Economic Change and the National Question in Twentieth-Century Europe

By Alice Teichova; Herbert Matis et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
Unequal regional development in Switzerland:
a question of nationality?
Bruno Fritzsche

In summer 1996 the privately owned 'national' airline Swissair made it known that most of its intercontinental flights starting from Geneva were to be discontinued, and that instead there was a shuttle service to be established between the airports of Geneva—Cointrin and Zurich—Kloten. This measure provoked an enormous outcry in the French-speaking part of Switzerland (the 'Romandie'). Such a concentration of the longdistance flights on the airport situated in the German-Swiss part of the country and lying, incidentally, no more than some 200 kilometres from Geneva, passed for one further proof that the French-Swiss minority was and continued to be dominated — or even colonised — by the GermanSwiss majority.

In actual fact the great economic crisis setting in after 1990, hitting the French-speaking part of Switzerland rather harder than the rest of the country, only served to accentuate a latent uneasiness of quite a few years' standing. A first peak of tension had been reached on the occasion of the plebiscite of 2 December 1992, when the issue was whether or not Switzerland was to become a member of the EEA (European Economic Area). As a whole the Swiss rejected membership by a very slim majority (50.3 per cent of noes), while the French-speaking cantons quite distinctly voted in favour of membership, the portions of ayes lying between 56 per cent (in the Valais) and 80 per cent (in the canton of Neuchâtel). 1 Ever since, the relationship between the French- and the German-speaking parts of Switzerland, at all times precariously harmonious at best, has remained quite openly and obviously strained. A public opinion poll of July 1996 put the slightly captious question whether the Swiss nation was going to disintegrate. In the Romandie 27 per cent of those replying answered in the affirmative, in the rest of Switzerland distinctly less: 13 per cent in the German-speaking part of the country and 14 per cent in the Italian-speaking Ticino. Among those who predicted the dissolution of the nation, a quarter expected this to

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