by Malcolm Curtis | May 7, 2012
Most voters in French regions bordering Geneva backed the losing candidate in Sunday’s presidential elections. France’s electorate booted right-wing incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy from office, handing Socialist François Hollande a small but decisive majority.
However, just over 60 percent of those casting ballots in Haute-Savoie backed Sarkozy, despite his national unpopularity, while he received the support of 57 percent of voters in Ain. Voters living in the French part of what is now officially known as le Grand Genève, one of the wealthiest areas in France, tend to worry about any politicians who want to raise taxes.
Sarkozy and fellow members of the UMP party lambasted Hollande’s campaign promise to tax people earning more than one million euros a year at a rate of 75 percent for the amount above one million. The plan is highly symbolic, given the criticism leveled at Sarkozy for giving breaks to the super-rich at a time when many people are struggling.
Estimates show that in France very few people – between 7,000 and 30,000 families – would be affected by such a tax. Still, fears of tax-and-spend Socialists – even moderates like Hollande – are deep-seated among certain quarters of the French middle class who are far from being millionaires.
The question now is whether Haute-Savoie and Ain will be left out in the cold when it comes to financial support from the national government. Much will depend on the outcome of parliamentary elections set for June, with the Socialists hoping to gain the balance of power from the current UMP majority.
Hollande has promised to give local authorities more power – and financial means – through a decentralization plan. Under Sarkozy, the flow of government funds the region around Geneva was hardly lavish.
The Swiss struggled to secure French financial support for cross-border transportation projects such as the CEVA (Cornavin- Eaux Vives-Annemasse) regional railway. At the end of April, authorities from Paris, the French rail network and a group of regional and municipal governments finally agreed to contribute 244 million euros to the railway, which will connect Geneva’s main train station with one in Annemasse, across the French border.
The portion of the rail link in France is just two kilometers long. The Swiss are budgeting 1.5 billion francs for the Geneva section of the 14-kilometer line, scheduled to be finished in 2018. Elsewhere, the French are looking for help to pay for a 2.5-kilometer extension of a tram line from the Geneva border to Saint-Genis, a dormitory town in the Pays de Gex.
The line currently links downtown Geneva and suburbs in the west with the municipality of Meyrin and CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. French authorities want the Swiss to pay 40 percent of the estimated 35 million euros budgeted for the line’s extension.
The extension is expected to go into service in 2016, assuming no hitches. A new tram line proposed by Geneva would link the United Nations headquarters with Ferney-Voltaire, just over the French border near the Geneva airport.
Meantime, officials in the Pays de Gex are supporting the resurrection of the defunct rail line from Bellegarde to Divonne-les-Bains. Lobby groups, such as the Touring Club Suisse, expect much more in the way of transportation development in Grand Genève in the next 15 to 20 years, including another cross-border regional rail line and new highways.
Critics have also highlighted the need for a direct rail link between Geneva and Annecy. The list of needed infrastructure, such as schools and health facilities, goes on.
But a region that rejects tax-and-spend policies, and that voted against the new president with a hand on the levers of power, faces challenges meeting the demands. Even with a leader who favors growth over austerity.