GENEVA Following growing curbs on Swiss banking, the migration vote and last month’s xenophobic surge in the European elections, is the Lake Geneva region taking appropriate steps to ensure a competitive economic edge? While both the cantons of Geneva and Vaud are increasingly pooling their resources – and ideas – it remains unclear as to whether there is a real borderless vision for a region that could become more than just a slogan as the “heart of Europe”.
Speaking earlier this week at a British-Swiss Chamber of Commerce conference on what the region needs to do to remain competitive, the canton’s president of the state council, François Longchamp, considered Geneva at a historic crossroads with three key challenges.
First, he maintained, Geneva needs to energetically develop its role as international host, which dates back to the late 1800s. Clearly, this means the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and other organizations that are providing Geneva with its renowned humanitarian brand. “This challenge is cardinal for us,” he said.
Second, Longchamp stressed, is the need for a fiscal climate that is “stable and attractive with an appropriate support infrastructure.” While Geneva already serves as the world capital for the watch and perfume industries, it is imperative to introduce a 13% tax rate across the board. This will also prove attractive to multinational corporations, particularly those involved in export.
Third, Geneva must deal more effectively with regional and national challenges. Foremost, he noted, are EU relations. “We are seeking solutions that are compatible with the migration vote, but also take into account what is happening with our neighbours.” Longchamp maintained that one cannot ignore the fact that 70,000 French-side residents commute to Geneva every day bringing in over CHF 700 million a year in taxes, of which CHF 500 million goes to Geneva. While Vaud, which hosts 30,000 commuters, retains 100% of taxes earned, France is only granted one quarter of its frontalier revenue, roughly CHF 200 million.
While most of these points were touched on by other speakers, who included UN chief Michael Møller and Vaud’s deputy director for economic affairs (SPECo), it was clear that any long-term vision for the region remains predominantly Swiss.
Given that Geneva is seeking to preserve its own countryside rather than build massively to absorb its own expansion, both Geneva and Vaud rely heavily on neighbouring France to assume their overspill. More and more young Swiss are moving across the border where housing is cheaper. Yet despite talk of a “Grand Genève”, including the French side, there is no dynamic overall approach other than occasional urban planning meetings with French counterparts. As a result, most solutions for dealing with the real problems at hand, such as growing traffic congestion and housing shortages, come primarily from within Switzerland’s own frontiers.
While acknowledging that more needs to be done, Longchamp saw the main problems as the anti-Swiss mood, particularly in Paris. “France is severely weakening itself with its current fiscal, social and political decisions. Of course, this benefits Switzerland as a far more attractive place to invest in,” he said. Furthermore, he noted, Genevois themselves seem to respond with fear whenever things are going well, as evidenced by the recent vote not to spend funds on cross-border Park & Rides which would significantly alleviate the city’s own traffic quagmire.