Marseille: a moment to seize

Editorial of the “World”. Everything is out of the ordinary in the three-day trip that the President of the Republic begins, Wednesday 1er September, in the Phocaean city. The first surprise comes from the climate in which it takes place. At the start of the 2020 school year, the rag was burning between local elected officials and the central power, accused of wanting to impose its health law on the second largest city in France. The iconoclast professor Didier Raoult, who praised hydroxychloroquine in the treatment of Covid-19, then symbolized the spirit of resistance. Today, the microbiologist’s star has turned so pale that he is being pushed into retirement. And elected officials play the card of reconciliation without complex, especially the mayor, Benoît Payan. The socialist has become the strong man of Marseille, after the disconcerting permutation of positions he operated in December 2020 with the ecologist Michèle Rubirola, victorious exit from the municipal campaign.

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The second surprise comes from the scale of the plan that Emmanuel Macron, flanked by seven ministers, will disclose. From education to security, including transport, urban renewal and the environment, the idea is to strike fast, hard and in all directions. Just for the renovation of schools, the financial effort could exceed one billion euros, and the whole plan cost several billion.

“A capital of the Mediterranean”

The pragmatism of the new socialist mayor, faced with bloodless finances after the twilight end of the reign of LR Jean-Claude Gaudin, does not explain everything. Something essential for the youth, integration and balance of the country is being played out in Marseille. The city, which has the youth of its population and its geography on its side, has set sad records in recent years, in particular because of the inertia of its administration, the rivalries between the different communities that manage it and the endemic clientelism of its elected officials. Almost half of the city’s schools are dilapidated, when not overrun by rats. The drama in rue d’Aubagne, with the death of eight people in November 2018, highlighted the scandal of unsanitary housing. The northern districts are plagued by drug trafficking that has bloodied the summer. Public transport, essential for opening up the city, has suffered from chronic underinvestment for forty years.

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In a recent interview with the journal Zadig, Emmanuel Macron had expressed his faith in the future of the city, assuring that “The coming decade will transform Marseille and make it a capital of the Mediterranean”. In March, a long interview with Benoît Payan had convinced him that, if the state and the city united their strength, a renaissance was possible. Beyond their political difference, the two men share the conviction that everything is linked: social and security, a strong investment in youth and public services, and the fight against mafia networks.

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The moment undoubtedly deserves to be greeted, because it contrasts with the culprit immobility of the last twenty years. However, it does not remove all doubts, because in the past a lot of public money has been put in Marseille. The stated ambitions can only be met if the city manages to equip itself with an efficient administration, capable of carrying projects, federating funding, consuming credits and above all directing them. The creation of “Ad hoc structures” associating the State and the communities, in order to ensure the good management of the committed funds, is certainly promised, but the vagueness remains so great that it will be necessary to wait for the concrete results to begin to really believe in a reinvention of Marseilles.

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