Le Pen Takes Aim at Cost of ‘Grand Paris’ Building Project

  • Far right French candidate at odds with industry on urban plan
  • Le Pen finds 30 billion-euro bill dangerous for state finances

A Paris building project costing more than 30 billion euros ($32 billion) to improve public transport has come under criticism from Marine Le Pen’s National Front party, which says it requires too much money to be invested in the French capital region.

The so-called “Grand Paris” plan, which got underway last year after first being proposed in 2008 under former conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy, will add 200 kilometers (125 miles) of new metro tracks and 68 stations to the capital’s suburban transport network by 2030. In addition to alleviating overcrowding, promoters say it will boost economic growth. Opposition from Le Pen, who polls show is in the lead ahead of the first round of voting in presidential elections starting next month, stems from her focus on rural France.

Illustration of part of the Grand Paris plan

Source: Dominique Perrault Architecture - Société du Grand Paris

“Public money is too rare and taxes are too high to invest in a project with a quality-price ratio that we find unsatisfying,” Wallerand de Saint Just, the party’s treasurer and an elected official in the Paris region, said by phone. “We would rather improve the existing transport network.” Le Pen’s campaign chief David Rachline said the candidate backed Saint Just’s position.

Building Influence

Going against Grand Paris would put Le Pen at odds with France’s biggest builders, who stand to gain from the project. The candidate, who has pledged to pull France from the European Union and the euro, is reaching out to French companies to build influence among executives as the campaign heats up ahead of the April and May two-round vote. Last month, she spoke at an event in Paris organized by a construction lobby, pledging to increase spending on infrastructure and proposing help for the sector.

The far-right party’s focus is on rural France, where some of its strongest support has emerged. It backs more roads, high-speed internet and mobile-phone coverage to the regions that are in some cases abandoned manufacturing centers now suffering from relatively high unemployment.

In contrast, the French capital region generates about a third of the country’s gross domestic product and has about one fifth of its population. The first major contracts under the Grand Paris plan have been awarded to companies including Vinci SA and Bouygues SA and work got underway last year developing a new metro line connecting suburbs south of Paris. No matter who wins the election, at least some parts of the plan would be difficult to cancel.

Click here for more details about the Grand Paris project.

Even though spending is concentrated on the French capital, the project will drive real wages in the whole country, according to Pierre-Philippe Combes, an economist who teaches at Sciences Po university. The plan is also expected to bridge the divide between some of the least prosperous towns on the outskirts of the city itself.

Saint Just said he wasn’t against the idea of connecting suburbs, but that the current version was “too extensive, too expensive.”

A spokesman for the Societe du Grand Paris, the state agency that oversees the transport project, declined to comment on Le Pen’s position.

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