Vive la France! Sunday shopping on Christmas Eve thanks to new tram connection
This year’s Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday. This is unfortunate for those people who leave their Christmas shopping until the last minute, because all the shops will be closed that day. However, it is a blessing for all sales employees in Basel.
But do the Basel shopkeepers feel it is a missed opportunity in times of foreign shopping tourism and when traditional shops are being forced to close due to lack of clientele? Mathias F. Böhm, manager of the Pro Innerstadt shop, does not believe so. “There was never any debate about Sunday shopping on 24th December," he said.
"Up until now, there has also been no public wish for this to happen. We at Pro Innerstadt are glad that Basel will remain quiet on Christmas Eve. The festivities are more important than everything else."
But here, the Alsace enters the game. Thanks to the new extention to tram line 3, which now reaches Saint-Louis, Baslers can still go shopping on Sunday, 24th December. Unlike their counterparts in the nearby German border towns and in Basel, shops in Saint-Louis will be open. On the last day before Christmas, customers usually buy food, or are perhaps searching for a last-minute present.
Shopping à la française on 24th December
The opening of the new tram line is therefore the perfect opportunity for our French neighbours, who are looking forward to benefiting from Christmas Eve shopping. “We are expecting many visitors from Basel and Germany,” Joël Chéron, president of the “Vitrines de Saint-Louis” organisation, said. Shops are always open on the last Sunday before Christmas in France – even if this happens to be Christmas Eve itself. “It is legally allowed and one last big shopping Sunday before the feast,” Joël Chéron says.
Shortly after it opened in 2014, the tram line 8 to Weil am Rhein in Germany was labelled a "shopping tram" rather than as a commuter tram, which was the original purpose of the extension. Now, the people from Alsace want a piece of the shopping tourism cake as well; least of all because Saint-Louis offers a variety of shopping opportunities.
BVB are not expecting too many passengers
However, the Basel Transport Services (BVB) will not put on more trams on this Christmas Eve Sunday. “Experience over the past few years has shown that even on a ‘normal’ 24th December, very few people use public transport in the afternoon. We therefore do not assume that an extraordinary number of passengers will board the line 3 to Saint-Louis,” BVB media spokesperson, Benjamin Schmid, said. The extension of the line 3 is primarily meant for commuters and not for shopping tourists, the BVB added.
A Saint-Louis for Basel shoppers
Joël Chéron sees the matter differently and hopes to lure shoppers across the border: Guests from Basel will receive a special flyer during the tram line’s official opening this Saturday which provides important information about Saint-Louis. On a city map, the shops and culinary specialties of Saint-Louis are introduced.
In addition, the flyer contains the crucial information that Swiss shoppers will receive 20 per cent VAT back from their purchases. Even if the translation is a bit wonky: This flyer shows that Saint-Louis is already really happy about the extended tram line. “It is a chance for us,” Joël Chéron said. “We are very happy about this situation and are looking forward to every guest.
Activists criticise Novartis & Co. with fake posters
The posters “Basel – Ignorance Unlimited” caused a stir in Basel a while ago. They were aimed at Novartis, Roche, and Syngenta. The multinational Basel-based companies are accused of violating human rights. Yesterday, there were renewed demonstrations with a banner at Marktplatz and posters on the walls of the accused companies.
The companies meanwhile deny that they have been plastered with such posters. A spokesperson for Novartis said: “This is a mere invention and fake.” Roche likewise denied to barfi.ch that the protest took place. The only real banner was hanging – contrary to what the activists said – at the Tally-Weijl building next to the city hall on Wednesday morning.
Basel’s government has come under attack nonetheless: The activists say that the government remains "too passive" about the misdeeds of the multinational Basel companies. Because Novartis, Roche, and Syngenta are major taxpayers, the government ignores their crimes, the activists claim.
Months ago, banners named “Basel – Ignorance Unlimited” were on the public’s mind. Activists had coloured the water of Basel fountains green to underline their case. “Welfare thanks to global destruction,” “We’d better look away”, and “Our companies are the best killers” were among the statements made by the demonstrators, who claim these companies are guilty of human rights violations. Medicine is tested on small children, large sums of bribes are paid, and poor people’s healthcare is denied through horrendously high prices, the activists claimed.
