The War of Notre-Dame-des-Landes Airport (NDDL)
The Government took a Big Decision. And thus the President executed his first major volte-face.
After more than 50 years bitter debate, Prime Minister Philippe announced that construction of the, by now, €600 million Major New Airport of Western France had been definitively abandoned. Dreamt up in the mid-Sixties, the project to transfer ‘modest’ Nantes Airport to NDDL had died several deaths over the decades. But it was re-launched in the early 2000’s as a means of giving the local economy a major boost.
18 months ago, the million voters of the Loire-Atlantique Department were invited to pronounce, in a local referendum, on the construction of NDDL. Over 51% voted. The Ayes clearly won (55%-45%). Hollande’s Government – which must have thought that calling a referendum would be a good way to deflect criticism – said NDDL would now proceed. And that decision to proceed was vigorously supported by the Loire-Atlantique Council, the Nantes Mayor and most local politicians.
The NDDL future airport area had been nominated a Zone d’Aménagement Différé or ZAD (ie ‘Future Development Zone’) giving land-purchase rights to developers of major projects. Groups of Zadistes (geddit?) – activists engaged in protecting a Zone à défendre (zone which needs defending) – emerged all over NDDL as it became a cause célèbre. ‘Resistance’ to the NDDL project, and its prospective destruction of agricultural land for an airport, attracted hundreds – and, for ‘special events’, ten(s) of thousands – of anti-capitalists, ecologists, zadistes and probably even a member (or three) of the renowned, much more violent, Black bloc of neo-anarchists. Many set up permanent camp. Some started agricultural collectives on the future airport site. All were united in solid opposition to the NDDL development by any physical means whatsoever.
Candidate Macron had unambiguously announced his active support for the NDDL project just before the Presidential Election: ‘There’s been a vote. I very much want that vote to be respected and to proceed’ (April 2017) Prime Minister Philippe had also expressed total support for the local vote. Yet, post-election, President Macron gave himself time (and wiggle room) by appointing 3 ‘mediators’ for a final 6 months’ review of NDDL, even after all the legal processes had been exhausted.
As late as last weekend it appeared likely the NDDL project would proceed. Talk was of maybe as many as 2,500 gendarmes being readied for action to clear the site. Mutterings emerged of comrade-zadistes preparing to come from all over Europe to fight against the onward march of ‘development’. And then the project was definitively abandoned in exchange for expansion of the existing Nantes/Rennes airports.
Reactions to this surprise decision varied:
- ‘Courageous’ shouted just about everyone not in one of the Old Classic Parties
- ‘Denial of democracy’ bellowed Républicains, and most Socialists (especially local ones – ‘betrayal’ said the Mayor of Nantes, as local residents rushed Courtwards)
- ‘An error … which legitimises other violent behaviour’ said former Socialist PM Valls (who’d called the 2016 referendum) and who, until now, had solidly backed Macron
- Hulot – Environment Minister/environmentalist who’d previously characterised NDDL as a ’20th century project’ which was ‘ruinous, inhuman and useless” – displayed zen satisfaction, calling it the ‘least worst solution’; enjoy Hulot’s studied non-triumphalism scoring His First Environment Victory as, eyes symbolically scanning the skies, he stands alongside the Premier administering NDDL’s Last Rites
Different responses are emerging from
- the prospective NDDL developer/concessionaire, Vinci, who are pondering a c. €350 million claim for having this profitable concession snatched from their maw … but who will certainly pause as they reflect on the potential impact of any claim on Vinci’s own management of 2 about-to-be-greatly-expanded local airports
- the overjoyed zadistes (some having been on site for a decade), with their pleasure tempered by hearing they’d 3 months to quit the terrain and a week to unblock the roads; who likes a struggle being snatched away at the very moment when it looks as though international headlines will be yours for defending Mother Earth against the onward March of Capitalism?
The War of the (Currently) Unpublished Pamphlets
‘Alongside Marcel Proust, Céline is considered one of the greatest French novelists and stylists of the twentieth century, notably for his 1932 masterpiece, Voyage au bout de la nuit (Journey to the End of the Night). He is also recognized as a vile anti-Semite, xenophobe, misogynist, misanthropist, and early pro-Nazi who nourished the general defeatist spirit before and during the war and who, through his writings and articles, infused into French society a deeply insidious anti-Semitism. ‘ (Poirier, New York Review of Books).
Gallimard’s proposed re-publication of 3 deeply antisemitic pamphlets written by Céline between 1937 – 1941, and out of print since 1945, produced virulent criticism of the decision.
