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Congress of the Swiss Abroad in St. Gallen / 18 - 20 August 2023

By Carmen Trochsler, Adelaide

The 2023 congress of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) took place in St. Gallen from 18 - 20 August. On Friday, the delegates of the Council of the Swiss Abroad (CSA) were convening. Their meeting preceded the plenary sessions – open to everyone - on Saturday. The three day program concluded with a trip to the charming village of Appenzell on Sunday.

I had the honour to take part as a member of the OSA executive board and as a CSA delegate for Australia, along with my fellow Australian delegate Katja Wallimann Gates. It was a great pleasure to meet fellow delegates from all over the world in person, as well as members of the Swiss Parliament, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the OSA partner organisations and the team from the OSA head office

The University of St. Gallen hosted the congress, with the main events taking place in the Audimax, where I had sat over 20 years ago as a young student. Different to then, instead of students, a lot of delegates and other congress participants filled the lecture hall and corridors. Partners & sponsors of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad had their stalls set up on both days. During the breaks, everyone enjoyed posing with the beautiful Bernhardiner dogs , spinning the lucky wheel for a Munzli Chocolate or a Biberli, tasting Appenzeller Cheese, and learning more from political parties and organisations such as Soliswiss & Educationsuisse, as well as Swiss banks that offer accounts for Swiss Abroad.

A short summary on each day is provided below. You can jump directly to a specific day by clicking on the day below:

  • Day 1: Meeting of the Council of the Swiss Abroad (CSA)

  • Day 2: Congress Plenary Sessions

  • Day 3: Exploring the host region

The congress got broad coverage in both newspapers an on national TV, in particular in relation to the topic of e-voting and political participation. The "St. Galler Tagblatt" picked up on my connections to the canton of St. Gallen and did an interview - and not only my views on voting, but also the "Matildas" got a mention. For the full list of media coverage click here.

If you are visiting Switzerland next summer, consider attending the Congress of the Swiss Abroad. You will not only be able to form new connections, gain new insight, exchange with Swiss members of parliament or even meet a Federal Councillor, you will also be able to enjoy Swiss goodies and get a great deal on the Swiss Travel Pass. A 75% discount is available to all participants of the Congress of the Swiss Abroad and allows you to explore Switzerland on public transport at low costs (Kids up to 16 travel for free with the free family card).

Next year’s congress will be the 100th in the history of OSA and will take part on 11 – 13 July 2024 in Luzern – save the date and see you there!

Detailed Report

Friday: Meeting of the Council of the Swiss Abroad (CSA)

Political Participation / Evoting

The delegates welcomed the recent decision by the Federal Council to expand the e-voting trials and allow e-voting for Swiss registered in the cantons Basel-City, St Gallen and Thurgau for the upcoming federal elections in October.

It is a step forward after e-voting had been side-lined in 2019 due to cost and security concerns. First trials started again in June this year, with Swiss Abroad from the cantons Basel-City, St Gallen and Thurgau being able to vote electronically. The trials have been successful and the results promising (e.g. the number of late and thus invalid ballots from abroad has decreased by 70% in St Gallen, said Benedikt van Spyk, state secretary Canton SG). Discussions and panels took place around the theme of increasing the political participation of the Swiss Abroad, which remains much lower than in Switzerland. Ideas include providing more tailored information on elections, consulates encouraging people to register, and exploring legislation that would require the Confederation to take supportive steps.

You can find formation on the right to vote and how to register here.

More Webinars on topics of high interest

Given the demand for information, more webinars on topics relevant to the Swiss Abroad will be offered this year by OSA. The next one will be on Military Service for Swiss Abroad on 20/21 September (more info here).

Information from the Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA)

David Grichting, Director General, Consular affairs, drew attention, to the following:

  • Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis trip to Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Indonesia. It gave him the opportunity to meet with the local Swiss Community on the occasion of Swiss National Day celebrations and provided new perspectives (the photo of Mr Cassis enjoying a Raclette at the stall of the Cercle Romand in Sydney was prominently on of the slides)

  • The newly launched Smartphone App ‘Swissintouch’, which amongst other features simplifies correspondence with the local representation (e.g. for consular services such as birth or death notifications). More information here

  • The awareness campaign “Retiring Abroad”, which aims to help Swiss pensioners abroad plan their personal responsibilities as early as possible and take care of themselves for as long as possible. More information from Swissinfo here and from the FDFA about retiring abroad here.

