This month our Brussels correspondent explores Switzerland’s recent rejection of a proposed opt-in for unaddressed mail and what it would mean for nonprofits if such an approach was adopted by the EU.
In a move that might set a precedent for other European countries, Switzerland recently confirmed the freedom of advertising at the mailbox. A motion by the Nation Council to restrict unaddressed letterbox advertising by means of an opt-in regime was turned down by the responsible Council of States Commission by an overwhelming majority of 8 votes to 1 with one abstention. Whilst Switzerland is not a member of the EU, the decision might influence ongoing discussions on the topic at EU level, as well as within individual Member States.
The discussion is not new. In fact, I first wrote about the subject for Fundraising Europe a little over two years ago, when several EU Member States (Netherlands, Belgium, France, Denmark and Germany) proposed to change the current opt-out approach for receiving unaddressed printed advertising to an opt-in approach. However, many nonprofits rely on these ‘door drops’ to build awareness within the local community and beyond and encourage supporters to donate, raising concerns about the impact of restrictions to this fundraising channel.
Door drops and the opt-out system are a part of the EU’s 2005 Unfair Commercial Practices Directive. If the EU were to adopt an opt-in approach, nonprofits would no longer be able to send unaddressed mailings to any households, unless they proactively permit them to do so. Few people are likely to do so, which would have a significant negative impact on fundraising organisations and their opportunity to rebuild income levels at a time where many are facing critical funding shortfalls.
At the time, The European Fundraising Association had signed a joint letter (along with Intergraf, FEDMA, the European Letterbox Marketing Association and others), calling on the European Commission to address this issue with the Member States concerned. The letter asks for clarification that any restrictions on this form of advertising need to take into account the principle of proportionality and must be compliant with EU law.
In May 2022, I reported that the Danish government was considering legislation that would introduce a regime banning unaddressed printed advertising. Denmark has made similar attempts to curb unaddressed printed advertising in 2012, 2016, and 2020. The European Commission clarified at that time that “Directive 2005/29/EC bans unsolicited advertising by remote media if it is persistent and unwanted. Assessments of the compatibility of national rules with this directive depend on their exact wording, but an opt-in scheme seems to go further than this ban.
Whilst attempts to introduce opt-in regimes have thus far been largely unsuccessful, there remains an appetite in some European countries for curbing the way organisations can reach out to citizens. EFA sees the Swiss decision as a step in the right direction and hopes that this will be reflected in EU Member States as well. EFA and its partners will continue to monitor the situation closely.
About Patrick Gibbels
Patrick is EFA’s public affairs columnist in Brussels.
He is the director of Gibbels Public Affairs.
Follow Patrick @GPA_Brussels.
Read more from Patrick in our View from Brussels column here.
Main photo by AC works Co Ltd on Pixabay
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