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French Local Elections : Cooperation between Paris and its Suburbs Is the Key to the Future

Translated Friday 7 March 2008, by Isabelle Métral

One burning issue in the campaign is how the capital should envisage its future relations to the adjacent towns on the other side of the famous "périphérique" that materializes Paris’s circular boundary.

Early in 2008 President Nicolas Sarkozy dropped a bomb during a press conference when he decided to interfere with the capital and suburbs’ development projects and revive the Greater Paris project instead. He then announced his plans to turn the capital into “a laboratory for human modernity” and to set up (so Roger Karouchi said) “a junior minister’s office for great national projects” that would run the programmes directly from the top and bypass the Ile de France Region’s and the capital’s authorities. More provocatively still, Philippe Dallier, UMP (right-wing) senator for the Seine-Saint-Denis, the adjacent suburban départment to the North of Paris, suggested merging the capital and the neighbouring départements of Hauts-de-Seine, Seine-Saint-Denis and Val-de-Marne into a single unit. Françoise de Panafieu, the UMP candidate for the Paris mayoralty, is not quite as bold and prudently keeps her own views vague, which is said to annoy the Elysée host.

Sarkozy’s plans for Paris, Ian Brossat the communist candidates’ spokesman protests, are to turn the Capital into “a most outrageously capital-friendly outpost”. To Sarkozy’s authoritarian, top-down plans he opposes the Paris Metropolis co-operative project.

Since 2001 the incumbent mayor’s leftist team has made a point of developing contacts between the centre-city and the neighbouring cities. A Metropolitan Conference was set up between no fewer than sixty mayors, which has eventually had the better of prejudices and encouraged cooperation and solidarity – a welcome change on the hegemonic attempts by Chirac, then Tibéri, the former right-wing mayors of Paris, to force the adjacent suburbs to give a free rein to real-estate developers on either side of the périphérique.

Pierre Mansat, a communist counsellor for Paris, has been actively bringing up issues and devising projects: “What I have been working towards, he explains, is a modern metropolitan development plan based on solidarity, spatial density, and propitious to economic activity, which can provide all the prerequisites for the population’s well-being, and make for rich social relations as well as environmental quality.” Whereas the UMP candidates see no farther than the inner ring départements (listed above), Pierre Mansat proposes setting up stronger links with the départements that lie farther out (Essonne, Yvelines, Oise, Seine et Marne). After the elections, Bertrand Delanoé the incumbent socialist mayor said a “convention (would meet) for the whole metropolis”. Among the projects under study is a plan to turn the périphérique border into a resident-friendly boulevard that would take the traffic flow without being an impassable barrier.

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