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In Search of Grand Paris: Pierre Mansat on the Eve of the June 2020 Municipal Elections

An interview by Magda Maaoui

Magda Maaoui interviews Pierre Mansat, former deputy mayor of Paris and a founding father of “le Grand Paris” (the metropolitan authority for Greater Paris), about Grand Paris and the limits of political action at the municipal level in light of the upcoming municipal elections.

Less than a week before 12 million Parisians vote in the second round of elections for their mayors and their municipal councils, which has now been delayed from March 22 to June 28 owing to the coronavirus lockdown, I interviewed Pierre Mansat, considered by many to be one of the founding fathers of “le Grand Paris” (hereafter simply Grand Paris), the metropolitan authority covering the city of Paris and its inner suburbs. [1] He initiated the creation of the Conférence Métropolitaine (“Metropolitan Conference”), a conference which Paris representatives and mayors of inner-ring suburbs first attended in 2006 to collectively address pressing planning issues.

Pierre Mansat was deputy mayor of Paris under Socialist Party mayor Bertrand Delanoë from 2001 to 2014, and at this time was also in charge of the association Paris Métropole [2], which sought to establish a dialogue with elected officials from neighboring suburbs. He was the president of the Atelier International du Grand Paris from 2011 to 2017, and is now delegate-general of the association La Ville en Commun. In 2014, he was appointed by the new mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, to closely monitor the application of the MAPTAM and NOTRe laws [3], which, among other measures, codified the creation of the Métropole du Grand Paris (“Metropolis of Greater Paris”) on January 1, 2016. On the eve of the second round of France’s 2020 municipal elections, he provides a historical contextualization and a pragmatic vision for Grand Paris. [4] In his view, the time has come to integrate the metropolitan project into electoral debates, not least because voters will, for the first time, also choose candidates for the Conseil de la Métropole du Grand Paris (Greater Paris Metropolitan Council), but also because the region is facing a crisis that calls for a post-Covid‑19 reinvention of its modus operandi.

Figure 1. Aerial and historical views of the Paris region, now and in 1950

Source: Géoportail, 1950–2020.

Magda Maaoui: In what way will the municipal elections of June 2020 have an impact on Grand Paris?

Pierre Mansat: What I fear very strongly is that candidates are once again focusing strictly on the municipal level, leaving the question of Grand Paris, and the issues it brings with it, on the margins. In the 2014 elections, I hoped that it would become a central topic, and that was absolutely not the case. The same logic is unfolding again, with mayors campaigning on strictly municipal issues, with perhaps some consideration for the intermunicipal level, since the EPTs [5] are also concerned by the election of municipal councilors. On the other hand, the institutional conversation we need to have about Grand Paris, and the challenges the project poses in terms of housing, reducing inequalities, fighting against pollution, addressing climate change, and public health threats, remain insignificant in the debates.

MM: The importance of integrating the metropolitan question into these debates echoes the very genesis of Grand Paris. You played a key role in the dialogue initiated by the city of Paris with the mayors of suburban municipalities (banlieues), during Bertrand Delanoë’s first term as mayor (2001–2008). What were the key moments in this dialogue?

PM: In 2001, the relationship between Paris and its banlieues was bad, without any common debate or strategy except for a few projects of minimal importance. This is why we first tried to improve the political dialogue between Paris and neighboring municipalities, before even raising the question of a Grand Paris metropolitan governance project. [6] In December 2001, an inaugural meeting took place with elected officials from the banlieues.

We launched cooperation protocols with the municipalities directly neighboring Paris at first, then expanded this to other municipalities, particularly on the question of housing. In 2001, Paris owned and managed some 20,000 social-housing units outside [its very tightly drawn] city limits, in the banlieues. This housing stock included some middle-income housing projects, as in La Celle-Saint-Cloud [12 km/7 miles to the west of Paris], but also large low-income social housing projects, as in Champigny-sur-Marne or Rosny-sous-Bois [around 14 km/9 miles to the east of Paris]. This generated a lot of dissatisfaction on the part of local elected officials, who were left out of management decisions and housing selection committees. We therefore included them in housing selection committees, which partly solved the problem, although these still managed less than 25% of the social-housing stock, with the rest managed by the prefecture of Paris. [7]

Between 2001 and 2005, fifteen cooperation protocols were signed, and hundreds of specific actions created the conditions for a political dialogue. That is when we decided to raise the question of a Grand Paris metropolitan governance project. Mayor Delanoë and I knew that this would be out of the question in 2001, but in 2005 the situation seemed favorable.

