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Macron reveals €1.5 billion plan to regenerate Marseille

French President Emmanuel Macron unveiled a €1.5 billion plan on Thursday to help Marseille tackle crime and deprivation, as the southern city's woes rise up the agenda ahead of elections next year.

Macron reveals €1.5 billion plan to regenerate Marseille
Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during a visit to Marseille, on September 2nd. Photo: Guillaume HORCAJUELO / POOL / AFP.

Macron’s aides said much of the money would be spent on improving transport in France’s second-biggest city, as well as investing in culture. The president had already outlined other measures, including boosting the number of police and surveillance cameras in crime-wracked neighbourhoods.

Crime levels in Marseille are lower than they have been in the recent past, but a recent surge in deadly shootings has moved the city’s long-standing social problems higher up the political agenda.

During his three-day visit to the city, Macron has called drug networks “parasites” and said traffickers would now be “harassed” by the authorities.

He said it was now “the duty of the nation” to help, and that improving conditions in the city of 900,000 people would be “good for the whole country”.

But Marseille has seen many grand plans in the past with little effect, and some locals were sceptical. “We see you today but we’ll never see you again, that’s why we’re asking you to do something for the housing estates of Marseille,” said Bilal, a 32-year-old bin collector.

Here are the key takeaways from the President’s announcements.

Fighting the drugs trade

Macron began by addressing the main reason Marseille has drawn national attention in recent weeks: crime. “Crime is becoming more and more violent, largely linked to drug trafficking,” he said.

While the southern port city is renowned for its spectacular Mediterranean setting, some neighbourhoods are notorious for their rundown streets and desolate housing estates.

Its northern districts are some of the most deprived urban areas in France and serve as the hub for the narcotics trade.

READ ALSO Why has a former French Prime Minister suggested flattening Marseille?

Police say 12 people have been killed over the last two months in what appears to be a drugs turf war.

Earlier this year Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin announced an extra 300 police officers for the city over the next three years. 100 of those are already in place, and the President announced that a further 200 would be brought forward, arriving “as early as 2022”.

Macron added that 500 additional surveillance cameras would be placed in the most dangerous neighbourhoods, and the temporary deployment of two anti-riot police contingents extended indefinitely.

“Living in peace is a right, including for the women, men and families living in these neighbourhoods,” he said.

An additional €8 million will be invested in equipment for police investigations, 222 new police cars and motorbikes will be delivered from next summer, and the city’s police will get a new €150 million headquarters.

Macron also promised more police cooperation at the EU level to hunt down the leaders of narcotics networks.

RER ‘à la Marseillaise

Macron also announced his ambition to ‘open up’ Marseille to the rest of the Mediterranean coast. He promised €1 billion of funding, of which €250 million will be grants, to improve local transportation networks. Much of this will go towards the automation of the metro, and the creation of four new tram lines and five bus routes.

Marseille, a city of 860,000 people, has just two metro lines which date back to the 1970s, as well as three tram lines.

The President also announced funding for the creation of Marseille’s answer to the RER train lines, which link Paris to its suburbs, the refurbishment of the Saint-Charles station, and a new Marseille – Nice train line.

Addressing social problems

In order to combat the city’s social ills, Macron said €17 million would be invested in creating meeting spaces, renovating social and cultural facilities, and recruiting 30 new educators and 30 mediators to help community relations.

READ ALSO Marseille: Why Hollywood can’t get enough of France’s ‘gritty city’

The President’s aides later added that funding would be provided to improve sub-standard housing. Poor quality housing has long been an issue in Marseille, something brought into stark focus by the building collapse in 2018.

‘Schools of the future’

Aides also said there would be funding to help renovate 174 of the city’s dilapidated schools. During his speech, Macron bemoaned the state of the city’s school buildings but said “we are not going to create a precedent” by taking over responsibility from local authorities. However, he added: “If I let Marseille go it alone, it’s simple, these children will live with schools that won’t be renovated at the right pace”.

The state of the buildings is not the only problem facing the city’s schools, however.

The President said he wanted to “invent here the school of the future”, announcing that 50 “laboratory” schools would be chosen to test new methods from September 2022. Notably, these include letting school heads choose their teaching staff. The idea is that only teachers who are fully motivated to teach in “difficult neighbourhoods” would be recruited in those areas.

Healthcare

Another key focus of the speech was healthcare, with Macron announcing €169 million for the refurbishment of the Timone and Nord hospitals, and the construction of a building for paramedics.

He added that doctors will be given grants in the coming months to set up practices in Marseille. “In the heart of the second city in France, there are medical deserts,” he said.

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POLITICS

Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France’s disabilities minister

France's disabilities minister will not face a new inquiry "as things stand" over a rape allegation that surfaced just after his nomination by President Emmanuel Macron last week, prosecutors have said, citing the anonymity of the alleged victim.

Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France's disabilities minister

Damien Abad has faced growing pressure to resign after the news website Mediapart reported the assault claims by two women dating from over a decade ago, which he has denied.

One of the women, identified only by her first name, Margaux, filed a rape complaint in 2017 that was later dismissed by prosecutors.

The other woman, known only as Chloe, told Mediapart that in 2010 she had blacked out after accepting a glass of champagne from Abad at a bar in Paris, and woke up in her underwear in pain with him in a hotel room. She believes she may have been drugged.

She did not file an official complaint, but the Paris prosecutors’ office said it was looking into the case after being informed by the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics, a group formed by members of France’s MeToo movement.

“As things stand, the Paris prosecutors’ office is not following up on the letter” from the observatory, it said, citing “the inability to identify the victim of the alleged acts and therefore the impossibility of proceeding to a hearing.”

In cases of sexual assault against adults, Paris prosecutors can open an inquiry only if an official complaint is made, meaning the victim must give their identity.

Abad has rejected the calls to resign in order to ensure the new government’s “exemplarity,” saying that he is innocent and that his own condition of arthrogryposis, which limits the movement of his joints, means sexual relations can occur only with the help of a partner.

The appointment of Abad as minister for solidarities and people with disabilities in a reshuffle last Friday was seen as a major coup for Macron, as the 42-year-old had defected from the right-wing opposition.

The new prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, said she was unaware of the allegations before Abad’s nomination, but insisted that “If there is new information, if a new complaint is filed, we will draw all the consequences.”

The claims could loom large over parliamentary elections next month, when Macron is hoping to secure a solid majority for his reformist agenda. Abad will be standing for re-election in the Ain department north of Lyon.

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