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SWISS REFERENDUM

Is Switzerland set to hold a referendum on Netflix?

If the initiative does go to the ballot box and is rejected, streaming services in Switzerland will get more expensive. The outcome may depend on the …weather.

Swiss consumers may have to pay more for streaming services to offset higher tax levied on providers.
Swiss referendum seeks to prevent the government from introducing the so-called Netflix law. Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

During the autumn session of the parliament, MPs decided that streaming platforms and private TV channels in Switzerland, including Netflix, should invest 4 percent of their profits in national film production.

Additionally, 30 percent of content that streaming providers show must be European.

The so-called ‘Lex Netflix’ is a an amendment to a wider legislation that promotes the development of Swiss cinema.

However, the youth sections of some of Switzerland’s political parties — the Liberal Radicals (PLR), Swiss People’s Party (SVP), and  Liberal Greens — are launching a referendum against this revision, arguing that it would increase the already high price of subscriptions to the streaming platforms.

Under the Swiss system of direct democracy, any citizen or group can challenge a law if enough signatures are collected on a petition. To pass, the initiative requires 50,000 signatures – which would result in a nationwide vote. 

The cost argument is likely to affect particularly young Netflix viewers in Switzerland, according to Matthias Müller, president of Young Liberal Radicals, who also heads the referendum committee.

On the upside, an analysis earlier this year found that although Netflix in Switzerland charges the most for a standard subscription, this pays off with the particularly large selection of films and series in comparison to other countries. 

In an interview with Watson news site, Müller pointed out that the amendment is unfair as Swiss filmmaking is already subsidised to the tune of 150 million francs per year.

“The Netflix Law is an unspeakable attack on the wallets of the consumers”, he said.

He added that consumers should not be forced to co-finance Swiss films.

“The promotion of cinema should be a mission of the State. It should be financed by taxpayers’ money”.

Less daylight, colder weather

The committee is launching the referendum on October 15th, but collecting the 50,000 signatures needed for the national vote will be a challenge, Müller said.

The main obstacle is the weather and shorter days.

According to Müller, when it gets dark earlier in the evening and the temperatures drop, the motivation of citizens to sign a referendum sheet outside on cold clipboards is low.

“Fall and winter are not an easy time to collect signatures in public places. But we’re still motivated to tackle it because we see major disadvantages of the film tax and the mandatory quota for Swiss films”, he said.

The “Netflix” levy already exists in other countries, according to Watson.

In France, there is an “investment obligation” of 25 percent, and Italy requires 20 percent. Neither country saw a decrease in subscribers, Watson reports.

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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

Myth-busters: Five things about Switzerland you should not believe

From dodgy bankers to cuckoo clocks, William Tell to Swiss soldiers, Switzerland is a country where myths and stereotypes abound. We separate the facts from the fiction.

Myth-busters: Five things about Switzerland you should not believe

When you think of Switzerland, you probably conjure up images of cheese, chocolate, Alps, cows, and watches. Add to this image the yodelling and Alphorn playing, and this somewhat idealised (but nevertheless true) picture of Switzerland is complete.

But at the same time, some common beliefs related to Switzerland are as full of holes as… Emmental cheese.

William Tell

Many people firmly believe that this folk hero and expert crossbow marksman who shot an apple off his son’s head, was a real figure who lived in Uri in the early 1500s.

Though he embodies the struggle for freedom and independence — principles that the Swiss hold dear to this day — there is no evidence that Tell actually existed.

Historians investigating the Tell legend didn’t find any evidence that such a person ever lived, or proof that anyone shot an apple off a boy’s head.

Among the arguments against Tell’s existence is that crossbows were not commonly used in the 14th century.

According to one history fact-checking site, “it seems that the origin of the story was in a myth that was popular in Europe, and which was adopted by the people of the Alpine Valleys. It later was used as a foundation myth, by successive Swiss governments, to explain the development of the Swiss Federation”.

Neutrality

Some people take it for granted that Switzerland has been a neutral nation, which didn’t get involved in other countries’ armed conflicts, since its official creation on August 1st, 1291.

However, in the Middle Ages, the country was a military power and its soldiers could be hired for money, fighting on the side of those who paid them the most.

That was long before the Swiss army knife was invented, and the soldiers went to the battlefields with a pike — a long thrusting spear that could inflict a lot of damage on the enemy. 

It wasn’t until 1815 that Switzerland’s “perpetual neutrality” was declared. Great powers of Europe decided that Switzerland would provide a convenient geographical buffer between quarrelling France and Austria, and its neutrality would be a stabilising  factor in an unstable region.

Just over 200 years later, in 1920, the newly created — appropriately enough, in Geneva — League of Nations, officially recognised Swiss neutrality.

READ MORE : Swiss history: When Switzerland was a nation of warriors

Wealth

A common belief is that Switzerland has always been a rich and prosperous country it is today.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

In centuries past, Switzerland was a pauper nation, where a large portion of the population in this landlocked, mountainous country with no natural resources, struggled to survive. Some people even ended up emigrating to South and North America to escape a life of poverty.

Many of those who did not go abroad moved from rural areas to the cities, where they continued to live in precarious conditions.

According to an official government document, “anyone who was not a citizen of a commune was homeless and lived on the margins of the community or was left to wander the country as a vagrant”.

Not exactly the image we have of Switzerland today.

READ MORE: Swiss history: The country was once so poor, people had to go abroad to survive

Banks

In many people’s minds, Switzerland’s financial institutions are synonymous with dirty money and illicit dealings.

As The Local previously reported, “such images are often perpetuated by Hollywood films,  in which shady characters invariably have a banker in Zurich — an equally shady individual with a thin moustache and a dark suit — who quietly stashes illegally begotten money in secret accounts”.

In reality, Swiss banks don’t quite live up to this notoriety. For instance,  there is no such thing these days as ‘anonymous’ accounts.

To open an account, you must have a valid ID like a passport, verification of your address, and a document to prove the money you are depositing comes from legitimate (i.e. non-criminal) sources.

In terms of banking secrecy, there is some truth to it:  in principle the banks can’t reveal your financial information to a third party.

However, there are some exceptions, as in order to prevent tax evasion, Switzerland has signed agreements with a number of countries to cooperate in exchange of financial information of their respective citizens.

So if you are a foreign national, the government of your country can request Switzerland to release your account(s) information and banks must comply.

READ MORE : Gold, secrecy and wealth: Six Swiss bank myths that need to be busted

Cuckoo clocks and lederhosen

A number of foreign tourists in Switzerland are looking to buy ‘Swiss’ cuckoo clocks, not realising that these clocks originally came from the Black Forest in Germany.

Now, however, many are manufactured in Asia; either way, very few, if any, are hatched in Switzerland.

By the same token, many foreigners associate lederhosen — short or knee-length leather breeches — with Switzerland.

Wrong again.

Maybe it’s because they confuse Switzerland with Austria and Germany (the three countries do look alike, especially in the dark), but whatever the reason, lederhosen is not a Swiss garb.

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