  • A new procedure for travelling to Europe ETIAS is a new electronic visa waiver process for citizens of countries other than the EU, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Prior to travelling, it will be necessary to register for an authorization and pay a €7 fee. The start date will likely be 2024. Australian Nationals are required to hold an ETIAS travel authorisation . Further information will be provided closer to the start date but as I understand now this means:

    • To avoid registering for the ETIAS, you will need to enter Switzerland & EU with your Swiss Documents

    • Any family member who does not have Swiss or European citizenship will need to register for ETIAS.

Katja Wallimann Gates mentioned the recent leak of Swiss Review Subscriber data (email / postal addresss) due to a cyber attack on Swiss Publishing Group CH Media, mandated by the Swiss Foreign Ministry. She raised her concern that the only good information came via OSA but not from the government.

Access to Swiss Banks

Two Swiss banks were present at the congress in St. Gallen, the Cantonal Bank of Geneva (BCGE) and the Cantonal Bank of Zurich. Both banks have concluded a partnership agreement with OSA in 2017 (BCGE) respectively 2022 (ZKB). They offer Swiss Abroad the opportunity to open a private bank account at reasonable fees and with no minimum deposit. Other services e.g. mortgages, are available. Please note that an appointment is necessary. Also, some documents need to be provided such as passport copy, financial statements etc. Interested Swiss Abroad are urged to contact the bank before travelling to Switzerland.

  • BCGE Total fees for a private account for Swiss abroad are ~CHF 138/annum, no minimum deposit is required (as per 1.8.23, terms and conditions apply). Branches are in Geneva, Lausanne, Zurich and Basel. Contact Details: | 0041 61 226 61 00 (German, French, English)| Website

  • ZKB Total fees for a private account for Swiss abroad are ~CHF 372/annum, no minimum deposit is required (as per 1.8.23, terms and conditions apply). Contact Details: Website

Establishment of Working groups

Three working groups have been approved by the delegates:

  • Working Group to “Increase political participation”: The aim is to collaborate with other stakeholders who are also committed to increasing political participation and investigate ways to improve the current situation. Australia: Represented by Carmen Trochsler. More here.

  • Working group “Lobbying/Communication”: Complementing the interactions with the parliamentary Group Swiss Abroad (consisting of members of the Federal Swiss Parliament), the aim is to make interests and expectations of the Swiss abroad better known at the cantonal level. Australia represented by Katja Wallimann Gates.

  • Working group for "direct and democratic elections of the CSA delegates": Given that in many countries the election system of the delegates is not representative the group’s aim is to create guidelines/a handbook to assist with such elections including a long-term strategy on how to implement in all countries. Australia has conducted direct elections in 2017 and 2021 and Carmen Trochsler and Roland Isler collaborate closely with the working group.

The first day of the 99th Congress of the Swiss Abroad came to an end with an emotional performance of the national anthem, performed by the musical group Lochus. The alphorn quartet also entertained us at the subsequent Welcome Apero, which was for all Congress particpants. It was a great opportunity for further exchanges with delegates and Swiss Officials.

Images: OSA Nicolas Brodards / C Trochsler

Saturday: Congress of the Swiss Abroad

The plenary session of the congress is for everyone, not only delegates. Relatives but also Swiss Abroad traveling to Switzerland for a holiday have used this day as an opportunity to connect with other Swiss from all over the world and learn more about a specific topic.

This year’s congress day was split into two main themes: 2023 being an election year, the morning was dedicated to the upcoming federal elections in October and the afternoon to the theme “Swiss culture: an export product?”

The live stream is a great way to follow the discussions on the day , a few snippets are listed here:

  • Presentations and panels took place around political participation, e-voting and the view of the main political parties on the Organisation’s election manifesto.

