Antoine, one of our representatives in the Council of the Swiss Abroad, put together this report from their spring meeting.
And if you do not vote and would agree to be interviewed (answers will remain anonymous), please contact Antoine at email@example.com.
On March 16 and 17 the spring meeting of the Council of the Swiss Abroad took place in Berne, which was preceded the previous day by the annual exchange between delegates and national councillors of the parliamentary intergroup on the Swiss Abroad. Canadian delegates in attendance were Thomas Arn, Philippe Magnenat and Antoine Belaieff. Absent were Johann Roduit, Sam Oettli and Suzanne Schürmann.
This year, the exchange was followed by a workshop on ways to increase democratic participation by the Swiss Abroad which I initiated and organised with the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad and a Bern-based NGO involved in democratic participation called Campus für Demokratie.
Key takeaways from the general meeting and exchange with parliamentarians
Note: this is not a complete summary. There is a lot of talking, so I am focused on “news you can use”.
The OSA continues to establish new partnerships with Swiss banks to serve our community. The Zürcher Kantonalbank, in addition to Postfinance, now serves Swiss citizens who live in Canada, but the fees are close to 500.- per year. There is no interest or appetite by parliamentarians to intervene in this area. We will continue to monitor the offerings available to you.
Basel-Stadt, Thurgau and St. Gallen will be testing e-voting in the June vote. Other cantons may follow suit, but it is their choice. In every political party, there is some opposition to e-voting, and the Blick newspaper is agitating against it (for example here). If you are interested in voting electronically and come from another canton, write to your canton’s chancellery. The names are here.
Mode of election of delegates
Delegates are now chosen by Swiss clubs and associations. Associations in the UK, Mexico and Australia have tested a universal ballot to allow anyone registered to elect their representatives. Do you think that the executives of Swiss associations should directly pick delegates or should all registered Swiss residents in the country elect their delegates, just like in a regular election? Please send us your input to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Directly elected representatives
To allow the Swiss Abroad to vote for their representatives separately from their canton, as other countries allow, would require changing the constitution and does not appear to be a priority for anyone. This means that the CSA remains an important way for the Swiss community outside of the country to make itself heard.
Federal elections 2023
Political parties are getting ready for the 2023 elections. Let the parties know what matters to you and consider joining an international section and even put your name on a main list or sublist and run for office in Switzerland. (It’s mostly for the experience, there is little chance of being elected, but who knows?)
Social insurance programs (OASI/AHV/AVS) and health insurance
There has been talks of relaxing rules around contributions for the Swiss Abroad. It was clear from parliamentarians that there is zero interest in Switzerland in making any changes to the programs that would cost Swiss taxpayers a single cent.
New issue: driver’s licences
A new issue popped up after the meeting: the old blue driver’s licence is not going to be valid after January 31, 2024. As it stands, a Swiss driver’s licence cannot be renewed if you do not live in Switzerland.
One more question
Generally speaking, what should be the priorities of the Council of the Swiss
Abroad and the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad? What would you like to say to
the political parties in this election year?
Key takeaways from the workshop
The OSA has been fighting for e-voting for several years. We are close to achieving this goal, though further efforts will be needed to make e-voting available to all Swiss abroad who wish to vote. However, the return of e-voting does not guarantee that the participation of the 5th Switzerland will immediately rise to the level of the inland Swiss.
For this reason, the OSA and delegates Carmen Trochsler from Australia and Antoine Belaieff from Canada collaborated with the NGO Campus for Democracy to organise a workshop bringing together elected representatives, delegates and NGOs with the aim of finding ways to not only encourage voting, but also the active participation of the Swiss abroad.
Participation means the following activities, in addition to exercising one’s right to vote:
- Getting informed
- Participating in debates
- Bringing their perspective
- Registering to vote at the consulate
- Running as a candidate
- Sign initiatives and referendums
A related objective of the event was to raise awareness of the above-mentioned issue among political, governmental and non-governmental stakeholders.
Participants were asked to answer two questions on a virtual board:
Why do the Swiss abroad vote so little?
- Obstacles to voting
- Lack of information
- Sense of alienation or remoteness
What good ideas have you seen to increase participation?
- Online events
- Events and meetings with candidates and elected officials
- Representation in parliament
The participants formed groups to answer the following questions:
Information for the Fifth Switzerland: How can Swiss citizens abroad be
- Ensure that municipalities and cantons systematically provide information on the exercise of political rights abroad on paper and electronically when residents leave Switzerland.
- When registering abroad, obtain the agreement of new registrants to share their contact details not only for the reception of Swiss Review but also with OSA delegates and the umbrella organisation of Swiss organisations in the country.
- Targeting young people with information sessions for 17–19 year olds, both face-to-face and virtual
- Increase awareness of VoteInfo, easyvote and Swissinfo (media and
- Propose a question on the 5th Switzerland to easyvote
- Encourage the creation of local political platforms (Swisscommunity does not allow for the creation of local communities)
- Provide information on the exercise of political rights at local community events (e.g., August 1st)
- Support Swiss clubs in organising information sessions and dialogues on
democracy and elections (FDFA (EDA/DFAE), chancelleries)
- Note: possibility to reuse campaigns taking into account time difference
- Organise parties for new citizens abroad more systematically
- Make greater use of English
Messages: which messages are most likely to convince Swiss abroad to
participate more actively? Does this meet a real need of the Swiss abroad?
- If you don’t take care of politics, politics will take care of you (wer nicht abstimmt, wird bestimmt)
- Feedback: you have been heard, your voice counts
- Helping to create the Switzerland we would like to return to
- Concrete and tangible messages
- Patriotic messages
- Civic education targeting Swiss abroad
- Easily accessible practical information
Information in Switzerland: how to better inform the public,
politicians, parties and organisations about the usefulness of voting for
- Promote exchanges between young Swiss people at home and abroad
- Note: civic education in youth camps in Switzerland?
- Pursue and implement a lobbying / relationship-building strategy
- Recall the numerical importance of the Swiss abroad vote
- Create a network of Swiss abroad as informal ambassadors serving the community but also Swiss interests
- Facilitate the participation of Swiss abroad with expertise and experience in the areas of new laws, referenda and initiatives (parties, media)
- Develop storytelling
- Who we are, our past in Switzerland, our contribution abroad, our diversity
- Testimonies of Swiss abroad who cannot exercise their political rights
- Promote exchanges between young Swiss people at home and abroad
In June, a second solution-oriented workshop will be organised with a smaller list of participants. During this workshop, concrete avenues will be identified. Furthermore, in addition to the actions identified in the first workshop, stakeholders will explore the possibility of adding new responsibilities for the Federal Chancellery to clearly formulate civic participation objectives and responsible parties.