You have been very discreet since the start of this crisis. Why such silence ?
Like all the mayors of France, I am at home in Troyes and in action to respond to the singularity of this unprecedented, astounding crisis, trying to find the best solutions to protect our citizens, to get masks, distribute to the population and meet the immense needs of solidarity. The mayors have taken many initiatives which have sometimes been experienced by the state as a desire to compete with it. Which is not the case: elected officials have the will to be useful where the state has shown itself to be weak.
For having been responsible under the authority of Nicolas Sarkozy in the management of a global crisis, certainly without health dimensions, I appreciate the difficulty of the task. Adding my voice to questionable comments without having all the information available to those in charge seemed pointless. Some elected officials are doctors. I am not. I have no particular standing to judge a particular drug or protocol.
What do you think of the deconfinement plan presented by Edouard Philippe? Would you have voted for it?
I do not think so. The abstention of the LR group is perfectly justified. It is a temporary plan which corresponds more to a light confinement than to an orchestrated deconfinement. The Prime Minister seems to have heard some of the mayors’ demands for territorial differentiation, flexibility and local adaptation. This had not been the case for the containment decision. This must become so for deconfinement by reinstalling a codecision with the mayors. They filled the gaps. For the past month, during my various exchanges with the Prime Minister, I have been telling him that the mayors want the prefectural towns, chief towns of the departments, to be the logistical centers linked to the prefects.
A battle of this nature against the epidemic is also won at the last kilometer in terms of logistics and is won around the corner in the relationship of trust with citizens. Then there are points of the plan to be clarified. As in school, public transport, establishments that receive the public or on the question of tests, for which there can not be the same failure as on masks.
This deconfinement differentiated according to the territories, is it the end of French centralism?
I hope so. There is a need for deep and powerful decentralization on a great many subjects. There is always a need for territorial differentiation, which will avoid decisions taken in Paris that are not well experienced in the provinces, and more devolution, to restore to the prefects of the department the authority they have lost over many administrations. This is the first lesson from this crisis: it has highlighted the powerlessness of the state in a number of sectors. This is the meaning of the creation of United Territories in July 2018, with the unprecedented regrouping of regions, departments and municipalities. For many years, we have argued vigorously for very great decentralization. This message was seen as a posture of opponents by the state, frozen in its Jacobin culture and ultra-centralizing. We have seen it at all levels, including in the Ministry of Health or in the regional health agencies (ARS), which behaved as producers of standards and budgetary regulators. This new phase of decentralization that we had defended even before the crisis of “yellow vests”, the President of the Republic had then promised us after the great debate. But this promise has remained a dead letter.
On this point of territorial organization and dialogue between public authorities, we could draw more inspiration from Germany. It fared better because its decision-making system was much more efficient in terms of coordination between, on the one hand, a national directorate which established a protective framework for all the inhabitants of the same country, on the other much quicker regions or local authorities capable of adapting political practices to the reality of their territory. We need to revisit and reorganize responsibilities in health, of course, employment, which is going to be a big topic, in tourism, housing, sport. This list is not exhaustive.
The Prime Minister has pointed to the risk of the economy “collapsing”. Can France recover from this crisis?
What is before us is dizzying. The psychological shock, the fear, the uncertainty of the next day, the relationship with the other will constitute the backdrop for the replicas of this crisis on the economic, social and perhaps political level. There will be an accumulation of debts for the state, for Social Security, and a loss of billions of revenues for communities. I remind you that they carry 70% of public investment and that they are a key element of the recovery. I proposed to the State a nationalization of the losses of receipts of the local public administrations to compensate for the stop of the activity and its consequences due to confinement. We are not allowed to go wrong and we must learn from our experience.
In 2011, we significantly reduced expenses in a very short time. This had a larger recession than expected, although it did help restore investor confidence. This means one thing: higher taxes coupled with lower overall spending would be counterproductive and certainly recessive. The second path, which we defended in 2011 under the natural authority of Nicolas Sarkozy, is the mutualisation of debts. It made sense at the time, but it had not been possible due to German opposition and the countries of the North. This is the idea that seems to be cherished by Emmanuel Macron. What was difficult in 2011 seems unattainable today, positions are even more blocked. I think that it is at high risk on the European diplomatic level, with two pitfalls: a divide between the countries of the North and those of the South – at the forefront of which France – and the risk of a debate in Italy on the usefulness of staying in the European space. It would be a huge failure. Europe was not there, I deeply regret it, it was extraordinarily silent, revealing a blatant lack of leadership. Today, Europe is at the crossroads of its history.
There remains a third original path that I advocate, along with others, for reviving the economy: perpetual debt carried by the ECB or by the European mechanism which could on this occasion be transformed into a European monetary fund. This would avoid placing the burden on the next generation. France has every interest in this because it risks having cash flow problems in the coming weeks. Today, it is the first borrower in the world having crossed the 300 billion mark.
How do you see France after May 11?
Managing the coming crisis will require more social consensus than political consensus. As much as by consumption, the recovery must be done by public investment, and therefore very largely by local authorities by highlighting four sectors: first, the food industry. We must rediscover what Jacques Chirac called “green power”, that is to say our sovereignty and our ability to play a role in the world concert with food exports. It is a fundamental strategic element. The same naturally for health, the environment and digital technology. To revive the country and vote on the texts to come, it will be necessary to find a consensus on the social level by trying to lead to a great social conference on the model of what we knew after 1968 and which I had already proposed after the great debate. As a prerequisite for the discussion, the government will soon have to announce the abandonment of the pension reform.
Would you be ready to participate in a government of national unity? And if we offered you Matignon, would you accept?
It’s a bad idea that would only reinforce the extremes. National union means everyone, from Jean-Luc Mélenchon to Marine Le Pen. I see that the idea appeals to the French, but I can hardly imagine it. Participating in such a government would dilute responsibility and could force solidarity with unshared choices, which would encourage simplistic speeches when major electoral deadlines are approaching. The Republicans advocate another path, that of responsibility. We can participate in the reconstruction of the country by voting on texts if they go in the right direction. As for Matignon, the question, if I may, makes no sense, the current majority being that of Emmanuel Macron.
Are apps like StopCovid a threat to civil liberties?
I have the greatest reservations on this subject. We will be in a state of health emergency until July, five months of supervised public freedom and confined democracy. Accepting such an application knowing the commercial challenges of Gafa and their desire to recover data would pose a very great threat to public and individual freedoms. The app will not only be used for the Covid-19; tomorrow it will be for the flu, then for the health check, then in another field than that of health. It is surely not in a rush and in a state of emergency that we should imagine such a scheme.
You were in favor of maintaining the first round of municipal elections in mid-March. Do you regret it today?
This issue has never been raised by the Prime Minister before political forces and associations of elected officials. The only question asked by the executive was to make sure that the polling stations met the sanitary conditions suggested by the committee of experts and to which we did not have access at the time. The executive takes its decision, we accompanied it.
How do you understand that the municipal councils elected in the first round are still not installed?
This is a very important point. This represents 30,000 municipalities. Even for all local public services, from civil status to schools, transport, economic activity and public procurement, these municipal councils must be installed as soon as possible. We must also end this very particular electoral cycle. If the second round cannot be held in June according to the recommendations of the committee of experts which will be known on May 23, I suggest that it take place in September, as soon as possible after the summer.
Listening to you, one wonders if you are not sketching a presidential counter-project to that of Emmanuel Macron?
My thinking is not of this nature. There is a need for great humility and humanity, given the nature of this crisis. I’m just trying to make a contribution to the debate in the reconstruction of the country. It is also my responsibility as mayor among others and as president of the Mayors of France.