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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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Swiss vote on ‘Netflix’ law, organ donations and Frontex

Switzerland votes on Sunday on whether streaming services should cough up money to boost Swiss film-making -- and whether everyone should automatically become an organ donor unless they say otherwise.

Swiss vote on 'Netflix' law, organ donations and Frontex

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.

Besides streaming services and organ donation, the Swiss are voting on whether to join in the planned expansion of the European border agency Frontex, providing more money and staff to protect the continent’s Schengen
open-borders zone.

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

Vote projections should come within an hour, with the results due later Sunday.

Lex Netflix
The so-called “Lex Netflix” vote is on 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 law change is intended to catch up with the dramatic shift in how audiovisual content is now consumed, with global streaming platforms like Netflix, Disney+ and Blue now making hundreds of millions of dollars in
Switzerland each year.

Furthermore, the platforms will 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 collected enough signatures to take the change to a referendum.

If the challenge fails, streaming services would have to submit to the four-percent rule.

The referendum looks set to pass by a narrow margin, according to recent opinion polls, although opposition has been growing.

READ ALSO: What is the ‘Netflix vote’ and how could it change TV in Switzerland?

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

Currently, transplants are only possible if the donor consented before they died.

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

Relatives would 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.

Polls show around 60 percent support changing the law.

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 in 2021 while on the waiting list, according to the Swisstransplant organisation.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What Switzerland’s ‘organ donation’ vote means for you

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 Frontex vote could add to the unease.

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

Switzerland would nearly triple its financial contribution to Frontex to 61 million Swiss francs ($61 million, 58 million euros) annually.

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

The government has warned if voters reject the expansion, Switzerland risks automatic exclusion from the Schengen area.

Opinion polls indicate 69 percent of Swiss voters back expanding Frontex.

In February, the Swiss voted to tighten their notoriously lax tobacco laws by banning virtually all advertising of the hazardous products.

Voters also rejected banning all animal testing, and providing additional state funding to media companies.

READ ALSO: Frontex: How Switzerland’s ‘border vote’ on May 15th could impact travel