  • A panel with representatives from the different political parties gave some insight into their stance on the OSA election manifesto. Parties represented in the panel were SP, the Greens, GLP, Die Mitte, FDP and SVP. The panel speakers all spoke in general favourably towards the requests from the Swiss Abroad.

  • Marc Lettau, editor-in-chief of "Swiss Revue" presented interesting facts and figures on the voting behavior of the Swiss abroad over the past four years. "The political weight of the Fifth Switzerland is increasing," emphasizes Marc Lettau. "Fifth Switzerland now has 227,000 voters, about the same as Valais or Ticino."

OSA has a page dedicated to the Federal Elections 2023 with helpful information, links and Swiss Abroad candidates here.

Images: OSA Nicholas Brodard

The dissemination of Swiss culture abroad and international cultural exchange are key elements of cultural promotion. Although our country's culture does not stop at our borders, the very rich cultural heritage of the Swiss abroad is not sufficiently recognised even though it has a strong influence on identity formation, the perception of a country abroad, the economy and also technological development.

  • Amongst the speakers was Martin Candinas, President of the Swiss National Council. He spoke fluently in the four national languages (and English). His answer to the question if Swiss Culture is an export product: "Swiss culture is not just an export product, it is an export success."

  • Johann Roduit, a delegate from Canada, presented his project to create a virtual museum of the Swiss presence abroad. Over the centuries, Swiss emigrants have left their mark around the world. However, much of this heritage has not been documented. Johann Roduit, wants to change this. More here

  • Alexandre Edelman, Director of Presence Switzerland a.i., gave the visitors an insight into the impact of Swiss culture abroad. From OLMA bratwursts in Brazil to Japanese alphorn players and the Helvetica font in New York - you can find a bit of Switzerland everywhere.

  • What international resonance do Swiss artists have and how does it contribute to the enhancement of Switzerland? Jérôme Benoit, Deputy Director of Pro Helvetia, Marina Pondini, Co-Head of Cultural Promotion St.Gallen, as well as Stéphanie Baechler, ceramic and textile artist, provided answers: “Swiss culture is incredibly diverse and should be made accessible to all. This is how we build bridges between Switzerland and the world.” Examples of internationally recognised artists from the canton of St. Gallen are Mummenschanz and Pippilotti Rist.

  • The foundation "Auslandschweizerplatz" presented its project "Artist in Residence" (read more here). Its aim is to create a platform for Swiss artists living abroad. In this project, Swiss artists living abroad may apply for a stay in Switzerland . The artworks created during this residency will be exhibited next year at the 100th Congress of the Swiss Abroad. More information will soon be available – if you know any Swiss Artists in Australia please make them aware of this unique opportunity.

The Congress day concluded with an optional dinner and short concert at the Pfalzkeller, a beautiful sub ground space, which was a historic cellar of the St. Gallen monastery transformed by architect Santiago Calatrava. Both Katja and I opted to attend and we were very pleased we did!

Images: OSA Nicolas Brodard / C Trochsler

Sunday: Exploring the host region

On Sunday, again as an optional program point and open to everyone, we got to enjoy the beauty of our host region thanks to Swiss Tourism with a bus ride to the town of Appenzell. As part of a guided tour, we learnt more about the village with the beautiful coloured houses on the main street and the unique tradition of the “Landsgemeinde”: Once a year, on the last Sunday in April the citizens of canton Appenzell Inner Rhoden vote on important local issues, and elect their judges and cantonal representatives not via ballot but on the village square in an open-air vote.

We then continued to Stein, where we got to see how the famous Appenzeller Cheese is being produced. An Museums tour gave an intimate insight into living in Appenzellen at the beginning of the industrial revolution.

And guess what, our lunch in the rustic wooden setting of the Schaukaeserei started with a Fondue as entree and Hackbrett music!

All in all three memorable days and our thanks go to Director Ariane Rustichelli and the whole OSA team and president Filippo Lombardi.

Images: C Trochsler / A Rustichelli

Next year’s congress will be the 100th in the history of OSA and will take part on 11 – 13 July 2024 in Luzern – save the date and see you there!

Media release, Newspaper and TV Coverage

6. September 2023



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