Expat guide to Switzerland's national referendums in May 2022

Expat guide to Switzerland's national referendums in May 2022

For the second time in 2022, Swiss citizens will be heading to the polls to vote in the latest round of Swiss national referendums. The vote, which will go ahead on May 15, will cover three issues: the direct funding of Swiss films, EU integration and transplants.

What is Switzerland voting on in May 2022?

Switzerland has four national referendums every year, in addition to the many other votes organised by Swiss cantons, cities and councils. Three issues are on the ballot nationally, all of which have split Swiss political parties but have the support of the government and the Federal Council.

Two referendums in the current round are amendments to a Swiss law or the constitution. The other is a foreign policy decision that requires the consent of the population. Here is what expats need to know.

Lex Netflix: Direct funding of Swiss film through streaming services

The first referendum concerns the film industry in Switzerland. Currently, television providers are required to invest at least 4 percent of their income into Swiss films and TV series. However, as more people use streaming services instead of regular television, this source of income is set to dry up. 

Therefore, the referendum - colloquially called "Lex Netflix" - proposes that streaming services like Netflix pay at least 4 percent of their income in Switzerland towards local film production, either through commissioning their own shows or sending the money to an investment fund. In addition, the new law would require that at least 30 percent of streaming content available in Switzerland be produced in Europe.

Arguments for and against the streaming service tax

Advocates for the referendum, including the Federal Council and parliament, argue that the change would end unequal treatment between TV stations and streaming platforms. They hope the vote will strengthen domestic filmmaking in Switzerland, and Europe more widely, by making extra funds available.

Opponents note that the 30 percent requirement for European films would put popular films from abroad at a disadvantage. The committee against the law also argue that the change will likely make streaming services more expensive because of the extra tax.

Swiss expansion of Frontex put to a referendum

The second referendum concerns foreign policy, specifically, Switzerland’s involvement in Frontex - the Schengen border agency. Switzerland has been a part of Schengen since 2005, and residents and holders of Swiss passports have benefited from no ID checks between the alpine nation and the 25 other countries in the bloc.

Frontex is the organisation that supports member states in policing the borders between Schengen members and non-Schengen states, as well as guaranteeing the rights of people crossing the border. In 2019, the EU voted to expand the Frontex programme, recruiting more workers and pumping more money into the service.

The Federal Council agreed to participate in the expansion, but the move requires the consent of the public before it can go ahead.

Voices for and against Frontex expansion

Supporters argue that if Switzerland were to reject the referendum, its membership in Schengen would be under significant threat. Already, members of the Federal Council have advocated strongly for the referendum, as if the EU does not make concessions to Switzerland in the event of a failed vote, Switzerland will be forced to leave.

In response, the opposition committee made the claim that Frontex is responsible for “violence, misery and death” at Europe's borders. They claimed that anyone who is serious about protecting the rights of refugees cannot be in favour of a Frontex expansion.

Switzerland to vote on objection-based organ donation rules

The third and final referendum in the May round of votes is on organ transplants. Every year, 450 people receive life-saving transplants in Swiss hospitals from deceased people who have donated their organs. However, the government noted that there is a significantly high demand for organs, which is not being filled.

Organs can only be donated by the deceased if they consented to it during their lifetime, but most of the time, their wishes on the subject are unknown. This means the decision is given to the family, who often refuse.

To solve the issue, parliament hopes to switch the formula from “consent” to “objection.” In practice, the law change would mean that during your lifetime you would have to tell your doctor that you didn’t want to donate your organs, otherwise consent is assumed. However, if the family does get involved, they are still allowed to object.

Opinions for and against organ donation vote in Switzerland

The Federal Council and parliament argue that organ donations save lives and that all those who want and can donate should. They hope that the new law would allow families to consent or not consent to organ donation, while still increasing the supply.

Opponents say that the change would violate a person's right to self-determination and physical integrity after death. If consent is assumed, they note, there are many people who will have organs removed against their true wishes.

Find out more about referendums in Switzerland

After the vote in May, the next round of referendums is due to take place on September 25, 2022. For more information on the current set of votes, please visit the official website.

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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