Paris has become the symbol of the downgrading of France and the impoverishment of French people.
Montesquieu wrote that “It is the capital city that determines a people’s way of life; it is Paris that makes the French what they are.” Today, Paris has become the symbol of the downgrading of France and the impoverishment of French people. Its candidacy for the 2024 Olympic Games is a smokescreen to conceal the downward drift of a city that has become marginalized in the 21st century. The city cannot even claim to be the capital of all the provinces since other metropolises, notably Lyons, offer far more attractions.
The population of Paris and its surrounding area is slowly decreasing, whereas the population of Greater London has risen from 6.6 to 14 million since 1980. From an economic point of view, production is stagnating; hotels and shops are facing a historic crisis with 10% fewer foreign tourists in spite of Euro 2016 – and 25% fewer Asians. The result is a sharp rise in bankruptcies, which have reached the record levels of the 1993 and 2008 recessions. On the financial side, Paris ranks 37th in the world behind Johannesburg, and foreign investment has come to a halt here whilst progressing by 14% in the rest of Europe. On the labor front, 8% of the working population are unemployed whilst most European cities have full employment. From an urban point of view, numerous districts – from the 15th to the 20th arrondissements – have seen the arrival of ghettos; more and more migrant camps and unregulated markets are springing up. And, from an intellectual, academic, artistic and sporting point of view, Paris is no longer one of the cities that sets the pace worldwide.
The wave of attacks that have targeted Paris since 2015 and the intensity of the terrorist threat would appear to have speeded up its decline. But the real causes lie elsewhere.
First of all, Paris is a victim of the unsustainability of the French economic and social model, of high taxes and social contributions, the rigidity of the labor market, the laws and reglulations hostile to companies (the latest examples being the Sapin 2 bill and the proposal concerning the duty of vigilance). The state must take most of the blame for the deterioration in security which goes far beyond the violent burglary inflicted on Kim Kardashian. The same goes for the break-up of the public education system in the capital where, because of a system which now allocates students by algorithm, the Lycée Turgot has found itself with 87% of its scholarship students being allocated on social criteria with no account being taken of their abilites, results or merit.
But the policy of the city of Paris itself is also largely to blame. Instead of trying to attract brains, talent, entrepreneurs and capital, it is using the level of social housing to remodel the capital’s social make-up to the advantage of the municipal majority. The capital already has more than 220,000 units of social housing, i.e. 19% of all existing housing.
And yet nothing is being done to strengthen economic activity, to renovate the roads, to improve cleanliness or to invest in security, notably by videosurveillance. Such is the present level of insecurity and lack of hygiene that inhabitants of the 18th arrondissement have had the City found guilty by the Administrative Court of failing in its duty with regard to public order and maintenance. The inordinately high investment plan of 10 billion euros gives absolute priority to social housing (which accounts for 3 billion of the total) and yet the market is in no way in trouble. This has resulted in a speculative bubble around the finances of the city, whose debt will end up at 7.5 billion euros in 2020 as against 2.3 billion in 2008, the equivalent of 18 years of épargne brute [= operating income less operating expenditure]. Hence the creative accountacy denounced by the Chambre régionale des comptes (the Regional Accounts Authority) which consists of capitalizing 361 million rents by conventions concerning new social housing, creating fictional income and gaining the loyalty of client voters.
Paris is a city that has gone adrift. Its pretentions to compete with post-Brexit London are just pipe dreams. It is true that finance houses, with their jobs and assets, are preparing to leave London, but only New York, Frankfurt and Amsterdam are in the race to receive them.
Victor Hugo said that “to save Paris is more than to save France, it is to save the world.” It is senseless to hold the Olympic Games in a city in decline which is cutting itself off from youth and from the modern world of the 21st century. First of all, Paris must be turned back into a prosperous, modern and safe city that is open to globalization.
*A reference to the motto of the city of Paris: Fluctuat nec mergitur (tossed but not sunk).
(Column published in Le Point, 24th October 2016)