Switzerland’s position as a financial centre is the main focus of debate at a gathering of expatriate Swiss that begins on Friday in the Alpine resort of Crans Montana.
The 81st congress of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) also serves as a platform for other issues concerning Swiss expatriates.
More than 500 people are expected to attend the three-day meeting, but OSA director Rudolf Wyder is disappointed the figure is not higher.
“This year’s attendance won’t break any records,” he told swissinfo, blaming the time of year for the low turnout.
“Many Swiss abroad have complained that the meeting is taking place too late in the year.”
Ahead of the annual meeting the council of the Swiss abroad - a type of parliament representing the interests of Swiss expatriates -chooses which subjects to discuss.
For this year’s congress the council has decided to focus on Switzerland’s position as an international financial centre.
“This is quite a good topic as the Swiss living abroad are often faced with questions about Switzerland’s status as a financial centre,” Wyder said. “For this reason they would like to be well-informed.”
Switzerland’s political parties are expected to hand out information about their campaigns ahead of October’s general elections, which could be an indication that the Swiss abroad now have more political clout.
The country’s 600,000 expatriates were first granted the vote in 1992, and about 80,000 people currently exercise that right.
OSA president Georg Stucky thinks the votes of the Swiss abroad count more than ever before, and he is sure that it was thanks to Swiss expatriates that proposals to tighten asylum laws were turned down in November.
“I am sure the [creation of a] 27th canton [of expatriate voters] will be a point of discussion,” Wyder said regarding the current voting system for the Swiss abroad.
Those who want to vote may do so by post, but only in the canton in which they last lived or were registered.
There have been calls for the creation of a separate constituency for the votes of the Swiss living abroad but Wyder is not in favour of this idea.
“If you have a closer look, you’ll see that the whole idea is unrealistic and not desirable,” Wyder commented.
He said the creation of a canton for the Swiss abroad would require a referendum and the people living in the virtual canton would also have the right to elect members of parliament.
Claude Longchamp of the GfS research institute is due to present the findings of an online survey on the voting behaviour of the Swiss abroad.
The survey, conducted on behalf of swissinfo and OSA, shows that Swiss living outside Switzerland tend to vote for left-wing parties.
Another point of discussion will be the revision of the Swiss broadcasting law, and how the end of short-wave broadcasting by swissinfo/Swiss Radio International as of the end of next year will affect the Swiss abroad.
swissinfo, Urs Maurer (translation: Billi Bierling)
There are around 600,000 Swiss living abroad.
Some 80,000 are registered to vote in Swiss elections.
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