Expat Swiss push for e-vote and EU bilateral ties

An overwhelming majority of the nearly 100 delegates taking part in the session of the Swiss Abroad Council voted in favour of the two resolution. Adrian Moser/ASO

At a meeting in Montreux, the Council of the Swiss Abroad has called on the government to take a lead role in the introduction of electronic voting and to approve an accord with the European Union ensuring the future of bilateral relations. 

This content was published on August 16, 2019 - 18:37
Urs Geiser in Montreux,

The assembly, which met in the town of Montreux on Friday, overwhelmingly backed a resolution urging the government to consider the interests of the expat Swiss community living in the EU and to approve “as soon as possible” a parliamentary bill to safeguard the policy of bilateral accords with BrusselsExternal link

“Like European Union citizens in Switzerland, the expatriate Swiss living in the EU benefit directly from the right to a find a job and to choose a country of residence freely within the EU, thanks to the free movement of people accord,” the document states.

There are currently about 760,000 registered Swiss citizens living outside the country, of whom 60% live in neighbouring EU countries. The 28-nation bloc is also Switzerland’s main trading partner. 

But relations between the EU and Switzerland are currently deadlocked amid a long-running political battle over the future of bilateral ties. In addition, a right-wing initiative is pending calling for an end to the free movement of people accord, which was approved by Swiss voters nearly 20 years ago and confirmed in two further ballots.

In 2014, voters approved a right-wing initiative to re-introduce immigration quotas for EU citizens prompting protracted discussions in parliament over the implementation of the restrictions. 

OSA President Remo Gysin (centre) with Vice-president Filippo Lombardi (left) and the OSA director, Ariane Rustichelli, OSA. Adrian Moser/ASO

Umbrella accord

In June of this year, the Swiss government asked Brussels for ‘further clarifications’ on a proposed umbrella accord covering over 120 existing bilateral agreements. The move came following a public consultation procedure and discontent by the trade unions over labour rights. 

The discussion among members of the Council of the Swiss AbroadExternal link on Friday focused on a proposed amendment by the delegate from the economiesuisse business lobby, urging the government to approve the accord “as soon as possible”, underlining the urgency of a deal with the EU for Swiss firms.

OSA vice-president Filippo Lombardi, who also sits in the Swiss Senate, stressed the importance of clear government leadership in the interest of the Swiss Abroad community.

The one-day session in German and French was followed closely by the media. Adrian Moser/ASO

Avoiding deadlock

On Friday, around 100 delegates attending the bi-annual meeting almost unanimously approved a resolution aimed at preventing a deadlock over the introduction of electronic voting.

“More than ever, the Swiss government has to take a leading role for e-voting,” said OSA President Remo Gysin, quoting from the resolution.

The proposal was sponsored by five delegates from Germany, France, Britain, Israel and the Netherlands with the backing of the leading council members.

In a lively debate, some 20 speakers from around the world put forward suggestions for amendments to the text, highlighting specific demands for the Swiss government and the 26 cantons, which are largely autonomous in their policy on e-voting.

During the discussions, several speakers also stressed the importance of an awareness campaign being carried out among citizens living in Switzerland to inform them about the needs of the expat community to use their direct democratic rights. 

+ read also the interview with OSA President Gysin

Government funding

The final text demands that e-voting be introduced for all Swiss living abroad for the 2023 parliamentary elections and that the government ensures the development, funding and maintenance of an updated version of the e-voting system. 

It is the fourth resolution of this kind by the council over the past eight years calling for the promotion of e-voting for expat Swiss citizens, alongside the postal vote introduced in 1992 and regular voting at voting offices. 

But a series of technical flaws in the two e-voting systems currently being used has led to the suspension of online voting just months ahead of the October parliamentary elections. Opponents are collecting signatures for a people’s initiative calling for a five-year moratorium on e-voting trials. 

E-voting was introduced on a limited basis in 2003 as part of ongoing tests. The government assures that over 300 votes have passed without problems. However, given the growing political opposition and scepticism over security aspects, the government has shelved its plans to introduce e-voting on a permanent basis.

+ What the parties are doing to win support from expat voters

Election manifesto

In another development, the council approved the election manifestoExternal link of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) for the October elections. It comprises eight points, covering e-voting, discrimination-free access to Swiss banks for expatriates, the free movement of people and the maintenance of the existing consular network.

Other issues are the Swiss schools abroad, the promotion of exchange programmes for Swiss scientists, researchers, business people and artists, as well as the funding of special information channels for the expatriate community – notably the multimedia platform External linkand the Swiss Review magazineExternal link – as well as a reform of the Swiss Abroad Council.

Friday’s council meeting in Montreux comes on the eve of the annual Congress of the Swiss Abroad, which provides an opportunity for participants to get first-hand information from representatives from the main political parties on their political agendas.

The Swiss Abroad Council

The 140-member assembly is part of the Swiss Abroad Organisation (OSA)External link and meets twice a year. 

It is made up of representatives of Swiss clubs and associations abroad and of members of domestic institutions, including 

The assembly represents the interests of Swiss expatriates before the authorities and public opinion in Switzerland.

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