Macron reveals €1.5 billion plan to regenerate Marseille

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.
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’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.

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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.

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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.

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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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