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France

Macron in poorest French cities, fights ‘president of the rich’ tag

media French President Emmanuel Macron meets with Clichy-sous-Bois residents on November 13, 2017. AFP/Ludovic Marin

French President Emmanuel Macron arrived Tuesday in Tourcoing, one of France’s poorest cities, where he is set to outline his plans to fight urban poverty.

Create jobs, increase access to social services and prevent workplace discrimination. Macron arrived in the northern city of Tourcoing on Tuesday, after visiting nearby Roubaix and the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois the previous day, to announce his plans to fight poverty and stimulate development in some of France’s poorest urban and suburban areas.

"I want the face of our neighbourhoods to have changed by the end of my term," he said in his Tourcoing speech.

Macron’s visits came amid accusations of being “a president of the rich”, following his decisions to cut France’s wealth tax, loosen labour laws and reduce housing aid.

His first stop on Monday, Clichy-sous-Bois, was as symbolic as it was political. In 2005, the Parisian suburb was the scene of violent riots after two teenage boys were electrocuted to death as they ran from police. The unrest prompted the government to invest some 670 million euros in the suburb, one of the largest urban renewal projects in French history.

Macron spoke with residents and took selfies as he toured the area, stopping at a community centre along the way and meeting Clichy-sous-Bois Mayor Olivier Klein. He reaffirmed the government’s plan to extend the Paris underground transport network. The new line 16 is set to pass through the suburb. Currently under construction, it is slated to open in 2024.

The northern city of Roubaix was his second stop Monday night. He again met with residents before dining with local community groups.

Jobs, social services, health

Macron has proposed certain incentives for companies to hire individuals from poor neighbourhoods. Under his plan, companies that hire full-time employees from these “priority areas” would receive 15,000 euros from the government over a period of three years, while part-time hires would earn companies 5,000 euros over a period of two years.

A nearly identical plan was rolled out under former president François Hollande, but it failed to reduce unemployment. To improve the initiative’s chances of success, Macron will remove two of the previous administration’s restrictions: job applicants will no longer have to be under 30 years of age to allow companies to qualify for government aid, and they will no longer have to be officially registered as unemployed to get hired.

Some 180 million euros have been earmarked for the plan in the 2018 budget.

The government aims to create up to 25,000 such jobs in a move to reduce unemployment in poor urban and suburban centres. According to the Elysée, unemployment rates in these areas can reach 25 percent, nearly double the national average, while poverty rates can be as high as 40 percent.

“Priority area” residents often have more difficulty getting hired due to discrimination. They also have less access to housing, social services and health care.

Macron said he aims to fix these problems by constructing more health clinics, day cares and post offices.

This article was updated with a quote from Macron's speech in Tourcoing.

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