New plan to improve life in rural France drawn up

A slew of ministers are "on tour" in the French countryside to back a new plan to improve life in rural areas where doctors and other services are scarce, mobile phone coverage non-existent and the National Front is on the rise.

New plan to improve life in rural France drawn up
Life in rural France is not always easy. But the government wants to improve it. Photo: AFP
With regional elections around the corner, the French government are going on the offensive to show their concern for those living in the French countryside – with a campaign stating that the area is "A chance for France". 
No less than 11 ministers headed by bus to Laon in north-eastern France on Friday, including Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, Social Minister Marisol Touraine, Agricultural Minister Stéphane Le Foll, and Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who will be leading the charge, announced 50 measures aimed improving life for those in the countryside, mainly in the areas of – public services, digital connection, and health care.
"Rural life is too often associated with isolation," said Valls on Friday as he presented the plan aimed at "fighting the sense of abandonment" felt by those living in rural France.
The French PM said he would "triple" the number of points where people can access public services (maison des services publiques) in the French countryside within two years. 
He said the centres would be set up in local post offices to allow residents to carry out their administrative tasks in one place without having to travel to multiple locations often far from home.  
Valls said that one of the government's key plans was to connect the entire country by getting rid of the so-called "white zones", referring to the areas in 169 municipalities with no 2G connection, or no telecommunications at all. He said that all these areas would be totally connected "within 18 months".
He also announced plans to increase the number of health centres, pushing the total in the country passed the 800 mark this year, reported French newspaper Le Figaro.
More of his reforms are expected to be announced during the trip. 
Valls's tour is being seen in some quarters as a pre-emptive move against the far right National Front, which has a strong support base in rural France and many people associate with the ideas of Marine Le Pen's anti-EU, anti-immigration party.
It wasn't lost on many that the ministers chose to present the plan in Laon, which is in the departement of Aisne, which is expected to be taken by the National Front in the regional elections this month.
Valls insisted he wasn't campaigning, however.
Indeed, the question of how to keep alive the more remote areas of La France profonde has long been a contentious issue as more and more people head to the cities and shops and services close around those who remain.
Besides the poor phone coverage authorities have long been trying to tackle the issue of "medical deserts", referring to those rural areas that are without hospitals or even GP doctors.
France is one of the OECD countries that has the most number of doctors per head of population, but they are not evenly spread throughout the country.
In December the government announced measures to tackle the problem with a plan to make trainee doctors fulfill part of the training in those areas most in need.
The difficulties of life in rural France have taken their toll on farmers with a report in 2013, revealing that French farming was hit by a suicide every two days. Many farmers, particularly those rearing cattle and sheep, gave in to the intense pressures in a sector where costs have risen as profits fall. 
Meanwhile, other French people living in the countryside see a lack of amenities like shops and restaurants to be the biggest downside to country life, with shops closed on Sundays, often Mondays, and sometimes even Tuesdays too. 
Facebook follower David Thompson said that he wished there was better public transport in rural areas.
"If the car dies and we can't afford to replace it we are totally sunk," he wrote. (Join our Facebook discussions here).

However, as the French leave their sometimes dilapidated country homes in search of a better life in the cities, there are some areas that are seeing an unexpected light at the end of the tunnel – thanks to the expats who think renovating a French country home is the ultimate dream. 
The mayor of Salles Lavauguyon, François Beau, told The Local in August that the British had even "given some life back to these places", doing up properties that "would otherwise have fallen apart".

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