France politics: Quick View - Government abandons controversial airport project

Content Type
Country Data and Maps
Institution
Economist Intelligence Unit
Abstract
No abstract is available.
Topic
Politics, News Analysis, Forecast, Political stability
Political Geography
France

Event

On January 17th Édouard Philippe, the prime minister, announced that the government had decided not to build a controversial airport at Notre Dame des Landes, near Nantes.

Analysis

The idea to build a major airport at Notre Dame des Landes first emerged in 1965. At the time France was hoping to develop the Nantes region, which also includes the port of Saint Nazaire, to make it "the Ruhr of the 21st century" by 1985. However, the project was subsequently dropped as France focused on building high-speed train lines instead. In 2000 Lionel Jospin, the then prime minister, resurrected the plan, with the intention of counterbalancing the hegemony of Paris, the capital, over other French cities. In 2010, after feasibility studies and public consultations were held, a French construction company, Vinci, was chosen to build and operate the airport over a 50-year period.

Activists started to demonstrate against the project in 2009, and soon chose to occupy the field where the airport was to be built to prevent Vinci from accessing the site. Over the years the police tried to evict the thousands of activists who lived in camps on the construction site, but to no avail. The project proved controversial both at national and local levels, as left-wing parties opposed building the airport for environmental reasons and right-wing parties argued that the government should evict the squatters using any means possible, even the military.

During his presidential campaign in 2017 Emmanuel Macron promised to build the airport; however, after his election he asked experts to write a report on the topic. Their assessment, released in December, was that it would be a better option to modernise the existing Nantes airport instead of building a new one, mainly for environmental and financial reasons. The government followed this advice, which pleased leftist voters but prompted massive criticism from voters on the right, who saw this decision as a sign that Mr Macron lacked political courage and disregarded potential business opportunities for political motives. According to a poll published by BVA, a pollster, Mr Macron's popularity had dropped by 4 percentage points, to 48%, at end-January. In the vicinity of Notre Dame des Landes Mr Macron's approval rating dropped from 66% at end-December to 34% at end-January.

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