The act does not contain anything revolutionary
“Swiss Review”: What in your view are the most significant changes involved in the Swiss Abroad Act (SAA)?
Hans Stöckli: One extremely important aspect is that it’s now much easier to find out what provisions apply to the Swiss Abroad. Before you had to read countless laws and ordinances whereas today you only have to take a look at the SAA. There’s nothing revolutionary about the act but there are nevertheless a few significant changes.
What are they?
They concern political rights in particular. The electoral roll entry no longer has to be updated every four years. However, the option of choosing between the last place of residence and the place of origin for the electoral commune has been eliminated. The reason for this change is that voters residing in Switzerland do not have this choice.
Are there provisions that require particular attention to avoid problems?
Yes, there are. These include provisions on individual responsibility and subsidiarity in particular. Anyone who acts negligently will have to reimburse costs to federal government if he or she requires assistance abroad.
Is negligent conduct defined?
No, it isn’t, so we will have to see what happens in practice. Negligence is a complex area of law, and I’m sure there will be court cases sooner or later.
The registration obligation for Swiss citizens living abroad has been contentious for some time. Why is that?
The Federal Council wanted to abolish the registration obligation – which was previously known as matriculation – because there are no sanctions that can be applied against people failing to comply. It was argued that it is not legally tenable to provide for obligations in a law without stipulating a punishment for violation of the law. I believe registration abroad is important because Switzerland should know how many of its citizens live abroad and where.
One of the major problems facing the Swiss Abroad at the moment is their relationship with the banks in Switzerland. Why does the SAA not contain any obligation for Swiss banks to make their services available to Swiss citizens abroad?
That point was discussed. However, the problem is that federal government cannot oblige any bank to maintain a relationship with someone. Banks are private enterprises and can choose their business partners freely. A possibility might be to oblige Postfinance, which is under federal government ownership, to accept Swiss Abroad as customers. However – and this is where the problem starts – Postfinance would argue that relationships with the Swiss Abroad are not simply business as they would entail significant costs for which Postfinance would have to receive compensation. The question as to whether providing ordinary banking relationships for the Swiss Abroad in their home country is part of public service will be discussed in Parliament shortly as relevant proposals are pending.