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EXPLAINED: What’s at stake in Switzerland’s May referendums?

Swiss voters will weigh in on three issues on May 15th. Here’s what is at stake, and how the results could affect you.

EXPLAINED: What's at stake in Switzerland's May referendums?
Switzerland's participation in Schengen border alliance is important, government says. Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

In the second of four rounds of national referendums scheduled for 2022, the Swiss will head to the polls on May 15th to decide on three issues: The Film Act, support for European border guards (Frontex), and transplant /organ donation law.

The Film Act

Also known as “Lex Netflix”, this law targets streaming platforms active in Switzerland, including Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV, and others.

Currently, national and regional channels must invest four percent of their profits in Swiss cinema. The Federal Council and parliament have decided that streaming platforms should contribute the same percentage to support domestic film-making.

The law also stipulates that 30 percent of the content of streaming services must consist of films or series produced in Europe.

However, parties from all political spectrums — the Swiss People’s Party, the Liberals, and Liberal Greens — have launched a referendum against the law, arguing that the tax would increase the already high price of subscriptions to the streaming platforms.

READ MORE: Is Switzerland set to hold a referendum on Netflix?

It could soon become more expensive. Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

Frontex: Switzerland’s effort to monitor Europe’s borders

Since 2011, Switzerland has participated in the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), which monitors the external borders of the Schengen area.

The European Union has decided to strengthen this agency by giving it more financial resources and staff. As a member of the Schengen area, Switzerland is called upon to increase its annual contribution beyond what the country has provided so far — 24 million francs donated in 2021, along with six members of staff.  

The EU wants Switzerland to raise its contribution to 61 million francs per year and 40 employees by 2027.

The Federal Council and parliament have agreed to participate in the expansion of Frontex, arguing that ending this cooperation would have significant repercussions on security, asylum, cross-border traffic, tourism and the economy in general.

However, opponents of the law, including mostly left-leaning groups, are arguing that “Frontex is responsible for the violent policy carried out against migrants at the external borders of the EU” and is complicit “in human rights violations and unlawful deportations”.

Transplant Law

Today, a transplant is only possible in Switzerland if someone explicitly consents to the donation of their organs after death.

However, as Switzerland is lacking organ donors, a popular initiative, entitled “To save lives by promoting organ donation”, was launched in 2019 and was approved.

As an indirect counter-proposal to this initiative, the Federal Council and parliament have adopted the principle of presumed consent, meaning that anyone who has not expressed their opposition to organ donation will automatically become a potential donor.

The referendum against the transplant legislation was launched by a committee made up of medical professionals, as well as ethicists and theologians, who claim the law is “a violation of the right to self-determination, freedom and  ‘physical integrity’ .

READ MORE: How Switzerland’s direct democracy system works

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Zurich approves simplified path to Swiss citizenship

Voters in Switzerland’s most populous canton on Sunday approved a proposal which will make it easier for foreigners to get Swiss citizenship.

Zurich approves simplified path to Swiss citizenship

The vote passed with 69.1 percent support, making it the most popular of the four initiatives put to the polls. 

Around 350,000 foreigners live in Zurich, which is roughly one quarter of the population – although the percentage is as high as 50 percent in some municipalities. 

The successful proposal called for Zurich’s naturalisation process, including the citizenship exam, to be made uniform across all 162 municipalities. 

The questions in the exam will now be centralised on a cantonal level. 

The test will include 350 questions about Swiss history, tradition, politics and culture, with a focus on Zurich. 

Anyone taking the test will be given 50 questions at random and must answer at least 30 correctly to pass. 

More information about the citizenship process in Zurich can be found at the following link. 

EXPLAINED: How Zurich wants to make naturalisation easier

What else was decided on Sunday? 

Voters in Zurich also decided to reject a proposal to lower the voting age to 16, with 64.1 percent saying ‘nein’ to the proposal. 

A proposal to provide for more parental leave – and even up gender imbalances between fathers and mothers – was also rejected. 

Finally, voters supported law changes which sought to enshrine Zurich’s climate change goals in the cantonal constitution. 

A detailed breakdown of the vote can be seen here.