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The voice of young Swiss Abroad

30.09.2021 – MARC LETTAU

Educational opportunities in Switzerland were discussed at the very first Congress of Young Swiss Abroad. Characterised by lively debate, the event showed that many young people in the “Fifth Switzerland” are interested in political participation.

Participants in the first-ever Congress of Young Swiss Abroad naturally would have had nothing against meeting each other in person. But the event took place online – as is routine these days. However, the virtual format proved a hit. Teenagers and young adults from every corner of the world – from France to Australia, from Sri Lanka to Chile – were able to engage with each other without eye-watering travel expenses blowing a hole in their budget.

Focus on voting at 16

Political participation was a key discussion point at the Congress, which was held on 15 July and organised by the Youth Service of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) in collaboration with the Youth Parliament of Swiss Abroad (YPSA). YPSA President Jacqueline Siffer (USA) opened proceedings with a question that dominated the last “Swiss Review”: are 16-year-olds ready to vote?

This is a much-debated issue in Switzerland at present, where voting at 16 is already permitted in the canton of Glarus. Any nationwide lowering of the voting age from 18 to 16 would also apply to young Swiss living abroad. But whether the electorate would approve it in a plebiscite is still anyone’s guess.

Jacqueline Siffer expertly moderated the discussion

A broad range of views were aired at the Congress – very much reflecting the discourse among young people in Switzerland. Undoubtedly, there is a great deal of interest in political participation. Those at the Congress in favour of voting at 16 argued that young people today have already been engaged in politics for quite some time – the issue of climate change is one example. Listen to young people’s voices, and society would have a more complete representation, they said: “Teenagers often see things differently.” Political decisions taken now will have a particular bearing on their futures. The difference in maturity between a 16-year-old and an 18-year-old is negligible, so why not lower the voting age, they asked.

Marie Bloch thinks the event was a success

Others at the Congress were less than convinced, saying there was no comparison between their experiences and those of their Swiss-based counterparts. Many live in countries where there are no regular plebiscites – in contrast to Switzerland with its four voting days every year. Many also feel unready to vote on complex issues, referring to their lack of maturity and the risk of being easily swayed by other people.


Mona-Lisa Kole helps young people understand the issues before every federal vote

Vote if you want to vote

However, the final consensus was that lowering the voting age is a good thing, because voting in Switzerland is optional. If something interests you, you vote. If it doesn’t, you don’t. One conclusion was that lowering the voting age would probably make young people more interested in exercising their political voice as such. “It would encourage them to learn more about important issues.” Voting proposals are often quite complex, but then people who reached adulthood decades ago often say the same thing.

Help from Easyvote

Swiss voting papers are certainly not the clearest. Mona-Lisa Kole told the Congress about her involvement in Easyvote, a project that aims to make politics easier for 18- to 25-year-olds. Not only is Easyvote a useful resource for Switzerland’s youth parliament, the project also publishes a brochure containing easy-to-understand information on the issues at stake before every federal vote.

Melanie Oesch gave a yodelling masterclass

Education in Switzerland

During the Congress, the Educationsuisse managing director, Barbara Sulzer Smith, also gave an insight into innovative, wide ranging and accessible gateways to education in Switzerland, while students from Junior Entreprise Genève provided tips on entering the world of work – e.g. “how to write the perfect job application in Switzerland”. Then something completely different: Melanie Oesch of Swiss folk group Oesch’s die Dritten spoke to the Congress and shared some of the secrets of yodelling. She and her family delighted everyone with their music.

Marie Bloch, head of the OSA Youth Service, thinks the event was a great success. “We deepened our ties with these young people and noticed their interest and enthusiasm,” she said, adding that preparations for 2022 were already under way.