The ‘Berlin Airport’ of Basel

Biozentrum Basel Bau Uni Basel Politiker Kanton Basel-Stadt Basellandschaft
The Biozentrum at the University of Basel cost around 430 million Swiss francs. (Image: media service)

Additional costs of 100 million Swiss francs, delays of four years – and no one is responsible. Switzerland has its construction scandal and a thriller about tax money losses.

It is sometimes hard to believe how politicians in Switzerland sometimes act. The Biozentrum of the University of Basel was opened four years late and cost about 100 million Swiss francs over budget. A parliamentary business audit committee was asked to clarify how this could have happened and who was responsible for all this.

Then, in the local parliament last week, Basel’s Finance Director Tanja Soland (SP) took the view that the government’s duty of supervision had not been violated. She literally said: “Supervision was guaranteed at all levels and it was also exercised”.

In an interview with the “Basler Zeitung” on Thursday she now strikes a completely different tone.

Passing the blame

“I think people can really misunderstand our statement,” the 47-year-old suddenly said. “We simply did not assign these errors to the term ‘supervisory’  duties,” the doctor of law continued. 

The additional costs of 100 million Swiss francs over the budget of about 328 million Swiss francs and delays were not so much a matter of supervision, but a consequence of the misplanning at the beginning of the project, she stressed.

Millions squandered

“But 25 to 30 million was really – well – thrown out the window,” Soland freely admitted. The losses resulted, for example, from construction damage and delays, the Basel government member went on to explain. So, tax money seems to be quite loose in Basel.

Basel’s Education Director Conradin Cramer (LDP) sat on the steering committee of the construction project since 2017 and should actually have turned the rudder earlier.

“Yes, of course, mistakes also happened to me,” the 43-year-old now told the paper. “In retrospect, I could have done things differently, perhaps reacted even faster, acted even more decisively,” he stressed.

Bypassing parliament

But he had wanted to prevent the total disaster, the construction stop, said the politician. “At least we succeeded in doing that,” Cramer emphasized.

And in preventing the construction stop, those responsible in Basel as well as in Basel-Landschaft, whose dual cantonal sponsorship includes the University of Basel, even got creative and apparently went to the edge of legality.

The construction stop was only prevented because the additional costs did not have to be presented to the Basel-Landrat. But those responsible had found a kind of workaround solution for the financing in 2019.

The university took over the largest part and still advanced the remaining amount. Cramer now even said that this construction had been “the main reason” not to risk a construction stop by Basellandschaft politicians.

Tax payers the stupid ones

However, the president of the university council, Ueli Vischer, even called this financing solution a mess in retrospect. “This was an intense period of negotiations between the cantons of Basel-Landschaft and Basel-Stadt and the university,” Cramer stressed in this regard.

However, all parties involved wanted to get the best out of it together. Through the sponsorship, the cantons will now be asked to pay after all. “Both governments have undertaken to reimburse these costs in full in the next university budget,” Cramer continued.

But the taxpayers of the two cantons, who will have to now pay for the whole debacle, were not at the table. And with the approximately 430 million Swiss francs for the entire construction project, as well as all of the politicians’ salaries dealing with the scandal, it is not even done yet.

Analogy to Berlin

But the investigation in the Grand Council in Basel-Stadt into the Biozentrum affair cost another million Swiss francs. However, no one responsible for the disaster has yet been found.

In any case, Switzerland does not need to point the finger at the construction scandal surrounding Berlin’s BER airport. There, there’d been years of construction delays, the whole thing had resulted in enormous additional costs, and (surprisingly) no one had been found responsible for all the misery.

All of this looks familiar to viewers in northwestern Switzerland, doesn’t it?


The ‘Berlin Airport’ of Basel

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