Switzerland’s future membership of the European Union’s Creative Europe framework programme has been thrown into doubt after yesterday’s vote in favour of new immigration curbs.

The measure was supported by 50.3% of the voters and risks creating a rift between Switzerland and the EU, its biggest trading partner.

In an initial reaction from Brussels, the European Commission  declared on Sunday that the vote “goes against the principle of free movement of persons between the EU and Switzerland. The EU will examine the implications of this initiative on EU-Swiss relations as a whole.”

Referendum result “devastating”

Speaking exclusively to ScreenDaily last night (Sun), leading Swiss industry figures attending the Berlinale gave their initial reactions to the vote and expressed grave concerns for  the future of  the Swiss film  industry’s relations with the rest of the European film-making community.

Catherine Anne Berger, the director of Swiss Films, described the signals given by the referendum vote as “devastating”.

“Democracy sometimes has a very high price,”, she observed, pointing out that “many of those who voted Yes in Switzerland are most certainly not at all conscious of the far-reaching consequences.”

“This is now the worst imaginable starting position for the negotiations and signing of the Creative Europe MEDIA Programme and I honestly don’t know how the damage can be limited,” she continued.  

“One consolation is that our filmmakers have regularly dealt in a very pointed way with the issues of immigration, integration and humanity in recent years. I very much hope that Europe also hears their critical voices.”

Repercussions for European film industry

Meanwhile, another leading figure in the Swiss film industry told Screen that the vote was “a disaster” for the nation’s film-makers.

“How will European co-production still be possible? How could a Swiss distributor still buy a European arthouse film from a sales agent or how could a Swiss exhibitor programme a European film without any financial support from Europe?”, the person who requested to remain anonymous asked,” adding that “the consequences will also have repercussions on the European industry.”

“We are out of Creative Europe before it even started. Welcome to Creative Switzerland!”

Dim future

Sales agent Esther van Messel of First Hand Films added that, with bureaucratically closed borders, the future looks dim for the upkeep of any relevant dialogue. Switzerland has clearly said ‘No’ to Creative Europe, the EU’s MEDIA Programme. While films are accessible online everywhere, Swiss films will now more than ever be made in a vacuum of finance, energy, and expertise.“

“Distributing ambitious and accessible non-fiction internationally for the past 16 years, we have seen a numbing up of minds and interest in our neigbours’ stories around the globe,“ she continued.

“I really believe that the Swiss vote is a call to action for all of us to continue and intensify the fight for open minds and hearts, the curiosity for the other’s stories and the belief that, whatever the “people” decides, it’s art’s objective to ignore borders altogether.“

Transition to Creative Europe recedes into the distance

Another industry insider explained that the vote has come just as Switzerland was expecting the EU to launch its negotiating mandate for the institutional questions and for Creative Europe.

These would have been „two key elements to enable Creative Europe to make the transition from MEDIA as smoothly as possible. This goal has now receded for the time being into the distance because the EU will be certain to take its time with negotiations.“

“This means stagnation for the film industry. Progress comes about through the exchange of ideas between different people. You can’t simulate this exchange in a village. But Switzerland also needs foreign money to realise major film projects. This will now be made difficult.“

“In this situation, it is all the more important that the EU doesn’t close the door, but supports the cosmopolitan, modern, globalised side of Switzerland.“

This blow to the Swiss film industry is a kind of déjà vu for Berlinale veterans who will remember back to the 1993 edition of the Berlinale when it was learnt that Switzerland was leaving the fledgling MEDIA Programme after Swiss voters rejected a proposal to access the European Economic Area in a referendum in 1992.

On the sidelines of Monday’s Creative Europe MEDIA Day, Michel Magnier, Director for Culture and Creativity at the European Commission’s DG for Education and Culture, spoke to Screen about what the Swiss voters’ decision could mean for Switzerland’s future participation in the Creative Europe.

“This might have an impact should the EU consider new options in their relationship with Switzerland,” Magnier explained.

“What is important for us as far as Swiss participation in the MEDIA Programme is the alignment with the Audiovisual Directive, and they haven’t started that yet.”

“There may now be more difficulties following this referendum, but it is too early to say.”