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Autumn session of parliament: What’s in it for the Swiss Abroad?

The final session of this legislature will give some politicians another opportunity to draw attention to themselves, after which federal elections will take place on October 22.

The two biggest issues are both health insurance initiatives. One is on cost restrictions in the Swiss health system, launched by political party The Centre. The other is a cap on health insurance premiums, a proposal by the Social Democrats.

There are about ten items of business on the topics of neutrality, Ukraine and sanctions against Russia. Heated debates are expected, as many of the proposals are value-based. These include Russian assets for the reconstruction of Ukraine, Switzerland’s role for Putin, participation in the G7 taskforce on Russia sanctions, and a closer look at commodity trading. 

While these issues are interesting for Swiss Abroad, their everyday lives are shaped by other dossiers. First and foremost, there is the question of Europe. This issue has been given a low profile during this election campaign because most of the parties are not clearly positioned enough to differentiate themselves. Only the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, with its strict EU scepticism, and the centrist Liberal Greens, with their open commitment to the European Economic Area (EEA), would have some mobilisation potential with the European question. But even these two have been keeping their heads down so far.

Return of the EU question

Nevertheless, parliament cannot keep sweeping something that is so important to the Swiss Abroad under the carpet, because two-thirds of the more than 800,000 Swiss Abroad live in the EU.

There are already a handful of motions on the table. The Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives wants the government to report regularly on what it intends to do about the EU. Considering the importance of this dossier, it also wants to create a permanent sub-committee for European issues.

Also up for debate is a motion suggesting that Switzerland enter into talks on EEA membership. Yet another motion demands information on how the breakdown of negotiations on a framework agreement will affect the economy. This motion is somewhat older, but it has not yet been dealt with conclusively.

A motion underlining the importance of Swiss wage protection has been submitted to the Senate. It aims to strengthen the government when it defends Swiss wage protection in talks with the EU. The House of Representatives adopted this proposal. The committee of the Senate now recommends a no vote, arguing that such a requirement would do more harm than good in talks with Brussels.

Digital Switzerland

Switzerland’s digital fitness is also relevant for the Swiss Abroad. The diaspora has long been calling for e-voting so they can participate smoothly in domestic democracy. E-government and all digital citizen services could also make everyday life easier for Swiss citizens abroad. There are two items on the table in this regard.

A postulate is calling for more commitment in Switzerland’s digital administration. One goal is for the cantons and the government to work more effectively together in the push for digitalisation. The government recommends a yes vote, and the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) is also in favour. “It is essential that Switzerland catch up in this regard,” it writes.

A motion from the Security Policy Committee of the Senate also deals with digitalisation. It demands more security for Switzerland’s most important digital data. Is digital data in good hands with the state? This is a crucial question when it comes to a possible broader introduction of e-voting in Switzerland. Various hacks and an enormous outflow of highly sensitive federal data exposed weaknesses this year. The address data of most Swiss Abroad were also affected.

Solutions for inheritance problems

When a Swiss woman abroad leaves behind an inheritance, or an expatriate inherits something from a Swiss relative, things often get complicated – and in the worse cases, annoyingly expensive. Two bills addressing this issue will come before parliament in September.

The first is a motion demanding that Switzerland re-negotiate an existing double taxation trap with France. A gap in the bilateral agreements on inheritance tax means that inheritors risk being taxed both in Switzerland and in France. Over 200,000 people, the largest community of Swiss Abroad, are potentially affected by this. However, the government warns in its statement that new negotiations would hardly lead to a better overall solution with France.

Second, better regulations and more legal certainty in cross-border inheritance cases are also at stake in an amendment to the Federal Act on Private International Law. According to the OSA, conflicts of jurisdiction between Switzerland and the respective country of residence occur time and again, particularly in the case of inheritance. “An adaptation of Swiss inheritance law to the European Inheritance Regulation would be of particular benefit to Swiss Abroad in the EU,” the organisation writes.

Discrimination against returnees

Finally, there is discrimination against Swiss nationals. This specifically affects returnees, especially those who come to Switzerland with family members who do not have Swiss citizenship. In the future, when family members from third countries join them, they should be granted the same rights as EU and EFTA (European Free Trade Association) citizens. Currently, an EU citizen living in Switzerland and married to a third-country national can have their parents-in-law join them in Switzerland; however, this right is denied to a Swiss citizen in the same situation living in the EU.

This gap was created by various court rulings, and a parliamentary initiative wants to eliminate this difference. The government recommends accepting the bill, but it demands additional clarifications. A solution to the problem of discrimination against nationals in family reunification is long overdue.

Perhaps these negotiations do not make for spectacular election campaigning but, “they are very important for the Swiss Abroad, as they have a significant impact on their everyday lives abroad”, says OSA Director Ariane Rustichelli.

The autumn session of parliament in Bern runs from September 11 to 29. SWI will report on it.

Source: Swissinfo



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