Quickly, the housing crisis became a central question. [8] Paris saw that it could not meet demand despite its efforts in terms of housing production, particularly for social housing. While it has gone from 13.4% social housing in 2001 to 22% today, the number of people seeking housing has stood at more than 200,000 since the early 2000s. It was clear to us at that time that the response to the housing crisis required a vision on a radically different scale. Each municipality could not fend for itself. Hence our call for the institutionalization of a metropolitan governance model. Many disagreements ensued on the institutional form that it should take, long after Manuel Valls formalized the Métropole du Grand Paris with its backbone, the Grand Paris Express transportation project. [9]

Even if we are not yet operating at the right scale in my opinion, we can note some progress. Elected officials are engaging in a dialogue and identifying common areas for work. [10] However, they still fail to agree on housing, as evidenced by the failure to vote the Metropolitan Housing Plan. [11] This illustrates how many elected officials still do not want to be forced by a larger institution into building social housing, even via a strategic plan whose scope is not as restrictive from a legal standpoint.

MM: Specifically, what does this failure to approve this plan imply, in the current context of municipal elections? What does it tell us about the political motivations of elected officials who, depending on their political persuasion, either simply don’t want to contribute to metropolitan social-housing construction efforts or argue that they want to preserve municipal autonomy from larger institutional interventions?

PM: One of the causes of the housing crisis is the selfish refusal of many municipalities to develop social housing. The Grand Paris councilor in charge of housing himself, Christian Dupuy, [12] was already against a restrictive housing plan in 2013, arguing that the only working plan for Grand Paris would have to be, at best, a strict compilation of each municipal housing program (programme local de l’habitat, or PLH). This refusal was expected, especially from towns led by conservative mayors who do not want to see these social-housing objectives imposed. Still, in the current context, it is also important not to overlook another motivation on the part of certain elected officials. I am thinking in particular of Communist Party councillors, who are the uncompromising defenders of municipal autonomy. For them, it is out of the question that a “supra-metropolitan” institution should dictate what housing strategy they must adopt. [13] I note with bitterness that housing was supposed to be one of the pillars of the Grand Paris metropolitan project, but 15 years later we are almost at a standstill, with strong imbalances between different areas, and between social and market-rate housing construction trends, even when production is on the rise.

MM: Elected officials from the banlieues have recently been touching upon these imbalances, particularly during the start of the coronavirus lockdown, pointing in particular to the burden carried by their municipalities in terms of social-housing maintenance and construction efforts. They call for more financial equalization. In your opinion, what model should we adopt?

PM: Income and budget inequality is baffling at the metropolitan level. If we want municipalities to retain their planning and policy prerogatives, we must also give them the financial means for that. I think that we should consider a model of financial equalization similar to the national model, which draws on notary fees called DMTOs (droits de mutation à titre onéreux, or property transfer duties). As a reminder, notary fees brought €1.4 billion to Paris in 2019, while the département of Seine-Saint-Denis [immediately to the northeast of Paris] levied only €170 million in 2019, [14] with decreasing revenues each year. Few people within Grand Paris want to have this conversation, when symbolically this would be a good way to redistribute revenues from the current real-estate boom that is making Paris as expensive as London or New York. I think that only a metropolitan governance structure elected by universal suffrage would allow us to move forward on this. If we wait for more than a hundred municipalities to agree upon financial equalization, it will never see the light of day.

MM: What assessment would you make of Grand Paris, on the eve of the municipal elections?

PM: The political class of Grand Paris does not know what metropolization is. It did not have a clue before March 2020, and it certainly did not have a clue during the coronavirus lockdown crisis. The political class is very attached to the municipal level, in a context where the interconnection of territories, daily mobility patterns and consumption models is considerable. This echoes a flaw I had noted back in 2001, when the notion of the “métropole”—or metropolis—was unknown to elected officials. I think that, even today, many elected officials still do not know what this word actually means. And yet, if we want metropolization not to generate more segregation and inequalities for Greater Paris, and as we rethink our post-Covid‑19 modus operandi, we must give ourselves the tools to control it, regulate it, orient it. And this cannot be done within the limits of each municipality.

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To cite this article:

Magda Maaoui & Pierre Mansat, “In Search of Grand Paris: Pierre Mansat on the Eve of the June 2020 Municipal Elections. An interview by Magda Maaoui”, Metropolitics, 26 June 2020. URL :

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Journal supported by the Institut des Sciences Humaines et Sociales (Institute of Human and Social Sciences) of the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS)