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National exhibition organisers pledge to plough ahead

Three prominent leaders of Switzerland’s troubled national exhibition said they would plough on and try to implement the government’s “draconian” reforms, which are aimed at saving the crisis-ridden project.

This content was published on October 6, 1999 - 16:52

Three prominent leaders of Switzerland’s troubled national exhibition said they would plough on and try to implement the government’s “draconian” reforms, which are aimed at saving the crisis-ridden project.

Announcing their decision at a nationally televised news conference Wednesday, management board members Francis Matthey, Nelly Wenger (left) and Martin Heller (right) said it would be extremely difficult to meet the government’s demand that SFr290 million ($196 million) be saved and a financial cap implemented.

But the head of the board, the interim director-general of the project and its artistic director said they would not step down – as some Swiss media reports had suggested -- and would present the results of their reforms to the government by the end of the year.

The news conference appeared to signal that the project would not sink, despite a string of high-profile resignations of board members, obvious management problems and a severe shortage of funds.

The three did not spare the government and publicly expressed their disappointment at what they described as the cabinet’s lukewarm support for the exhibition, which was originally scheduled to go ahead in 2001 but was moved to 2002 by the government on Monday.

Economics Minister Pascal Couchepin said that the management and financial problems would not allow the timely opening of Exp.01 and that there now would have to be an Expo.02 – provided a number of key conditions were met.

Among the strings attached were demands that Swiss industry abandon its hesitant approach and come out in support of the exhibition to match the government’s contribution of SFr380 million ($253 million).

Couchepin also said that a new five-member professional management team must take over the helm within the next two weeks and steer the project to a successful conclusion.

The economics minister admitted that the government's demands were strict. But he said he would refuse to follow orders from the organisers and said it was up to the government to set the conditions for the exhibition.

The organisers told Wednesday’s news conference in Neuchâtel that the artistic concept of setting up four major exhibition areas in the Neuchâtel, Murten, Biel and Yverdon-les-Bains lake regions would not be dropped.

The displays, installations and artistic projects were originally meant to portray the kind of social, political, scientific and educational topics which are relevant for modern day Switzerland.

However, a seemingly endless string of resignations, public criticism, management problems and financial difficulties raised the question whether Switzerland really had the will – and the ability – to go through with a national project of such magnitude.

From staff and wire reports.





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