The president of tourism in canton Ticino, Marco Solari, has proposed the Gotthard region as the venue for Switzerland's next national exhibition.
Solari, who helped organise the 700th anniversary celebrations of the Swiss confederation in 1991, suggested the exhibition be held in 2020 to mark the opening of the new Gotthard rail tunnel. Reaction to the idea has been mixed.
In an interview with Zurich's Tages-Anzeiger newspaper on Saturday, Solari said simply cutting a ribbon as had been the case for the official opening of the new Lötschberg railway earlier this year was not enough to mark an event that would be a revolution.
Solari, a 63-year-old Ticinese, said the exhibition should be held in cantons Uri and Ticino, which are to the north and south of the 57-kilometre-long transalpine base tunnel. It will be the longest in the world when it becomes operational.
"It ought to be possible to organise something at both tunnel portals in Uri and Ticino that has a European dimension," he said.
"We must begin with Expo 2020 now. We need a working group with a few people who believe in it."
Solari argued that Switzerland must aim to bring itself closer to Europe and develop more awareness of the Alpine regions and the mountains.
"Expo 2020 must be a project for the whole of Switzerland. Sponsors should from now on start putting funds aside every year. By 2020, there would be a handsome sum of SFr1 billion ($830 million) or even SFr1.5 billion," he said.
Although he gave no names of potential sponsors, he mentioned that one of the doors he would be knocking on would be "an institution which is historically linked with the Gotthard".
"If the governments of [cantons] Uri and Ticino are enthusiastic, Bern will not be able to say no [to the idea]," Solari said.
The president of Ticino's government, Social Democrat Patrizia Pesenti, said a national exhibition only made sense if it had a national character.
"The Gotthard is a symbol and important for the identity of Switzerland... The opening of the rail tunnel will make a concrete contribution to the fight against climate warming," she commented.
The director of economic affairs in canton Uri, Isidor Baumann of the centre-right Christian Democratic Party, said it was justified to do something special at the opening of the "construction of the century".
One of the main preconditions for such an exhibition was that local people could identify with the project, he said. Baumann added that what was special about the idea was that it offered a real experience of nature, which urban residents lacked.
The secretary general of the centre-right Radical Party, Guido Schommer, commented that it was a "good, interesting idea" but noted that canton Jura had also expressed an interest in staging the next exhibition.
The speaker of the House of Representatives, Christine Ergerszegi reacted with scepticism to the idea of linking the opening of the Gotthard tunnel with the next expo. However, she said she supported the idea of a "really good party" for the tunnel opening.
Ueli Maurer, president of the rightwing Swiss People's Party that is against closer links with the European Union, said Switzerland did not always have to push itself forward towards Europe.
He added that he did not believe the funds would be forthcoming, because the last exhibition in 2002 had cost about SFr2 billion.
Maurer also argued that the new Gotthard rail tunnel did not lend itself to a national exhibition. "It is one of the biggest flops," he said, referring to the soaring costs and delays in construction.
swissinfo with agencies
Gotthard and Lötschberg rail tunnels
The Gotthard base tunnel, with a length of 57km, will be the longest in the world.
It was originally due to open in 2011 but difficulties in construction work have delayed the opening until 2018.
The Lötschberg base tunnel (34.6km) was officially inaugurated on June 15. The latest cost estimates are SFr4.3 billion.
The total costs for both tunnels, which form the backbone of the New Rail Links through the Alps (NRLA), was originally put at SFr14.7 billion. Inflation and unforeseen difficulties have pushed that figure up to an estimated SFr24 billion.
The last national exhibition in 2002, which was held around the three lakes of Murten, Biel and Neuchâtel, was a financial flop.
It cost the government seven times more than the original budget of SFr130 million - about SFr1 billion.
The federal financial control instance said in June 2005 that the extra costs had been caused by bad preparation.
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