Macron’s Ministers responded to the protests with enviably balanced and nuanced non-responses. Prime Minister Philippe told Le Journal de Dimanche ‘There are excellent reasons for hating the man [Céline] but you can neither ignore the author nor his central place in French literature. I’m not frightened by the publication of these pamphlets, but they would need to be carefully annotated.’ The Minister of Higher Education on France 3 TV commented that ‘In Universities there are no banned books. What’s important is to explain the context, why something’s been written …’
Ministers were then able to duck out of the uncomfortable no-win debate when Gallimard changed its mind about publication. However, for those wishing to reflect on the publisher’s possibly baser motives do read Agnes Poirier’s good NYRB article.
The War of Vive la Différence
Some may, as I did, have felt utterly bewildered by the open letter from 100 French women (including The Blessed Catherine Deneuve) to Le Monde ‘responding’ to #MeToo (and the French #BalanceTon Porc #SquealOnYourPig). Published under the title ‘We defend the freedom to pester women, essential for sexual freedom’ the letter was brilliantly timed for the day after the Golden Globes and Simone de Beauvoir’s birthday.
They condemned a ‘return of Puritanism … making women eternal victims’. ‘Rape is a crime’ they wrote ‘but insistent or clumsy flirting is not a crime, nor is a man being gentlemanly a macho attack’. They characterised the ‘legitimate protests against the sexual violence that women are subject to, particularly in their professional lives’ as having become nothing more than ‘a witch-hunt’.
An astonishing sentence urged women ‘not to feel forever traumatized’ by what the letter called minor sexual harassment, eg men who masturbate by rubbing themselves against women on buses or subways. They said women could ‘consider it the expression of a great sexual misery, or even a non-event.’
At least (at last) this time a Minister emerged who didn’t feel it necessary to produce a mealy-mouthed response. Marlène Schiappa, Minister for Equality for Women and Men, vigorously pointed out the dangers of such statements: ‘It’s an enormous struggle to help young women understand that men … who masturbate by rubbing against women in the Metro are committing a sexual assault which can be punished by up to 3 years in prison and a €75,000 fine. It’s difficult enough to tell those young women that they should not feel ashamed and should not feel guilty’.
For those possibly feeling baffled by the 100 Women’s letter, here’s another Poirier article – for The Observer – on contrasting visions of French feminism.
And what of Le Monde in all this? Its lengthy explanation (by the Readers’ Editor) of the letter’s origins revealed a sensitivity, not to say soreness, at having gained an unwanted worldwide notoriety. Those possibly unaware of how open letters get to appear in Le Monde have condemned it for a thoroughly unacceptable editorial line.
War of the Conservative Right
For nearly 30 years from 1976, France’s main right-wing political Party had been the RPR: emerging from Gaullism, it was Chirac’s Party. He was its President, and remained so until he and Alain Juppé jointly created a new Party of the Right, transforming the RPR into the UMP. Juppé – later President Chirac’s Foreign Minister and Prime Minister – was at the very centre (in all senses) of the UMP throughout its life. Finally, in 2015, the UMP (under Sarkozy) became today’s Les Républicains.
So when Juppé announced, a week ago, that he hadn’t paid his 2017 dues as a member of the UMP and had no intention of doing so for 2018, that was really rather big news for France’s main conservative Party. Who’s moved: Juppé or Les Républicains?
Juppé may well claim he’s ‘standing back’ from his erstwhile Républicain Party as he watches it take active strides ever-rightwards, under Wauquiez’s leadership, chasing Eurosceptics who’ve latterly felt more at home in the Front National. But Juppé’s not alone. Last weekend, former Minister Bussereau announced that, in the light of statements expressed by Les Républicains ‘which could be those of the FN’, coupled with an absence of ‘love for Europe’, he would no longer be a member of Les Républicains.
The once-successful coalition that was The Left has apparently irreversibly shattered, so why not the Right too? But where will these erstwhile Moderate Right politicians go? The direct transfer to the President’s En Marche Party seems to have come to a halt. Are they going to set up on their own, as Candidate Macron once did himself? Maybe they just recognise that there’s no longer space for them in the current political spectrum.
The War of Britain v France (again and again)
Enjoy Mrs May slaughtering the French language for all of 2 sentences at the post-Macron Summit. She can’t even get her mouth around ‘Royaume Uni‘. And this was well before they got to the V&A. Not since the glory glory days of Ted Heath has Britain been able to display such disdain for others’ languages. May’s risible French is to be embarrassingly found at 21:10 below:
The Prime Minister spoke (and said remarkably little) over 9 mins [but then she is the person of whom The Economist‘s Bagehot column wrote last week, commenting on her having been chosen faute de mieux as Conservative Party leader, ‘Even her most conspicuous defect-the fact that she had never knowingly said anything of any interest about anything-looked in those desperate times like a virtue’]. The President on the other hand spoke (and said rather a lot) for 16 minutes.
This means war