‘For 30 years the Paris region was abandoned’

Earlier this week the Mayor of Marseille opened up old wounds when he blasted the French government for favouring Paris over his city when it comes to investment. The Local speaks to two French officials who refute his claims.

'For 30 years the Paris region was abandoned'
The Eiffel Tower - the iconic symbol of Paris and right, the slag heaps of Nord-Pas-de-Calais, one of the poorest regions of the country. Photos Terrazo/OliBac/flickr

Marseille mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin’s outburst had followed the sixth gangland killing in the Mediterranean city in just two weeks. 

The opposition UMP mayor rounded on the Socialist government, picking up on its much-heralded recent announcement that it would invest €30 billion in a new Grand Paris ‘super metro’ as part of a project to upgrade the transport system for the capital and its surrounding Île-de-France area.

Marseille, on the other hand, was getting “nothing”, Gaudin claimed, denouncing the disparity as “scandalous”.

His words opened up old sores on the question of Paris versus the ‘provinces’. Here, The Local speaks to two well-placed officials who put up a stout defence of the French capital.

Jean-Paul Huchon, President of the Regional Council for Île-de-France:

“To put the Île-de-France region in proper perspective, let’s look at a few figures. One French person out of every five lives in Île-de-France, and the region produces 29% of France’s GDP.

“Île-de-France is the world’s biggest tourist region, and six million people work here. That’s the real privilege of the region, being home to France’s biggest labour pool.

“The region doesn’t receive any sort of special treatment. Like any other global metropolis – New York, Shanghai – Île-de-France has real challenges in areas like transport, jobs, housing, and they call for exceptional measures.

“On the question of whether the Paris region receives too much investment, the fact is that for 30 years this region was left abandoned.

“Transport investments were made in the TGV network, and not in the Paris metro, or the RER [regional rail network].

“Those two rail systems represent 40 percent of French train traffic, despite only covering ten percent of the country’s territory.

“When it comes to the ‘Grand Paris’ plan, it’s the local economy that is paying for it – up until now, funding for the ‘Grand Paris Express’ has been based on revenue from local taxes.

“This project is a chance to develop the economy of our region. It will build up our ability to attract foreign capital and investment, create 250,000 jobs and improve the lives of millions living in Île-de-France.”

“The Grand Paris Express will be an engine for the regional economy, and will benefit the entire French economy as well.”

Gilles Mergy, the general delegate for the Association of French Regions (ARF):

“Paris represents the lungs of the country, so it’s positive to invest in the French capital. The Grand Paris project is needed because Paris and the Île-de-France region is the heart of the country’s economic activity and it will have a positive knock-on effect for the rest of France.

"We have to remember that some of the poorest areas in the country are in the Île-de-France region. These cannot be forgotten about.

“We cannot afford to have a war between our own regional territories so that Île-de-France is positioned against the rest of the country. There needs to be a unified approach.

“There is often a feeling of jealousy in the provinces towards Paris, because it is a big city, with big business and money. Even in football we see it, now that the Qataris have bought Paris Saint-Germain.

“There is also an onus on the local authorities throughout France to boost their regional economies to try to make the country more equal and to discourage the population all moving to Paris. They have to promote their territory and the companies that are there.

“We have to remember that this is not just about Paris versus the rest of France. There also needs to be equality between the departments, within each region, because there is a risk companies will simply move 100km down the road, if financial conditions are better there.

“Since 1982, France has become less centralized and the regions need to have more independent power to make their own decisions. We do need to move towards more decentralization."

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Revealed: The fastest way to get across Paris

Car, moped, public transport, or electric bicycle - which means of transport is the quickest way to get across Paris?

Revealed: The fastest way to get across Paris

One intrepid reporter for French daily Le Parisien decided to find out. 

The challenge was simple. Which mode of transport would get the journalist from the heart of Fontenay-sous-Bois in the eastern suburbs to the newspaper’s office on Boulevard de Grenelle, west Paris, fastest?

Over four separate journeys, each one in the middle of rush hour, the electric bicycle was quickest and easiest. More expensive than conventional bikes, electric bikes do come with a government subsidy.

The journey was described as ‘pleasant and touristy’ on a dry but chilly morning going via dedicated cycle lanes that meant the dogged journalist avoided having to weave in and out of traffic.

It took, in total, 47 minutes from start to finish at an average speed of 19km/h, on a trip described as “comfortable” but with a caveat for bad weather. The cost was a few centimes for charging up the bike.

In comparison, a car journey between the same points took 1 hour 27 minutes – a journey not helped by a broken-down vehicle. Even accounting for that, according to the reporter’s traffic app, the journey should – going via part of the capital’s southern ringroad – have taken about 1 hr 12.

Average speed in the car was 15km/h, and it cost about €2.85 in diesel – plus parking.

A “chaotic and stressful” moped trip took 1 hour 3 minutes, and cost €1.30 in unleaded petrol.

Public transport – the RER and Metro combined via RER A to Charles-de-Gaulle-Étoile then Metro line 6 to the station Bir-Hakeim – took 50 minutes door to door, including a 10-minute walk and cost €2.80. The journey was described as “tiring”.

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