Renewed demonstrations because of Grand Council initiative
Yesterday, the demonstration on Marktplatz was the next step. It was held in support of of a parliamentary initiative put forward by Grand Council member, Tonja Zürcher, which will be discussed in today’s session. Ms Zürcher is expected ask the government to assess whether the state council is violating Basel’s constitution by ignoring violations of environmental and human rights laws. She will also ask the government to consider how to inform the public about such cases.
This marks a success for the activists. What began as a public declaration of discontent is now going to be discussed by Basel’s government. The participants in the demonstrations (who would like to remain anonymous) have said they are happy about the development. They are a loose group with a "Watchblog" that wants to make people aware of the "crimes" of Basel’s pharmaceutical groups. The demonstrators did not confirm whether or in what form further demonstrations would take place, but said they are pleased their concerns have reached both the public and the agenda of the city parliament.
Direct tax deduction initiative denied by Basel’s cantonal parliament
A scheme obliging all Basel-Stadt companies to pay ten per cent of their employees' salaries into public coffers has been rejected by the parliament.
The so-called "automatic voluntary direct deduction of direct income tax" in Basel had been planned as a countermeasure against debt, emergency situations, and unnecessary administrative work. However, yesterday the cantonal parliament of Basel-Stadt turned down the initiative, with 48 votes against 47 votes (and two abstentions) after an intense two-hour debate.
This direct deduction would not have been a voluntary measure for employers in Basel-Stadt: Employers would have been obliged to deduct ten per cent of the net income of their Basel employees and then hand over the sum to the income administration. All companies with more than ten employees would have had to make this deduction – for companies outside of Basel-Stadt, it would still have been voluntary.
Voluntary nature of scheme is relative
For employees, the direct deduction would have been voluntary as well: They would have had the option of refusing the income deduction or to set another percentage. Liberal politicians warned yesterday that this voluntary nature renders the system "useless", "especially because the automatic deduction would have been the first of its kind in Switzerland – in a canton with many employees who do not live in Basel," they said.
In the parliament discussion, the right-wing parties pleaded for the self-responsibility of taxpayers. Simple standing orders for tax payments are a possibility, they said. A direct deduction also favours the canton to other creditors such as businesses and health insurance companies, they added. However, Social Democrats (SP) financial director, Eva Herzog, denied that certain creditors are privileged.
Liberal parties also criticised the increased administrative workload for companies caused by the deduction. This would have resulted in a locational disadvantage for Basel, they claimed. They added that employers would have been reimbursed for their overtime work.
Selectivity versus pilot project
The left-wing parties reminded the parliament that the tax bill often arrives late for many people: Lacking an overview, citizens often pay other bills in the meantime and do not have any money left to pay their taxes. Employers then have far more work to do with garnishment of wages due to tax debts. In many other countries, an automatic deduction is completely normal, the left-wing politicians said.
The right then countered that in other countries, this direct deduction applies to everyone. In Basel-Stadt, this concerns only a part of the Federal taxes and only a quarter of all employees. The extra administrative work is not worth the effort, according to the right-wing parties.
The left had planned to make the city canton of Basel-Stadt a good pilot example for direct tax deduction. Had these plans worked out, other cantons or even the Federal Government itself would have followed. Ms Herzog pointed out a pending initiative for a Federal-level direct deduction. A pilot project would be “acceptable”.
A motion by the SP had been the cause of the tax law revision, which had been accepted by the Grand Council against the will of Basel’s government. The planned revisions would have affected neither direct federal taxes nor municipal taxes nor withholding taxes.
The opinions of parties and associations
A spokesperson for the Christian Democratic People’s Party (CVP) said: “The Basel CVP is happy about the decision to drop the scheme. A direct income tax deduction is a lot of additional work but is not for the benefit of those who should profit from the project.” The CVP believes that the socio-political goal still makes sense, but the direct deduction does not – on the contrary. The SP of Basel-Stadt accepts the parliamentary decision with regret. The Social Democrats think that the canton has now missed a chance to actively do something about the tax debts of its citizens. The SP of Basel-Stadt is therefore considering a popular initiative.
The employers’ association said: “Basel’s economic associations are very happy that a ‘sensible coalition’ in the cantonal Grand Council has voted against the introduction of a so-called wage deduction process. This process would have caused an enormous financial and administrative effort without reaching the desired result of ‘relieving taxpayers’ and the reduction of tax debts.” The employers’ association also voices strong criticism at Basel’s red-green parties: “Basel’s economic associations expect that red-green will in the future refrain from such unnecessary initiatives that damage the economy.”