Cantonal Family Affair
27 December 2020
Switzerland has more than 2200 municipalities, ranging from very small (less than 20 inhabitants) to large (over 400 000 inhabitants).
A city with more than 500 000 to one million inhabitants is lacking, unlike, for example, in the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria, Belgium or Hungary.
In the French-speaking part of Switzerland, la Romandie, the largest cities are Lausanne and Geneva, followed until recently by La Chaux-de-Fonds (Canton of Neuchâtel).
From 1 January 2021, however, Neuchâtel will be the canton’s largest city. The capital of the canton merged with the municipalities of Corcelles-Cormondrèche, Valangin and Peseux. The new municipality has 45 000 inhabitants.
However, La Chaux-de-Fonds remains the capital of the watchmaking industry, (de cité horlogère) or, as it is said, La Chaux-de-Fonds has for a long time financed the administration of the canton.
Even the small canton of Neuchâtel has a historically grown rivalry between towns and regions, the mountain region of the Jura (Montagnes or le Haut du canton) versus the shores of the lake (Littoral or le Bas du canton).
For centuries, Neuchâtel was the seat and (lucrative) job machine of the Counts of Neuchâtel and their German, French and Prussian successors (1395-1857).
However, the city of Neuchâtel also developed its own industry and a large sector of small and medium-sized enterprises. Today it has become the seat of several multinationals.
The citizens of La Chaux-de-Fonds resisted in 1830-31 (in vain) and 1848 (successfully) the claims of the Prussian king — so to speak the industrial revolution against the ancien régime in Neuchâtel.
La Chaux-de-Fonds remains the canton’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, just as Neuchâtel is its university town.
Both cities have a rich cultural life and an entrepreneurial spirit and, too, are well-positioned and fully embedded in the Confederacy.
The rivalry is not a ‘Graben’, but rather a family affair.