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EU migration to affordable housing: All you need to know about Switzerland’s crucial spring referendums

From limiting migration to changes in childcare tax allowances, the newly-announced referendums contain several important proposals. Here’s what you need to know.

EU migration to affordable housing: All you need to know about Switzerland's crucial spring referendums
Photo by Martin Krchnacek on Unsplash

As reported by The Local, Switzerland has just decided to hold a referendum on May 17th in addition to the already planned vote for February 9th. 

Several important questions will be asked, some of which have the potential to shape the country for a generation. 

The February referendum will consider putting in place a ban on homophobia as well as expanding affordable housing options across the country. 

In May, Switzerland will vote on limiting EU migration by closing the freedom of movement provision, while questions on childcare tax deductions and animal welfare will also be put to the public. 

READ MORE: Swiss set to vote again on limiting EU migration

Here’s what you need to know about the two referendums – and the questions that are being asked. 

The criminalisation of homophobia (Vote: February 9th)

Unlike other forms of discrimination related to race and gender, homophobic discrimination is not criminalised at a federal level in Switzerland.

The Swiss Government updated the law in December of 2019 to include homophobia under current anti-discrimination statutes, thereby allowing for it to be criminally prosecuted.

EXPLAINED: The Swiss referendum that could criminalise homophobia 

Far-right groups however have opposed the move, saying it would serve as a barrier on free speech – gathering the 50,000 signatures necessary to launch a referendum.

Pursuant to Swiss law, the question will be whether or not to overturn the government's criminalisation of homophobia. Early polling suggests that the referendum will fail, thereby seeing the new law stand. 

Protesters in Zurich. Image: Fabrice Coffrini

Affordable housing (Vote: February 9th)

Access to affordable housing has become a major issue across Switzerland, whether in the country's urban areas or in regional centres. 

The affordable housing initiative calls for a greater involvement for housing cooperatives in the market.

The referendum will require 10 percent of new housing stock to be owned by housing cooperatives and to abolish government subsidies for luxury apartments. 

Housing cooperatives, which operate on a not-for-profit basis, have sprung up as an alternative to traditional profit-focused rentals across Switzerland.

The initiative calls upon cantons and councils to make land available for these cooperatives, calling it a profitable investment in Swiss society.

Doing so would reduce housing costs by up to 20 percent, says Green politician Louis Schelbert.

READ MORE: Affordable housing: Swiss coalition calls for investment and law reform 

Currently, support for the initiative is at around 66 percent. 

A limitation on EU migration (Vote: May 17th)

The centrepiece of the May referendum is the right-wing Swiss People’s Party initiative (SVP) on implementing a cap on EU migration. 

The ‘moderate immigration limitation initiative’ will restrict EU freedom of movement in Switzerland. 

EXPLAINED: What is Switzerland's referendum on affordable housing all about?

If the vote is successful, Switzerland and the EU will have one year in which to renegotiate freedom of movement provisions. 

This has long been one of the SVP’s core issues – particularly since a similar proposal was defeated at a referendum in 2014 – with supporters believing too many foreigners are taking advantage of the current system. 

An estimated one quarter of Swiss residents are foreigners, many of whom do not have citizenship and therefore the right to vote. 

READ MORE: ‘I pay taxes but have no say in Swiss life': Your views on whether Switzerland should allow all foreigners to vote 

The Swiss government and all major parties besides the SVP reject the initiative. 

The government is concerned it will make it harder to find workers and damage the economy, while there are also concerns that it will mean reciprocal rights for Swiss citizens in the EU will be restricted. 

Regardless of the outcome, experts have also predicted that Swiss-EU relations could be significantly impacted. 

EXPLAINED: The February Swiss referendum that could criminalise homophobia

Child tax deduction (Vote: May 17th)

An initiative of the Social Democrats (SP), this vote is a move to counter the child tax deductions which have been recently introduced by the Swiss Government. 

READ MORE: The real cost of parenting in Switzerland and how to save money

The deductions were introduced late in 2019, increasing the maximum tax deduction for childcare from CHF10,000 to CHF25,000 along with raising the general tax deduction for childcare from CHF6,500 to CHF10,000. 


The SP argues that these deductions only benefit the very wealthy and should therefore be scrapped. The Government has countered, arguing that the deductions remove the barriers for women with children – especially those who are highly qualified – to pursue employment. 

The general tax deduction plan is estimated to cost the government CHF350 million per year, while the maximum tax deduction plan is set to cost CHF10 million. 

Animal protection (Vote: May 17th)

The final question to be voted on in the referendum relates to hunting rights. In 2019, the Swiss Parliament removed some restrictions on hunting wolves and other species. 

Where these animal species can be shown to be a danger to habitats or biodiversity, authorities will be allowed a greater scope to control their populations. 

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The initiative has been launched by animal protection organisations who argue that the recent law changes place endangered species at a greater risk and should therefore be repealed. 

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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.