On September 6th, the French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault summoned around 15 ministers for a special meeting regarding the city of Marseille, where recurring violence between criminal bands has drawn the country’s attention.
A burned corpse found in Marseille on September 3rd triggered controversies and a flow of criticism against the government. It is believed that criminals killed the man in retaliation, as the victim was well known by the Police. It was the twentieth case of this kind in Marseille since January and most of them may be linked to drug trafficking. Marseille is an major hub for various illegal activities.
The Right and the Left confront each other unceasingly regarding security issues and this case was a new way for the right-wing opposition to have its voice heard. Already facing criticisms of leniency and softness towards criminals, the government has had to prove its capacity to react strongly to such events. The government was even attacked by its own party when socialist Senator Samia Ghali, from Marseille, asked for armed forces to be sent in the city. The request was rejected.
Among the ministers invited by Ayrault were Interior Minister Manuel Valls, Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira, Minister of Territorial Equality and Housing François Lamy, Education Minster Vincent Peillon and Minister for the Disabled Marie-Arlette Carlotti. Carlotti is from Marseille. With all these ministers, the government intends to show that it is ready to find long-term solutions to the problems that plague Marseille and that it considers the problem as encompassing different urban issues.
That’s why, even before the reunion, Ayrault had announced that the solution could not be “only securitarian”, which means that a law and order approach would not be enough to solve the problem. Marseille, specifically in its northern parts, suffers from poverty, high rates of unemployment and urban troubles. The citizens of Marseille often expressed their concerns with votes for the extreme right and an underlying antagonism towards immigrants.
After this inter-ministerial meeting, Ayrault made a speech that gave a clear view of the government’s perspective. The Prime Minister qualified Marseille’s case as an “issue of national interest.”
He said that he was convinced that “the agglomeration of Marseillaise has all the potential to become a great metropolis.” It is the second most populated city in France. According to Ayrault, “this conviction is shared beyond the political cleavages and the historical difficulties of the dialogue between communities.”
Ayrault addressed the population of Marseillaise, wishing for it to “move forward.” Asserting that it was the population he was thinking first, he called “all the actors” from this “city so luminous” to act in common.
The government has decided to assign 205 new law enforcement officials, from the police and other branches, to the city. However the plan goes beyond increasing security forces. The city will be placed among the areas of safety priority. The goal would be also to reinforce the cooperation between the police and other services, for example Customs officials. The police will focus more actively on arms dealing. According to several sources, owning even heavy weapons has become commonplace in the worst neighborhoods.
Nevertheless, Ayrault’s most spectacular announcement among security measures was the creation of a new kind of police prefect in Marseille, similar to the one that exists only in Paris. It would be a full-time chief of all the police forces in the area of Marseille, with extended powers. This person would answer solely to the Minister of the Interior.
Valérie Boyer, UMP representative in the region of Marseille, declared for BFMT-TV that she was glad that Marseille would stop being divided into its southern and northern parts. Indeed, the government wants to put an end to social and “spatial segregation,” pledging that its plan would deal with Marseille and its surroundings has a whole.
The urban area around Marseille is divided in several different unions of cities called “community of communes,” a pattern which keeps any common policy from being implemented, especially when there are political differences at work. Ayrault gave the example of the chaotic transportation policy of the city.
Ayrault highlighted Marseille’s potential. More than a trafficking hub, Marseille is in a geographic position very favorable to economic activities and benefits from a great potential for innovation. According to the government, finding jobs for the poorest population of the urban areas in and around Marseille is the solution to many of its problems. For this reason, Ayrault denounced “the difficulties of the everyday life” including the failing transportation system that continues to get worse while “dwelling areas and jobs areas are moving away from each other.”
What Ayrault is proposing is uncommon within the paradigm of state intervention. Ayrault launched a plan which will put the state authority above the local authorities. Many commentators took the example of the well known latent hatred between the local authorities of Aix-en-Provence and those of Marseille, two cities which share a common urban area.
Marseille’s extraordinary case then raises a more general question: France consists of about 37.000 communes, the word which designates in French the smallest of administrative districts. This number represents more local administrative districts there is in all Europe. Indeed, in other European countries, for example in Italy, small cities are under the responsibility of larger cities, which allows common urban policies to be applied easily.
In France, from villages that count 100 citizens to large cities, each commune is run independently. There are raising criticisms against this administrative organization, stating that such complexity favors a lack of coherence and of transparency. The Ayrault plan attempts to deal with the issue of constantly competing system of local mayors that has lead to many of the inefficiencies and dysfunction that has come to be descriptive of the area.
Marseille’s case might have shed light on one of the plagues of the French urban areas – administrative inconsistency. Common great scale policies might bring fresh solutions to lasting urban troubles.