Paris’s Future Governance – An Interview with Pierre Mansat

As Paris’s Deputy Mayor in charge of “Paris Métropole” and relations with the region’s other local governments, Pierre Mansat is at the center of the debate regarding Paris’s governance.

I had a chance to sit down with him and discuss the historic changes underway following the Prime Minister’s announcement last month of the creation of a new metropolitan entity for Paris.

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Knowing that the readers of this blog are mostly international, how would you portray for them the importance of the Nouveau Grand Paris announced by Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on March 6th?

Pierre Mansat

The importance of Jean-Marc Ayrault’s announcement is above all in the unification of two projects: on one hand the transportation project that associates the mobilization plan and Grand Paris Express and thereby gives a true view of the transportation network in 2030; on the other hand the governance project that marks the political birth of the metropolis.

This unification is very important because it gives form and readability to the metropolitan project. Until now, the general public thought that Grand Paris was just a transportation scheme. Now we finally present a global project that will address the urgent problems of the urban area: not just transportation, but also housing, emergency social services, and so forth…

How does this announcement fit into the history of Paris, which has the particularity of a very highly fragmented governance?

Until the middle of the twentieth century, the whole territory of France was structured in the same way, with municipalities, départements, and regions.

With the rapid development of urban areas, the laws passed in 1966 and 1999 and then the decentralization laws of 2004 and 2010 created and reinforced inter-municipal cooperation entities (EPCI), thus responding to the governance needs of most French metropolitan areas.

The configuration applicable to the other French metropolitan areas, where the core city and its suburbs form an inter-municipal entity, was not applied to the Paris urban area, which is at a much vaster scale. On the contrary, the inter-municipal entities that took form around Paris are like counterweights to Paris – which is not negative, on the contrary. Nevertheless, it had become urgent for the Paris metropolitan area to act together.

That is why the new draft law is historic. It finally addresses the special needs of Paris: to act together while acknowledging the polycentrism of the Paris metropolis. I am very happy that the government has responded to the proposals of Paris Métropole in this direction: to fill in the map of inter-municipalities and create a metropolitan entity.


What do you think the role of the départements will be?

I have always felt that in order to build the metropolis we needed to bring the stakeholders together around a shared project. You can’t trample over what exists, you need to build the new based on what you have.

Some will say that the Paris metropolis will just add to an overly-complex multi-layered administrative organization, but I do not think it does. I think the new and strengthened tools – the intermunicipalities and the metropolitan entity – are the right ones to carry forward the project that we collectively believe in for the metropolis: that of a polycentric and attractive metropolis that stands together. If there is to be a rationalization between different administrative structures at some point, it will occur naturally. But first, let’s put the project on the rails!

As things are, the département is the most effective administrative level to organise social services. In the future we will see, perhaps at some point these responsibilities will end up being transferred to the intermunicipalities. But today the lay-out of the intermunicipalities is not yet completely determined and we need everyone to come together to make the Paris metropolis work.

Do you think Métropole de Paris will be effective and influential with its initial responsibilities? How do you see its role evolving?

All the functions of a world city cannot be handled by a single entity, at a single scale. If you consider the logistical functioning of Paris as a basin of consumption, which is a significant issue for the metropolis, the logic would be to define Grand Paris up to its main port, Le Havre. For other matters, such as urban development and housing, policy needs to focus on the dense urban area to be effective, because that’s where you find the needs and the challenges. That is especially true because we are aware of the large-scale environmental issues and believe in the need to contain the expansion of our metropolitan areas.

I therefore believe that the structure put forward in the draft law, cast at the scale of the urban unit and relying on the intermunicipalities, is relevant for its initial responsibilities: urban development and housing, but also the energy transition and emergency social services.

Of course the structure will evolve further. But the approach proposed in the draft law is an essential step in the construction of the Paris metropolis. One could imagine that at some point the responsibilities of the metropolitan entity might be expanded, but let’s not go too fast. The challenges faced in the areas defined by the draft law are already very considerable. What’s more, the effectiveness of the metropolitan entity will also depend on the operational tools available, and we still have a great deal of work to do in that area.


Can you comment the nature of relations between the local governments in Paris’s urban area?

Until 2001, Paris ignored its neighbors. Relations between Paris and the neighboring municipalities were unbalanced and the image of a hegemonic relationship between Paris and its suburbs was omnipresent.

With Bertrand Delanoë [Mayor of Paris since 2001], we have sought to break with that history. We started many cooperative initiatives with other local governments on a broad set of subjects.

We also brought the local governments around the table to work together on our common future. The exchanges that were born in this way, first as part of the metropolitan conference in 2009 and then in the framework of the Paris Métropole coalition, took place on a basis of equality – at Paris Métropole each local government gets one vote – and with the constant objective of improving the quality of life of the people living in the metropolis. That method and those objectives, very different from those of Nicolas Sarkozy’s Grand Paris, now are a consensus among the local governments, and will remain.

I believe that completing the map of the intermunicipalities – or of municipal cooperative structures – will allow each stakeholder to find its place, its role, in the metropolis. There will no longer be Paris and its suburbs, but some thirty entities that, with their particularities, will together constitute the metropolis.

Do you believe that Métropole de Paris will really allow the Paris metropolitan region to make up the shortfall of new housing built with respect to the political objectives

The elected officials of the metropolis’s local governments all agree on the need to build more housing, and even the quantified objective of 70,000 units a year is widely voiced, which was not the case not so very long ago. With the creation of Métropole de Paris on January 1st, 2016, the conditions seem to me to be gathered to achieve that goal.


What feedback have you received from those living and voting in the metropolitan region since the announcement of Nouveau Grand Paris?

It is too early to say. March 6th was very recent, and the announcements on the transportation network have focalized attention.

