Expat guide to Switzerland's national referendums in February 2022
Once again, Switzerland is fast approaching the latest round of Swiss national referendums. The vote, which will take place on February 13, will decide on issues related to tobacco advertising, animal testing, changes to business taxes and direct funding of media outlets.
Swiss national referendums February 2022
Switzerland votes on national issues four times every year, alongside multiple other referendums that are specific to cantons and councils (Gemeinde). The vote on February 13 is the first of 2022, with four national issues on the ballot.
Of the issues being voted on, two are additions or amendments to the Federal Constitution, brought forward by the Swiss government or parties within parliament. The other two are so-called “people’s initiatives,” which are public issues that have received enough signatures to be on the ballot. Here is what expats need to know.
Changes to business taxes on the ballot in Switzerland
The first referendum is asking for an amendment to the Federal Constitution regarding the stamp tax, also known as issuance stamp tax or capital duty. Currently, when an entrepreneur or business raises equity of over 1 million Swiss francs - such as by issuing shares or raising capital - the government charges that company a tax on the amount.
The Federal Council wants to abolish this tax, believing that companies should not have to pay taxes before a profit is even made, as this deters business and lowers investment. They propose an amendment to the stamp tax, which eliminates the tax if the purpose of raising funds is for investment.
Opinions for and against changing the stamp tax
Advocates for the change say the OECD’s plan for a coherent global corporate tax rate means Switzerland has to eliminate “special taxes," as put by Finance Minister Ueli Maurer. They say the corporation tax system is outdated and counterproductive, putting off investors who might want to put their money in Swiss businesses.
Opponents argue that the shortfall in tax revenue will be made up by working people and that the move is the start of a “pro-business” overhaul of the tax code. The Social Democratic Party of Switzerland hopes that their campaign to highlight the impact of tax reform on workers will lead them to victory.
Switzerland debates direct funding of media outlets
The second referendum relates to the direct funding of media outlets in Switzerland. The text of the referendum argues that many local and regional news outlets have come under increasing financial pressure from larger international news corporations, leading many to go out of business and disappear.
The referendum hopes to subsidise local and regional media that require a subscription to read. In addition, online, local and regional radio and television stations are to receive direct government support. This would only be for outlets with a focus on Swiss audiences, whose content covers a wide range of key social issues.
Voices for and against government media funding
Those that support the law argue that the disappearance of local media is having an adverse effect on social cohesion and direct democracy within the country. The Federal Council argues that direct funding is the only way to ensure all regions of Switzerland will be reported on.
Those against say the proposed support is an unnecessary use of taxpayer funds, which will only benefit large publishers. There is also concern that direct state funding will turn the majority of newspapers into “state media,” and opponents argue that independent media is more important to direct democracy.
Vote aims to ban all human and animal testing
The first of the “people’s initiatives” aims to ban all animal testing in Switzerland and ban the import of products that have used animal testing in their development. Currently, Switzerland has some of the most restrictive laws relating to animal testing, with tests only carried out "if the results cannot be obtained in any other way", according to the voting website of Canton Zurich.
The referendum hopes to ban all human and animal testing in the country, along with prohibiting the import of products that have used animal testing. This would include the testing of new drugs and vaccines, as well as research on pesticides.
Arguments for and against the testing ban
In a statement, the leaders of the “Yes” campaign have said they “cannot excuse the abuse of animals and people who are not able to give their consent for experiments.” They make the claim that no animal or human can provide a “reliable prediction for any other living being” and suggest researchers can conclude their findings with “pain-free approaches.”
Both the Federal Council and Swiss parliament reject the premise of the referendum, saying its passing would be a “massive disadvantage for Switzerland.” They make the case that Switzerland could no longer benefit from groundbreaking medical research, and jobs in the thriving pharmaceutical industry (mostly in Basel) would be “endangered.”
Final vote to ban tobacco advertising where children can see it
The second people’s initiative is to ban tobacco advertising wherever children are present. Currently, tobacco can be advertised in certain areas, but not on radio or television, and cannot specifically target minors. Some cantons have gone even further, banning billboards and cinema ads.
The initiative hopes to ban tobacco advertising wherever young people or children are likely to see it. The referendum points to press, poster, internet, cinema and kiosk ads as the main areas of concern. E-cigarettes would also be part of the ban.
Views for and against the tobacco ad ban
Supporters of the law argue that this is the only effective way to protect children. They argue that anything less than a complete ban would lead children to the harmful use of nicotine products.
As is their right, the Federal Council and parliament have produced a counter-proposal that softens the initiative. The Federal Council said the idea “goes too far” and instead proposes a ban on cigarette ads on billboards and in cinemas. They say that they will attempt to move forward with their version of the law - called the Tobacco Products Act - regardless of the referendum result.
Find out more about Swiss national referendums
After the vote in February, the next set of referendums are due to take place on May 15, 2022. For more information on the current set of proposals, please consult the official government website.