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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

Macron restarts reform drive as opponents prepare for battle

French President Emmanuel Macron will get a taste of public resistance to his second-term reform agenda this week during the first nationwide strike called since his re-election in April.

Macron restarts reform drive as opponents prepare for battle

The 44-year-old head of state has pledged to push ahead with raising the retirement age having backed away from the explosive issue during his first five years in power.

But having lost his parliamentary majority in June, the pro-business centrist faces severe difficulties passing legislation, while galloping inflation is souring the national mood.

Despite warnings from allies about the risk of failure, Macron has tasked his government with hiking the retirement age to 64 or 65 from 62 currently, with changes to start taking effect next year.

“I’m not pre-empting what the government and the parliament will do, but I’m convinced it’s a necessity,” Macron told the BFM news channel last Thursday.

With deficits spiralling and public debt at historic highs, the former investment banker argues that raising the retirement age and getting more people into jobs are the only ways the state can raise revenue without
increasing taxes.

On Thursday, France’s far-left CGT union, backed by left-wing political parties, has organised a national day of strikes, the opening shot in what is expected to be a months-long tussle.

Though the protests were originally planned to demand wage increases, they are now intended to signal broad opposition to the government’s plans.

“We’re against the raising of the retirement age,” Philippe Martinez, the head of the CGT, told the LCI broadcaster last week. “The government’s arguments don’t stack up.”   

Unpopular

Public opinion towards pension reform and the strikes is likely to be decisive in determining whether Macron succeeds with a reform he called off in 2020 in the face of protests and Covid-19.

An opinion poll last week from the Odoxa group found that 55 percent of respondents did not want the reform and 67 percent said they were ready to support protests against it.

But a separate survey from the Elabe group gave a more nuanced picture. It also found that only a minority, 21 percent, wanted the retirement age increased, but a total of 56 percent thought the current system no longer worked and 60 percent thought it was financially unsustainable.

“I don’t know anyone who wants to work for longer, but I don’t know anyone who thinks they are not going to work for longer,” a minister close to Macron told AFP last week on condition of anonymity.

“Maybe I’m mistaken but I’m not sure that the turnout will be as large as the unions and LFI are hoping for,” he said, referring to the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) political party that has backed the strikes.

The second decisive factor will be how the government introduces the reform in parliament where Macron’s allies are around 40 seats short of a majority.

Some favour slipping it into a social security budget bill that will be voted on in October — a stealthy move that will be denounced as under-handed by critics.

Others think more time should be taken for consultations with trade unions and opposition parties, even though they have all ruled out working with the government.

Macron prefers the quicker option, one senior MP told AFP on condition of anonymity.

In both scenarios, observers expect the government to resort to a controversial constitutional mechanism called “article 49.3” that allows the executive to ram legislation through the national assembly without a vote.

If opposition parties unite against the measure or call a no-confidence motion in the government, they could trigger new elections.

The reform was “ballsy but dangerous,” one ally told French media last week.

Macron II

Success with the pension reform and separate changes to the unemployment benefits system will help the president re-launch his image as a reformer, experts say.

Since winning a historic second term in April, he has been caught up in the Ukraine war crisis amid reports the parliamentary election setback in June left him disoriented and even depressed.

“We’ve slightly lost the narrative of Macronism,” political scientist Bruno Cautres, a researcher at Sciences Po university in Paris, told AFP recently.

The challenge was giving the second term a “direction” and showing “how it builds on the results of the first”, he said.

“The essence of Macronism, which does not have a long history, is the leader and the programme,” added Benjamin Morel from Paris II university.

Since being elected as France’s youngest-ever president in 2017, Macron has made overhauling social security and workplace regulation part of his political DNA.

“Emmanuel Macron can’t easily back away from a reform because burying a reform, it’s like disavowing himself,” Morel said.

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