Home » Swiss Referendums: What Are The Four Issues Being Put To The Public This Sunday?

Swiss Referendums: What Are The Four Issues Being Put To The Public This Sunday?

By Joshua Berlinger

People queue from the Muenster Bridge to vote in a COVID-19 referendum, in Zurich, Switzerland, in this file photograph from Nov. 28, 2021. Copyright AP Photo

Swiss voters head to the polls on Sunday to weigh in on four issues ranging from animal testing to media subsidies.

Switzerland holds referendums four times a year, and Sunday’s vote is 2022’s first.

Here’s what you need to know.

Animal testing

Arguably the most controversial of the four initiatives and referenda, voters will decide whether or not to make Switzerland the first country to outlaw animal testing.

The initiative, called “Yes to the ban on animal and human experiments – Yes to research that brings safety and progress”, is on the ballot after animal rights campaigners gathered enough support to stage a vote.

Reuters reports that more than 550,000 animals died in laboratory tests in 2020 in Switzerland, according to government statistics. The figure includes 400,000 mice and rats, nearly 4,600 dogs, 1,500 cats and 1,600 horses. Primates, cows, pigs, fish and birds were also killed during and after experiments.

“It’s cruel and unnecessary to experiment on animals,” said Renato Werndli, a doctor from northeast Switzerland who launched the initiative, according to Reuters.

Switzerland’s large pharmaceutical industry has warned the law’s passage could devastate the industry.

The results of the measure would be binding, but polling data from the GFS Bern Institute (in French) shows it’s not expected to pass. Researchers and pharmaceutical companies argue that animal testing is, while unfortunate, necessary to develop vaccines and drug therapies and study diseases like cancer.

“I think you’ve seen in the times of Covid how important it is to discover new vaccines, how important new drugs are. And they have been tested on animals,” Idorsia Chief Executive Jean-Paul Clozel told Reuters.

Tobacco advertising

A second initiative aims to ban tobacco and electronic cigarette advertisements “wherever children and adolescents might see it.”

That includes in the press, on posters, on the internet, in cinemas, in kiosks or at events, according to the Swiss government.

The measure — “Yes to protecting children and young adults from tobacco advertising (No tobacco ads for children and young adults)” — is supported by several medical associations, including the Swiss Medical Association, the Swiss Pulmonary League, the Swiss anti-Cancer League, the Swiss Society of Paediatrics, and Addiction Switzerland.

As of 2019, Switzerland was home to one of Europe’s worst tobacco control regimes, according to the Tobacco Control Scale.

Switzerland’s Federal Council and Federal Parliament argues that the measures is too extreme, and have proposed what the government says is similar legislation. The draft law would ban adverts on billboards or in cinemas, but allow them on kiosks, in the media and online, so long as they do not target children.

Many of the initiative’s supporters, however, contend that the legislation does not go far enough (in French).

Polling data from the GFS Bern Institute shows that as of January 23, 46% of Swiss respondents “absolutely approve” of the initiative, while 17% likely approve of it. A poll carried by several Swiss media outlets and published on February 2 (in French) showed 55% of respondents were in favour of the measure, while 35% were against it.

Media subsidies

Opponents of a law providing 151 million Swiss francs (€143 million) in public funds to private media companies are attempting to scrap it via a public vote, according to swissinfo.ch, the international unit of the publicly funded Swiss Broadcasting Corporation.

The law’s opponents argue the financial aid will mostly benefit wealthy publishers, while its backers — including the government — contend it will help keep the country’s fourth estate alive after years of declining advertising revenue.

“Despite their importance, however, local and regional media have come under financial pressure: advertising revenues are increasingly going to large international internet platforms,” the Swiss Federal Council said. “The Federal Council and Parliament want to improve the position of local and regional media.”

The GFS Bern Institute’s polling data shows a close race. As of 23 January, 28% of respondents were absolutely in favour of repealing the law; 18% said they likely favoured repealing it; 14% said they likely opposed repealing the law; and 35% said they were resolutely opposed to repealing it. Five per cent of respondents were undecided or refused to answer.

Data from the poll published February 2, however, showed that the “no” vote had a slight lead.

Equity stamp taxes

The final measure has to do with taxes on businesses — specifically, the repeal of a 1% equity stamp tax that the government wants to repeal.

If a business wants to raise capital by selling securities like stocks or shares in Switzerland, they have to pay a tax of 1% of the value of all capital raised. The tax only applies if the company raises more than 1 million Swiss francs (€950,000).

A law was passed last year formally repealing the tax, but Switzerland’s Social Democratic Party successfully put forward an initiative to repeal it, according to Swissinfo.

The Swiss government argues the tax makes Switzerland’s business environment less competitive. It estimates that the government would lose 250 million Swiss francs (€237 million) in revenue per year.

The Social Democrats argue the abolition of the tax will benefit large companies, not small and medium enterprises, and that taxpayers will be left to pay for the lost 250 million Swiss francs.

Polling data shows that the Swiss public appears to be leaning toward keeping the tax in place.