Lyon – the largest city closest to Geneva – has long marketed itself as “the heart of Europe”. Whether this convinces investors is another matter. The Lake Geneva region has far more reason for assuming this role. For this to happen, it needs to become the pivotal hub of the “Lyons–Geneva–Milan triangle”, as one Swiss businessman put it at this week’s British-Swiss Chamber of Commerce regional conference.
While the Swiss side has a lot going for it, notably one of Europe’s easiest airports, razor-edge innovation led by the EPFL, an attractive economic environment and an exceptional quality of life, policymakers and urban planners need to think more in regional terms and without borders. They need to incorporate neighbouring France and even northern parts of Italy in this concept.
A far broader vision could dynamically transform this “Greater Geneva” into the real heart of Europe. This means sharing a more environmentally friendly development plan for public transport, car access and cycle routes, as well as fairly distributed housing that will not turn neighbouring France into a sprawling dormitory for Geneva. It also means creating better-paying French jobs.
Geneva’s State Council President François Longchamp recognizes the problems, but argues that Paris is partly to blame. He’s right on this. Paris acts as if the frontaliers don’t exist. One suggestion is to turn “France voisine” into a special economic zone linked to Geneva. It worked for Beijing, transforming the Chinese economy. The same could happen to France.