislative changes have so far failed.

 

On 10 March 2018, at he CSA meeting in Bern, the executive of the OSA announced that it had entered into a partnership with the Geneva Cantonal Bank (BCGE). In this partnership, the BCGE undertakes to to make available bank accounts for Swiss Abroad, on terms and conditions similar to those applicable to persons resident in Switzerland, provided compliance with applicable Swiss and foreign regulations is maintained. The details of financial solutions for expatriates called ‘Xpatbanking’ can be viewed here. The BCGE maintains branches in Geneva, Lausanne, Zürich, Dubai and Hong Kong. 

 

The terms and conditions depend on the individual circumstances of the applicant and interested Swiss Abroad in Oceania are urged to make their own enquiries directly with the bank. Contact persons (depending on branch you want to visit / language you speak) are:

 

• Anne de Gendre (Lausanne, french/english) email

• Maria-Teresa Lopez Bouffard (Geneva, french/english) email

• Karl Aeschbacher (Zürich, german/english) email

 

Further information about terms and conditions can be found here.

 

While this can be viewed as a very positive development, time will tell how sucessful it will be in practice. If you have any experience to share – positive or negative, please contact your delegates. We are very keen to gather as much information as possible from Swiss Abroad wishing to establish a bank account with BCGE. 

 

 

 

Promoting political participation and e-voting

Around 610,700 Swiss nationals abroad eligible to vote, 195,300 – or 32% – were enrolled on a Swiss electoral register, a steady increase over previous years. It is equivalent of the electorate of a canton such as Ticino, Valais or Thurgau – a very sizeable electorate and one that continues to grow. It is therefore a vital task to protect the interests of these citizens abroad.

 

For its part, the OSA actively promotes the political rights of Swiss people living abroad and encourages them to enrol on the electoral register. Around 20,500 Swiss in Australia are entitled to vote, of which around 3,600 are enrolled. In New Zealand, around 5,700 are entitled to vote, of which 1,200 are on the electoral register. Both figures rank below the world average.

 

The OSA is also active in the promotion of e-voting – a highly important instrument for Swiss citizens scattered around all four corners of the world.

 

Trials of e-voting and even e-election in some cantons have been very successful. Encouraged by this, the OSA launched a petition calling for the introduction of e-voting and e-election in all cantons for all Swiss including Swiss Abroad, as quickly as possible.

 

 

The government had pledged to introduce e-voting for the entire expatriate community for the parliamentary elections in October 2015. The OSA regrets very much that this target was not achieved due to e-security concerns. For those elections, only four cantons (NE, GE, BS, LU) were able to offer e-voting to registered Swiss Abroad. Two parliamentary motions were submitted, demanding that the cantons be forced to implement e-voting and thus put an end to the disadvantage of the expatriate community in exercising the right to participate in the political life of their home country.

 

Since then, the development of advanced and secure e-voting systems is taking a steady course ahead. Consistent with its federal structure, it is the cantons that are responsible for elections and as such, the development of e-voting. There are now two main systems available: CHVote is a pioneering electronic voting system developed by the canton of Geneva, with the world’s first ever online vote having been cast in Geneva on 19 January 2003. Another system is being offered by Swiss Post. According to the Federal Council, it is expected that for the federal election in 2019, two thirds of cantons will have introduced e-voting for all Swiss voters. So far eight cantons have been approved by the Federal Council to use e-voting whereby both systems will see action. CHVote is the preferred system in the cantons of Geneva, Basel-City, Lucerne, Bern, Aargau and St. Gallen. Neuchâtel and Fribourg will be using the Post System.

 

In June 2018 the Federal Council decided to commission the Federal Chancellery with the preparation of a project that makes e-voting a regular voting option. It will lead to an amendment of the Federal Law on Political Rights (Bundesgesetzes über die politischen Rechte – BPR) by the end of 2018. The aim is to make electronic voting a voting option like any other and to achieve a complete digitisation of the voting process.

 

Meanwhile, in Switzerland there has been growing resistance and a fair bit of scare-mongering regarding the introduction of e-voting. Whilst the advantages are obvious to the government and the Swiss Abroad, sceptics argue that the trust in the democratic process is compromised due to e-security uncertainty and the cost of developing a secure system is also a concern. Since earlier in 2019, a broad alliance of political parties has been collecting signatures for a popular initiative. Their aim is to ban the introduction of e-voting for at least five years.

 

On 19 June 2019 the Canton Geneva announced that it can no longer afford to bear the cost of an e-voting system and that subsequently it will abandon the project.

 

Then, on 26 June, the Federal Council, whilst still in support of e-voting, decided to provisionally forgo introducing electronic voting into regular operation for the time being.

  

The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) acknowledged with consternation the decision by the Federal Council to reverse its earlier plan of introducing electronic voting as a regular voting channel. Depending on the country of residence, postal voting is not an option as the election documents either arrive too late or a timely return of the ballots is not possible. Hence it is a denial of democratic rights for some of the Swiss Abroad. The OSA’s aim has always been and still is to enable the Swiss Abroad to participate in the democratic process in Switzerland.

  

To add to the bad news, on 8 July Swiss Post decided to no longer offer its e-voting system with immediate effect due to e-security concerns. This is a major setback and means that electronic voting will not be an option for the federal elections October 2019.

 

E-voting was high on the agenda at the meeting of the Council of the Swiss Abroad on 16 August in Montreux and also at the Congress the following day. Keynote speaker Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis explained the position of the government and stressed that safeguarding the trust in the political system is paramount. It cannot be compromised by a voting system that may not be as secure as it could be. The realisation by the delegates and Swiss Abroad community that e-voting is effectively grounded, maybe for years to come, caused great disappointment and incomprehension. Federal Councillor Cassis gave assurance of the government’s believe in the future of e-voting and that it will actively work with the Cantons to establish a system that deserves the trust of everyone.

 

E-voting will remain on the agenda of your delegates until we have succeeded in making electronic voting a voting option like any other and to achieve a complete digitisation of the voting process. We believe that these setbacks spell not the end of e-government (including e-voting) but offer an opportunity for developing a secure und trusted system for the future. An interview with OSA President Remo Gysin summarises the issue.

 

 

 

Link to the parliament

In 2004 the OSA formed the Parliamentary Group ‘Swiss Abroad’ specifically to deal with political issues concerning the expatriate community. The Group is made up of over 100 members of both houses of parliament – National Council and Council of States – and from many political parties. The group meets twice a year to deal with a wide spectrum of issues.