Parliamentarians reject proposal to tax plane tickets

In 2016, air traffic was responsible for about 10% of greenhouse gas emissions in Switzerland. Keystone

The House of Representatives has refused to add a climate tax on plane tickets to Switzerland's greenhouse gas regulations. But the bill must still go before the Senate before a final decision is made.

This content was published on December 11, 2018

On Monday, the lower house of Swiss parliament decided not to introduce such a measure in a close vote of 93 against 88, with eight abstentions.  

Supporters of the bill wanted to use the revision of Switzerland's CO2 law to add this tax, with the goal of creating incentives for citizens to limit their air travel. 

"Flying has become extremely cheap; it defies common sense." Lisa Mazzone, Swiss Green Party

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"Flying has become extremely cheap; it defies common sense," said parliamentarian Lisa Mazzone.

More and more Swiss are travelling by plane. The number of passengers increased by 60% between 2000 and 2017, according to the last federal mobility reportExternal link (in French, German and Italian). That means significant consequences for the climate: international air transport represents 10% of total greenhouse gas emissions in Switzerland, according to figures from the Swiss environment ministryExternal link. In the European UnionExternal link (EU), the proportion is just 3%. 

Eleven European countriesExternal link (in French and German) including Germany, Italy, France and Great Britain already levy a tax on plane tickets. The amount can vary between 3 and 160 euros depending on the country and destination. 

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Aviation is favoured

"Currently, we subsidise air traffic; we spare this sector," denounced Social Democrat parliamentarian Roger Nussbaumer. In Switzerland, flights to foreign destinations are exempt from fuel tax, VAT and CO2 tax. 

It's a situation that will change, as parliament has agreed to link its emissions trading systemExternal link with that of the EU. Airlines will be required not to exceed a certain threshold of pollution and will have to offset their emissions. This measure will have consequences for businesses but little impact on travelers: ticket prices should only increase by a few cents. 

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This first step has convinced most of the right-wing politicians in parliament to waive a tax on tickets. "We must not impose a double financial burden on aviation," said conservative right Swiss People's Party politician Christian Imark. "This would not achieve anything and would weaken Switzerland's position." The incentive side of the tax has also been questioned: "With the drop in oil prices, companies will undoubtedly be able to keep prices very low," noted Radical-Liberal politician Benoît Genecand.

"We must not impose a double financial burden on aviation." Christian Imark, Swiss People's Party

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The Federal Council, Switzerland's executive body, was itself not in favour of introducing a tax on plane tickets. 

"These low prices are not linked to the exemption from taxes, but rather excessive competition of airlines," said Transport Minister Doris Leuthard. She worried that travelers might feel strongly penalised and move toward airports located across the border. 

Leuthard also thinks that the incentive would be very limited: "For long-haul flights, there is no alternative we can turn to. It's an illusion to think that someone will give up travel or that companies will cancel flights."

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