But in the last quarter of 2012, Paris Métropole organized twenty or so public debates across the whole metropolitan area. They were a great success: more than 3,000 people had a chance to express their expectations, their complaints, and their hopes for Grand Paris.

We must continue in this direction, more closely associating the people living here in the process of building the metropolitan project. Especially once the decentralization law is consolidated, we, who hold elected positions, will have an important role to play by making the new organization clear and by bringing people together around the project.

Related posts:

Grand Paris Takes Off

The Struggle for a Bigger Paris

Le Grand Paris – Part 1: The Launch

Seine Rive Gauche

3 thoughts on “Paris’s Future Governance – An Interview with Pierre Mansat

  1. Stephane Post author

    Comment by Eduardo Rojas:

    It is encouraging to see a great city coming to terms with its metropolitan problems. The approach adopted is promising: a group of specialized entities dealing with concrete issues under the control of all the municipalities involved. This approach works better that the creation of supra municipal entities. There are few experiences of two tier structures for integrated metropolitan governance and they all face the issue of the “dominance of the central city”, Paris would have faced the same issue.

    It will be interesting to follow the process since as the saying goes “the devil is in the details”. I presume that the different entities will have different geographical areas of jurisdiction depending on the issues they tackle (for the logistics Would it include Le Havre?, How many municipalities in the region will need to join the entity in charge of housing? and so on).

    However, I think that the crux of the matter will be financial: How do the entities share the burden of the increasingly costly solutions to metropolitan problems? It is well known that integrated metropolitan transportation systems need significant subsidies (fully justified on the positive externalities they generate), Who is going to pay for the subsidies? The richer municipalities? The Region? The Central Government? Affordable housing is another thorny issue, particularly in cities where housing is expensive. Will the entity in charge of housing have sufficient resources to integrate the new affordable housing into the urban structure or will be forced to build them in the suburban areas where land is cheaper? The sooner these issues are dealt with the better.

    There are many cities around the world struggling with their metropolitan issues. The French experience is often quoted for the inter-muncipal cooperation entities operating in several urban agglomerations, the proposals for Paris sound different. It would be interesting to closely observe the process, particularly the negotiations for the transfer of responsibilities and resources to the new entities. Particularly since the process will have to deal with the transparency and accountability issues that special metropolitan agencies face. Being technical in focus and controlled by municipalities, they are at least two steps removed from public scrutiny and tend to have little sensitivity for local issues (at least much less that municipalities). There are no easy answers to these questions but some basic precautions would prevent the worst ill-effects of this problem: for instance, establishing the obligation to publish their accounts and contracts, establish consultative boards with the involvement of the community, decentralize the management structure throughout the metropolis, and the like.

    I will be watching this experience with interest.

  2. stephanekirkland Post author

    Response to Eduardo Rojas:
    Thank you for your thoughtful observations. I especially was interested in your thoughts on the two-tiered structure.
    You put your finger on the area that concerns me most: how to ensure public scrutiny on an entity which is basically a club of elected officials, with no direct accountability. I outlined this concern in an earlier piece, The Struggle for a Bigger Paris.
    Unfortunately France is not great at ensuring transparency and disclosure. It would be great if Paris could follow best practice examples in this area.

  3. stephanekirkland Post author

    Comment from Alex Gooding:
    It’s interesting how both the metropolitan governance and transport debates in Paris are echoed in some respects by those in Australia. For example, with the exception of Brisbane most major Australian cities have a high degree of local government fragmentation, somewhat similar to Paris though not on the same scale. Sydney, with a population of 4.6 million, has 44 councils while Perth with 1.7 million has 30 councils.
    In Australia it is the state governments which are the de facto city managers; most states have only one major city which holds most of the state’s population. However it s fair to say that most governments have not done a particularly good job of managing the major cities, a problem made more difficult by the number of councils.
    Partly as a result of this, separate independent inquiries have recommended amalgamations (among other local government reforms) but as in Paris these are strongly resisted by the affected councils. Also as in Paris the only alternatives are what we call Regional Organisations of Councils (ROCs) which are the equivalent of your voluntary inter-municipal entities. However these have limited powers and receive varying degrees of support from the member councils (I should know, I ran one of these for 12 years).
    For various reasons the state governments in New South Wales and Western Australia have declined to make amalgamations compulsory so there is a lot of interest in what sort of incentives would encourage councils to amalgamate. The inquiries also looked at ways to strengthen the role of the inter-municipal entities, including the concept of a Councils of Mayors or similar body. One of these already operates in Brisbane which has much larger and fewer councils than the other major cities.
    In relation to transport there are other similarities. Australia does not have any metros as such; instead the major cities have suburban rail services which in Melbourne and particularly Sydney provide partial underground metro-like services in the inner-city. Sydney is unique in Australia and perhaps the world in that it has a completely double-deck self-powered (ie not loco hauled) fleet, so the service I guess is a bit like a cross between the German Regionalbahn and S-bahn, run by trains similar to the Paris RER.
    However the NSW government wants to build a new line to the rapidly-growing outer north-western suburbs, an area which has seen major growth but little investment in infrastructure. However instead of building a line that is integrated with the rest of the network it wants it to be built as a single-deck metro service (we’re talking 40km from the CBD) that is constructed and run by a separate private operator and which can’t be easily integrated.
    A lot of people are concerned at this decision which seems to have been made purely on cost grounds. As in Paris it has occurred partly because of the disconnect between transport and strategic planning and metropolitan governance, or at least meaningful local government engagement in these governance processes.
    As time goes on I’d be very interested if you could forward or post any information about both the Paris Metropole and the new transport plan. I’d also be very grateful if you could tell me more about how the inter-municipal entities work in Paris.
    Thanks again for your posts.

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