The time is ripe to properly organise the development of Greater Geneva – the extended Franco-Swiss region of just under one million people, Pierre Maudet, the new Geneva president, tells swissinfo.ch.
Last year, the Geneva politicianexternal link failed in his attempt to become one of the seven cabinet ministers that make up the Federal Council (executive body)external link in Bern. But unperturbed he was comfortably re-elected as cantonal government minister in Geneva elections last April. The centre-right politician was then chosen by his peers as cantonal president for the next five years. His new responsibilities include overseeing the development of the Geneva region and so-called “International Geneva”external link, alongside his previous security portfolio.
In an interview with swissinfo.ch, Maudet expressed his confidence about Greater Geneva’s future (see infobox).
Geneva and France
Switzerland’s second biggest city is at a busy crossroads with France and the Alps. Just under one million people live in the city and extended region known as Greater Genevaexternal link, the Franco-Valdo-Genevois region between Nyon in canton Vaud, Bellegarde-sur-Valserine, Annemasse, Meyrin, Bonneville, Thonon-les-Bains and Geneva. By 2030, the region is forecast to grow by at least 200,000 residents.
According to official statistics, the population of canton Geneva is expected to rise by 21% between 2015 and 2040 to 587,500. The population of the cross-border Geneva region (Geneva transfrontalier, which is just slightly bigger than Greater Geneva area), is also expected to rise to between 1.2 and 1.3 million between 2015 and 2040.end of infobox
“The essential remains to be done, but the timetable is now much clearer,” he declared. “The inauguration of the CEVA cross-border rail network [now known as Leman Express] is scheduled for the end of 2019. It is a date that cannot be missed, in terms of mobility, but also for planning and the economy.”
When it is completed, the train systems of France and Geneva will be connected to create a seamless link between Cornavin, Geneva’s central train station, and Annemasse in Franceexternal link. Regular trains will make the 16km journey in 20 minutes, with one every ten minutes during rush hour. This link will form part of a much bigger local rail network between Switzerland and France.
Maudet’s role in helping implement this project has been made easier after voters roundly rejected populist and conservative right parties in the April election. Both had campaigned against cross-border workers, who help keep the local economy ticking over.
The 40-year-old politician said the ballot box result had demonstrated Geneva people’s awareness that the Greater Geneva region was indeed a reality.
“It is now a matter of properly organising [the region], and giving it a true dimension,” he added.
Since the 1970s, a number of organisations have been set up to promote cross-border cooperation between Switzerland and France, including the Conseil du Lémanexternal link, the Franco-Geneva Regional Committee (CRFGexternal link) and the Local Group of Cross-border Cooperation (GLCTexternal link).
“My perception today is that the common destiny shared by the natural borders of the Mont Salève and the Jura Mountains is understood by most people,” Maudet commented.
Regular exchanges take place between Geneva and French officials, he noted. During this legislative period specific projects should be realised, such as the extension of the historic number 12 tram line from Geneva to the French commune of Annemasse.
The minister nonetheless acknowledges “imbalances” on both sides of the border.
“As we saw during the [April] election campaign, part of the population believes that growth is rampant and out of control. To respond to these concerns, I am convinced of the need for a debate and a pedagogical approach by local politicians to explain why we cannot avoid the dynamics of this region and why we must anticipate them in order not to suffer,” he commented.
Problems of excessive growth raised by elected French officials “reflect shared concerns”, he went on.
“The development of a region implies welcoming many additional families and growing educational needs. This requires planning on both sides of the border. We have to develop a common vision, but if possible without political gesticulations and making lots of noise,” said Maudet.
His attempt to extend a diplomatic hand of friendship to France could nonetheless be frustrated by a proposed European Union regulation requiring unemployment benefits to be paid by the country in which an individual works, rather than lives. This proposal could force Switzerland to pay benefits to unemployed cross-border workers.
“It is clear that the prospect of having to compensate unemployed people according to where they work is a complete paradigm shift,” said Maudet. “But we are quite a long way off implementing this measure, as it’s currently being discussed between the 27 EU member states.... this debate must be followed up and included in negotiations on future bilateral relations between Switzerland and the EU.”
Born on March 6, 1978, Pierre Maudet got involved in politics from a young age. He became president of Geneva’s youth parliament at the age of 15.
From 2005 to 2015, he chaired the Federal Commission for Children and Youth Affairs. During this period, he presided over Geneva’s centre-right Radical Party for three years.
After being elected to the city parliament, he joined the city government in 2007 and became mayor in 2011. In 2012, he joined the Geneva cantonal government and was re-elected in 2013 and 2018.
As Geneva minister he was responsible for economic and security affairs. He is now only in charge of security. He also chairs the Conference of Cantonal Justice and Police Directors (KKJPD/CCDJP).end of infobox
Adapted from French by Simon Bradley