by Malcolm Curtis malcolm-curtis.com
François Longchamp, head of the Geneva cantonal government for 2015, sounded a positive note about Geneva’s ability to tackle future challenges at a luncheon speech to the American International Club on Thursday, January 22.
In a presentation at the Swissôtel Métropole, Longchamp acknowledged there was uncertainty in the wake of the recent surge in the value of Swiss franc.
“It’s a delicate situation,” he said, noting that Geneva businesses are mostly in competition with those in Europe, while the canton’s international organizations have budgets set in dollars (which are impacted when the franc rises).
Longchamp, 51, who has been a member of the canton’s seven-person governing council since 2005, cautioned that it will take time to see at what level the franc settles.
The member of the centre-right Liberal party (libéral-radical) sketched a quick history of Geneva, which is this year celebrating its 200th anniversary in the Swiss confederation.
He pointed out that unlike certain other cantons, Geneva chose to join Switzerland rather than being forced to do as so after an invasion.
And he highlighted the role of its international organizations, which arose from its role as the “cradle of humanitarianism” through the Red Cross, as well as its wealth management and trading businesses.
Geneva has adapted to past challenges by showing itself to be “capable of being open to change,” he said.
The canton remains a global centre for diplomacy as has been proved recently with the high-level meetings on Syria and the Ukraine, and the more than 200 international conferences held annually.
Both the canton and the Swiss federal government have shown their commitment to the United Nations through financial pledges to restore the Palais des Nations, Longchamp indicated.
He outlined the regional challenge faced by Geneva, admitting that the canton “has no logic” in geographical terms.
The Pays de Gex and the area around the Salève mountain in Haute Savoie were separated historically from protestant Geneva only for religious reasons.
Now, it is “indispensable to have a dialogue with these (French) regions,” he said, underlining the role that “frontaliers” have in providing workers for Geneva employers.
Most voters in Geneva, like those in Zurich and Basel, voted against the restrictions on immigration backed by a majority of Swiss voters in February 2014 , Longchamp said.
“Today we want an application of this (immigration initiative) that meets our interests.”
Despite financial hurdles, he said Geneva has remained in a strong position to invest in capital projects, such as the 1.6-billion-franc CEVA (Cornavin-Eaux-Vives-Annemasse) regional rail project.
Longchamp referred to it as the “investment of the century” and predicted that it will transform the region when it is completed in 2019.
He said another megaproject, the proposed highway crossing of Lake Geneva, made sense but that other projects needed to come first, including completion of the CEVA, upgrading of the airport and the widening of the highway from Geneva to Lausanne.