Around 800,000 Swiss citizens live outside Switzerland, and around a quarter of them report wanting to play an active part in Switzerland’s politics, according to an organisation representing Swiss abroad. Given this high number, some of Switzerland’s political parties advocate creating a political entity equivalent to a 27th canton to better represent this group.
Switzerland’s expatriates, often referred to as the fifth Switzerland, can already vote. However, their votes are attributed to their place of origin, a concept akin to citizenship of a municipality. Place of origin is typically inherited from parents and may be different from an individual’s current or last place of residence in Switzerland. The current system means expatriate votes are geographically fragmented.
A key arguments for a 27th canton is that it would create a voting block that would better represent Swiss abroad on issues specific to this group such as entitlement to Swiss state pensions and the maintenance of the international agreements that confer rights to live in the countries where they reside.
The Green Party in particular supports the idea as do the Socialist and Liberal Green Parties, reported RTS. In 2009, the Socialist Party spearheaded an initiative to usher in such changes. However, it failed. Counter arguments centred on existing political instruments being sufficient.
The other main political parties are either silent or openly against the idea and implementing it would require a change to the constitution. Even those who like the idea see clear challenges to realising the concept. Ariane Rustichelli, a director of the Organisation of Swiss Abroad, told RTS she thinks it would be difficult to implement. In addition to changes to the constitution, there is little that politically unites the diverse group other than their nationality, she said.
Despite arguments in favour of the concept it more likely to remain in the realm of discussion than reality.