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IMMIGRATION

Swiss voters massively reject immigration cap

(UPDATED) Swiss citizens on Sunday flatly rejected a call for dramatic immigration cuts in the name of saving the environment, amid charges the initiative was xenophobic and a threat to Switzerland's economy.

Swiss voters massively reject immigration cap
A board reading in German "Today Vote" is seen on November 30, 2014 in the old town of Fribourg ahead of the referendum. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

Final results showed 74.1 percent of Swiss voters spurned the so-called Ecopop initiative, which called for slashing immigration to reduce population growth and urban pressure on the Alpine nation's idyllic landscape.
   
The Swiss also resoundingly rebuffed bids to scrap special tax breaks for rich foreigners living but not working in the country and to significantly hike the country's gold reserves.
   
Just under half of eligible Swiss voters cast their ballots in Sunday's vote, which is average in the country where the people are called to the polls every three months to voice their opinions on a seemingly endless range of
issues as part of the country's famous direct democratic system.
   
Although opinion polls had hinted the Swiss would vote "no" across the board, supporters of the Ecopop initiative had voiced hope silent support from the masses would lead to a surprise win.
   
That happened less than a year ago, when voters in February caught many off guard by narrowly voting to impose quotas for immigration from the European Union, throwing non-member Switzerland's relations with the bloc into turmoil.

Threat to Swiss economy 

The country has been scrambling ever since to figure out how to implement that result without pushing the EU, its main trading partner, to rip up a long list of bilateral agreements.
   
The government, all political parties, industry, employers and unions had urged voters to reject Ecopop, amid warnings its acceptance would fan the flames of the controversy with Europe.
   
Opponents had also slammed Ecopop as "absurd" and a threat to Switzerland's economy which depends heavily on immigrant labour.
   
"The verdict is clear," insisted Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga, who will take over the country's rotating presidency on Wednesday.
   
But she stressed Sunday's results did not bring into question February's EU immigration quota decision.
   
Foreign nationals already make up nearly a quarter of Switzerland's eight million inhabitants, official statistics show.
   
According to Ecopop, immigration is adding 1.1-1.4 percent annually to the Swiss population, putting the country on track to to have a population of 12 million by 2050.
   
The campaign wanted to cap immigration's contribution to population growth at 0.2 percent, which would mean a population of 8.5 million by the middle of the century.

'Civilisation collapse?' 

"What I'm worried about is a civilization collapse," Philippe Roch of the Ecopop committee told RTS after the results became clear.
   
"But clearly this text did not convince voters," he acknowledged.
   
As it became clear that voters had massively rejected the initiative, sarcastic tweets flourished carrying the hashtag #Ecoflop.
   
In all, 59.2 percent of voters also rejected the bid to scrap tax breaks for rich foreigners living but not working in Switzerland, who today can choose to be levied on their spending rather than income.
   
Switzerland counts 5,729 millionaires and billionaires with foreign passports, who together pay around one billion francs ($1.04 billion) in taxes annually.
   
That is a far cry from what they would have paid had they been levied at the same percentages as average Swiss taxpayers, according to the left-leaning parties and unions behind the initiative.
   
But backers of the system insist wealthy foreigners contribute substantially to Swiss tax coffers and inject huge sums directly into the local economy, warning many would leave the country if they faced higher taxation.
   
"People can count," Christian Lüscher, a parliamentarian from Geneva for the Liberal Party told RTS as the results came in.
   
He pointed out that Geneva, where most beneficiaries of the current system live, risked losing hundreds of millions of Swiss francs in tax revenue alone if the wealthy residents packed up and left.
   
More than three-quarters of voters also heeded warnings from the Swiss National Bank that forcing it to hoard gold and banning it from selling the precious metal would tie its hands and could have disastrous consequences.
   
Analysts had warned the bank would be forced to buy around ten percent of the annual global gold production until 2019 to meet that requirement.

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REFERENDUM

Swiss back ‘Netflix’ law and steer clear of ‘Frontexit’

Swiss voters on Sunday backed making streaming services pay to boost Swiss film-making, and funding the expansion of Europe's Frontex border agency, thereby avoiding another row with Brussels, according to projected results.

Swiss back 'Netflix' law and steer clear of 'Frontexit'

Market researchers GFS Bern, who conducted the main polling throughout the campaign, projected that 58 percent of voters backed the so-called “Lex Netflix”.

They said 72 percent backed Switzerland joining the planned ramping up of Frontex, providing more money and staff to protect the continent’s Schengen open-borders zone.

And 59 percent approved a law change that would automatically register individuals as organ donors after death, unless they opt out.

Under the wealthy Alpine nation’s direct democracy system, voters are called to the polls four times a year to decide on specific topics, according to popular demand.

The polls closed at midday (1000 GMT), with most ballots having already been sent in by post over the past four weeks.

The results are due later Sunday, with each of the Swiss confederation’s 26 cantons reporting their results in turn.

Lex Netflix
The “Lex Netflix” vote approves an amendment to the Film Production Act adopted by parliament last October.

Since 2007, domestic television broadcasters have been obliged to invest four percent of their turnover in Swiss film-making.

The amendment was brought forward to reflect the dramatic shift in how audio-visual content is now consumed, with global streaming platforms like Netflix, Disney+ and Blue now making hundreds of millions of dollars in
Switzerland each year.

Streaming services will now have to submit to the four-percent rule.

Swiss cinema production pulls in around 105 million Swiss francs ($106 million, 101 million euros) a year, according to the culture ministry — but could now be in line for an additional 18 million francs.

The platforms will also be required to ensure that European-made films or series make up at least 30 percent of the content available in Switzerland, as in the neighbouring European Union.

Right-leaning opponents had collected enough signatures to take the change to a referendum.

Transplant laws
The vote on changing the organ donation laws will see everyone become a potential donor after death unless they have expressly opted out.

Up to now, transplants were only possible if the donor clearly consented before they died.

The government and parliament wanted to change the law to a “presumed consent” model — as used in a number of other European countries.

Relatives will still have the right of refusal if they suspected that the deceased would not have wanted to be an organ donor.

A group of opponents, backed by the populist and religious right, gathered enough signatures to force a referendum.

At the end of 2021, more than 1,400 patients were awaiting transplant organs in Switzerland, a country of around 8.6 million people. 

But 72 people died last year while on the waiting list, according to the Swisstransplant organisation.

Frontexit averted
Ties between Brussels and Bern have been strained since May 2021 when non-EU Switzerland suddenly decided to end years of discussion towards a broad cooperation agreement with the bloc.

The clear support for Frontex has avoided aggravating the stand-off.

Under Europe’s expansion plan, Frontex will have a permanent contingent of 10,000 border guards and coast guards.

Switzerland will nearly triple its financial contribution to Frontex to 61 million Swiss francs ($61 million, 58 million euros) annually, and increase its personnel contribution from six people to around 40.

Migrant support organisations, backed by left-leaning political parties, collected enough signatures to force a referendum.

The government warned voters that if they rejected the expansion, Switzerland risked automatic exclusion from the Schengen area.

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