A tale of two Geneva State Councillors

The two Councillors, Michèle Kunzler and Isabel Rochat, were not too popular in the State Council elections last weekend.

These two Councillors, although from different political parties, had some things in common. They were the only ladies on the 7-person State Council and each was in charge of a department concerned with transport. For Michèle Kunzler, of the Green Party, it was terrestrial transport on wheels, whilst for Isabel Rochat, of the PLR, it was airlines and the airport.

Michèle Kunzler fared far the worse of the two, such that she has now withdrawn for the second stage of the election of the new State Council. I see that as being mainly because terrestrial transport is both a poisoned chalice and a political minefield. This is because anything to do with car, bus and tram transport affects everyone, so any action has an influence on us all. However, any action inevitably makes some people winners and others losers, so what happens? The winners regard it simply as normal, whilst the losers blame the person in charge.

In Michèle's case, and to cite an appropriate description often used by bridge players when picking up a poor hand, she was dealt a load of tram tickets! The basic outline of the recently reorganised tram network had already been fixed before she took charge, so all she could do was make a few improvements here and there, without ever mollifying the fairly large number of dissatisfied tram passengers who now had to change from one tram to another to reach their destination.

Her efforts to improve this tram network also led, in some cases, to traffic jams for normal motorists wanting to go into or through the centre of Geneva. Unfortunately, almost everyone is a motorist who rather illogically, whilst wanting better public transport in town, does not want to be in a traffic jam. In reality, for a place like Geneva, where there is a high number of cars per family, and which must somehow try to handle the daily mass of people coming and going from all around the canton, this is probably a problem nearly as difficult as squaring the circle.

Isabel Rochat was, for different reasons (related to being also in charge of the police!), also less popular than her male colleagues in the centre right political parties. However, she had the advantage of having Geneva Airport under her responsibility. The financial economic success of the airport, which contributes significantly to the coffers of Geneva, thus rubbed off on her to some extent.

One big difference between the two ladies was in their attitude to the representation of the state on the boards of administration, sometimes called the board of directors, of the Geneva Public Transport and the Airport respectively. There is an ongoing debate as to whether the State Council, which oversees five different public services, should or should not have the Councillor of the Department concerned as a member of the board of administration: some see this as desirable, whilst others say that the rôles of surveyor and surveyed should be kept separate, i.e. the state council should not be both judge and jury.

In the case of the TPG, Michèle Kunzler appears to have chosen not to be directly on the board of administration. For the airport, however, Isabel Rochat is not simply a board member: she is the president of the board of administration. In between these two extremes, for two of the other three public services (SIG, the industrial services; HUG, the hospital) the departmental State Councillors are on the board but are neither president nor vice-president.

Interestingly, the most recent meeting of the Geneva State Council had to consider a proposed new version on the law regulating Geneva Airport. During discussions on modifications to the old law, there was a proposition coming from the Green party to exclude the president and vice-president of any public institution from being on the Geneva executive. In the vote, taken within the finance committee hearings, this was accepted by the Greens and the Socialists, but rejected by all other parties. It would be interesting to know if the individuals of these other parties independently decided how they would vote, or if they were pressured from above by a person or persons wishing to keep Isabel Rochat as president of the Airport administrative council.

So, when the seven next Geneva State Councillors are elected next month, perhaps they might want to decide on a general rule for whether they should or should not be on the administrative boards, even be president or vice president, of the five public services. Or perhaps not: doing nothing is always an easy option!

Another, much worse, question is whether any future female members of the Geneva State Council can behave nastily enough to survive in the modern world of politics, where increasingly we see that dirty tricks, vituperation and and backstabbing are becoming the order of the day! On seeing the results of the election of the 100-person Grand Council and the personalities involved, I can imagine that the debates will increasingly become a slanging match between three equal blocs.

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