Flight tax up against Swiss scepticism

Travellers flying out from French airports are set to contribute towards development aid Keystone

A senior Swiss development official tells swissinfo the government is sceptical about a French scheme to boost aid for the poor by taxing air travellers.

This content was published on March 1, 2006 minutes

Remo Gautschi of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation represented Switzerland as an observer at a two-day meeting in Paris on development financing. The meeting ended on Wednesday.

As of July 1, France will levy what it calls a solidarity tax on passengers flying out of French airports. The proceeds of the tax will go to countries in the developing world to combat Aids, tuberculosis and malaria.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan showed his support for the scheme in his opening speech and called on other countries to follow France's example.

French President Jacques Chirac first mooted the initiative at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland in January last year.

swissinfo: What are the main results of the conference?

Remo Gautschi: Several countries have expressed their alignment with this French-Brazilian-Chilean initiative for introducing a levy on air tickets and they are seriously considering following suit.

The second result is that it has become more obvious that a special facility for the purchase of medicaments could be set up which will then use the money collected from these levies.

swissinfo: Will Switzerland introduce a flight tax?

R.G.: On the one hand Switzerland's position is open and constructive – we will follow up this idea – but there are many other ideas for mobilising traditional resources for financing development.

At present we are examining what Switzerland would follow up and introduce. So we have a very cautious position – we want to go into the details and look at the various implications and only then will we decide what Switzerland is going to do.

swissinfo: When will you be able to say whether Switzerland will accept or reject the flight tax?

R.G.: There is absolutely no time frame. The position of the Swiss government regarding this innovative alternative is very cautious, even sceptical.

swissinfo: What are the reasons for this caution and scepticism?

R.G.: The Swiss government is basically against introducing new taxes or levies. But there is a possibility that if one of these ideas really gains ground, we may – we may – follow up.

The global context concerning this issue is somewhat split. Here in Paris you have all the "friends" of this idea and you also see who is absent: the United States is not here – there are observers but they are very much in the background – Canada and Japan are not here. Of course if you talk about this kind of new instrument it would be nice if it were introduced worldwide.

swissinfo: Previously you have said that the need to find new funding for development aid is "a real problem". If Switzerland is not going to adopt this tax, what other schemes and initiatives is Switzerland working on?

R.G.: As I said, we will scrutinise the range of initiatives and later on – and I can't give you any time frame – we will come forward with a position on that.

swissinfo-interview: Thomas Stephens

In brief

The "solidarity tax" will be levied on all flight tickets for passengers flying out of French airports from July 1, 2006, with the exception of passengers in transit.

It will also affect the French-Swiss EuroAirport on French soil outside Basel but only for passengers flying with French airlines.

The tax is also being considered for some flights out of Geneva's international airport, but that is being seen at the moment as legally impossible.

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Key facts

The tax will amount to €1 (SFr1.56) for flights within the European Union and €4 for all other flights. (Business and first class passengers will be charged €10 and €40 respectively.)

It is expected to raise up to €210 million (SFr328 million) a year.

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