'Greater Paris' project moves forward
The French cabinet gave the green light on Wednesday for a major new 40-station metro line connecting Paris to the suburbs, as part of President Sarkozy's plan to create a "Greater Paris".
The draft bill establishes the Greater Paris authority tasked with building the figure-of-eight metro line that will snake its way from Charles de Gaulle airport north of Paris to the city's outer limits and south to Orly airport.
The huge infrastructure project, championed by Sarkozy as he seeks to put his stamp on the French capital, will cost EUR 20 billion (USD 29 billion) and is scheduled to open in 2023.
"The goal of ‘Greater Paris’ is very ambitious," government spokesman Luc Chatel told reporters after the cabinet approved draft legislation during its weekly meeting.
"It's about turning Paris into a model of sustainable development with efficient and more pleasant transport, that is also economically competitive, has a better quality of life, a stronger cultural influence and more nature spaces set aside in the city."
Last year, Sarkozy asked 10 teams of world-class architects to come up with proposals for the Paris of the future, focusing on improving transport to break down the divide between the city and its volatile suburbs.
Unlike London, which is home to eight million people in the city and its suburbs, Paris has just two million citizens while at least six million more live in surrounding areas under separate local governments.
Sarkozy told his ministers that he was "personally committed to the project" and that the "state's involvement at the highest level would be needed to make it happen," according to Chatel.
The project for the advanced 130-kilometre (80-mile) automatic metro has sparked a brouhaha over a provision on land expropriation that gives the state, and not city governments, first pick of choice real estate nearby.
The president of the Ile-de-France regional council, which includes Paris and its suburbs, accused the government of trying to rush through the legislation without proper consultation.
"This text cannot be presented to parliament when it is being challenged by elected officials from all sides, including those from the governing majority," said Jean-Paul Huchon, a member of the Socialist opposition.
The leader of the right-wing governing majority at the National Assembly, Jean-Francois Cope, has expressed reservations about the bill, saying that mayors must have more input.
The bill is expected to go before parliament in November.