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Swiss Lawmakers Propose Treating Bitcoin as Foreign Currency

| Published on December 9, 2013 at 18:50 BST

The Swiss Parliament is considering a postulate that asks for bitcoin to be treated as any other foreign currency. The goal of the postulate, introduced by representative Thomas Weibel, is to eliminate ambiguities and increase legal certainty related to bitcoin.

If it is approved by parliament, it will be submitted before the Federal Council, Switzerland’s principal executive institution. If the Federal Council agrees that bitcoin should be treated like other foreign currencies, it will also evaluate how to implement the postulate. In addition, the executive was asked to examine the potential bitcoin-related opportunities for the Swiss financial sector.

The postulate petitions the executive branch to reply to four basic questions: whether or not bitcoin represents an opportunity for the financial sector, should bitcoin be treated as a foreign currency, what regulatory instruments should be used to establish legal certainty for bitcoin and similar currencies, and what sort of regulatory changes are needed and when can they be implemented.

The postulate was co-signed by 45 members of parliament (out of a possible 200) after they came to the conclusion that bitcoin can create new opportunities for the Swiss financial sector and that measures should be taken to regulate the application of VAT and the execution of money laundering controls.

swiss-parliament
Swiss Parliament

Over the next few weeks, members of parliament will vote on the postulate. Then, if the majority of members of parliament vote in favour, it will be formally submitted to the Federal Council. If the council responds affirmatively, it will also have to make its position clear to national regulatory bodies such as Finma, the Swiss securities exchange commission.

If all goes as planned, bitcoin could be practically recognized by Switzerland as a legitimate foreign currency. The move would drastically reduce legal uncertainty for bitcoin users, at least in Switzerland, namely the Swiss banking sector. It would allow Swiss authorities to apply existing foreign currency legislation to bitcoin and other digital currencies.

Luzius Meisser, president of Bitcoin Association Switzerland, told CoinDesk:

“This would be quite revolutionary, as it provides bitcoin with additional legitimacy and could serve as a precedent for other countries. Also, it would pave the way for businesses to use bitcoins without legal uncertainty in Switzerland.”

Meisser believes it is likely the postulate will make its way through parliament, given that around 25% of its members acted as cosignatories.

A partial translation of the postulate has been posted on the Bitcoin Talk forum.

Back in September, Jean Christophe Schwaab of the Swiss Socialist Party said the only people in Switzerland who know about bitcoin are “geeks, criminals and special police units” and that there is currently very little or no public discussion about digital currency.

He seems to have adopted a more positive view of bitcoin, having acted as one of the cosignatories of the postulate.

Meisser said: “I spoke to him and he told me that he had changed his opinion regarding outlawing bitcoin, for the meantime, but he remains skeptical overall. The fact that he cosigned the new, positive postulate is very nice.”

Schwaab said he is “very happy” that a large number of MPs now know what bitcoin is and care about the possible regulations.

“I hope that the government’s answer will provide background information on bitcoin and regulations in other countries to allow for fair political discussion. I co-signed the proposal, because it is a contribution to this important discussion,” he concluded.

Co-authored by Emily Spaven and Nermin Hajdarbegovic.

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