Unlike Geneva airport, which is located entirely on Swiss soil but still operates a French side, Switzerland’s third major airport – Basel-Mulhouse EuroAirport – is on French territory, but run by the Swiss. Paris now wants to run the show by taxing all revenue, plus imposing its own rights on both French employees and companies.
Talks between Bern and Paris on resolving the issue appear to have bogged down with the French government’s refusal to relinquish its claim. Its insistence on taking control is worrying the city of Basel, which fears it may lose the airport, as well as Alsatian employees who retain their own health insurance and other benefits. Of the estimated 6,000 jobs at the airport, southern Alsace’s second largest employer, roughly 70% are from France. As with the Lake Geneva region, many frontaliers live in France but work in Switzerland.
The history of Basel’s EuroAirport dates back to the 1940s, when, with only limited space to expand, the half-canton of Basel Town agreed to the creation of an international airport on the French side. This followed a local referendum which voted not to build on rapidly diminishing green spaces. In 1949, France made the land available for the airport, which has continued to develop ever since with a record of over six million passengers already registered this year. Rival Zurich-Kloten counts 24 million passengers while Geneva has 13 million.
The French Ministry of Finance wants complete control of revenue. Currently, the Swiss receive 80% of all taxes made both by the airport and the various companies operating there. Going back to the 1949 Franco-Swiss agreement, Paris is now seeking complete sovereignty from 1 January, 2015 onwards, including VAT on all transactions. A similar situation exists with Geneva airport with the French benefitting only from revenue earned by it cargo operation. While Paris is not seeking fiscal control of Cointrin, the Pays de Gex on the French side would like a greater say in developing airport facilities, which it considers to be part of the “Greater Geneva” vision.
Paris’ demands for EuroAirport are proving bad for business. Both EasyJet and Lufthansa, which are key users, have announced cutbacks. Easyjet is halting all new investment, while Lufthansa plans to shut down its Swiss International Airlines flights from the airport as of next January. It is also freezing Eurowings, its new low-cost airlines project. Other companies, notably specialised services providers, are also seeking new options for fear of rising taxes.