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Reflecting together on the challenges facing democracy
How does Switzerland’s democratic system confront the big challenges of today? This question, the core theme of the upcoming Congress of the Swiss Abroad, has probably never been more relevant than now. Those attending the event in Lugano on 19 and 20 August 2022 will have no shortage of issues to discuss.
This year’s Congress of the Swiss Abroad in Lugano has already provided unwitting testimony to the fast-moving world in which we live. Its stated theme – “What are the challenges facing our democracy?” – is already three years old. Little did we know back then that both the 2020 and 2021 congress would fall foul of the pandemic. Now that Swiss Abroad from around the world as well as members of the Council of the Swiss Abroad are actually able to meet in Lugano, the congress theme appears in a completely different light. With Russia having invaded Ukraine, the fundamental challenges facing democracy take on a whole new dimension. This comes after Covid-19, which has already put an unprecedented strain on democracy.
Original topics relevant as ever
Meanwhile, topics on the original congress agenda – globalisation, immigration, data protection, connectivity, increased difficulty in exercising political rights – have lost none of their resonance in terms of their impact on democracy. In immediate, practical terms for many Swiss Abroad, there is the issue of not being able to vote at all – and the reforms needed to rectify this situation. If anything, the sense of urgency has increased, given that elections to the National Council and the Council of States are scheduled for 2023 (see our e-voting update).
New issues have arisen
“How do we protect Switzerland’s unique democratic principles amid the rise of autocracy?” asked the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) back in 2019 in preparation for the congress. For the politicians, experts and delegates gathering in Lugano, this issue is more pressing than ever. And to the list of questions regarding the future from a Swiss perspective have recently been added new conundrums. Are Switzerland’s democratic system and neutral status enough of a safeguard against outside threats? How safe is Switzerland at present and in future for Swiss at home and abroad? Amid the brutal war in Ukraine, what role, if any, should Switzerland play? And finally: given everything happening in the world right now, what are the implications for Swiss neutrality?
These questions need answers. The onus is on dialogue, shared interest and engagement to obtain them. The 98th Congress of the Swiss Abroad in Lugano aims to ignite the conversation, as figures from politics, business and science come together to consider some of the most pressing issues concerning Swiss democracy. Representatives of the major Swiss political parties are expected to outline their thoughts and suggest solutions. President of the Swiss Confederation Ignazio Cassis will also address the assembled Swiss Abroad in Lugano, offering his own view of the future.
Follow on live stream
The Council of the Swiss Abroad, referred to as the “Parliament of the Fifth Switzerland”, will convene on Friday, 19 August. The plenary session and workshops will take place on Saturday, 20 August. OSA President Filippo Lombardi will open and close the congress. Anyone who cannot be in Lugano can follow the 2022 Congress of the Swiss Abroad on live stream instead.