Ayraultport Warriors Hijack the French PM

Angered farmers, local residents, eco-warriors and tree-dwelling squatters are embarrassing French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and fuelling tensions between Socialists and Greens in government as an increasingly confrontational 40-year-battle continues around Nantes over efforts to build a new airport at Notre-Dame-des-Landes.

Farming land or Flying land. Protestors aim to halt the new Nantes airport.

(This story has been updated  scroll to end)
On November 10  skirmishes took  place at Rennes over the weekend when according to organisers some 3000 to 3500 people (police said 500) led by tractor-driving farmers descended on the city centre to protest at a government-ordered evacuation of squatters from the planned site.

– France tv info

Waving banners saying “Non à l’Ayraultport” a play on the prime minister’s name and “La terre aux paysans” — land for country folk, they made clear that farming land should be preserved and attacked what they called efforts to “cement over the land” for an “obsolete project”.

A long established anarchist news service website carries this report by an American green activist who visited the occupation site shortly after French gendarmes reclaimed the site and bulldozed much of what the squatters had built over the past two years. The full report is here: Rural Rebels and Useless Airports: La ZAD – Europe’s largest Post-capitalist land occupation

The plan to build a new Nantes airport at Notre-Dame-des-Landes (Loire Atlantique northwest of Nantes) has been strongly backed by the premier, who from 1989 until June this year was Socialist Mayor of Nantes and a leading figure in the regional administration.

While popular with local voters for many changes and benefits brought during his reign, mayoral support for the airport has angered some locals particularly the farming community. Indeed according to L’Express it has also worried President François Hollande who is said to be concerned about the impact of the dispute on the electoral promises made to bring the Greens on board the campaign train during his own election earlier this year. The potential political fallout is becoming increasingly clear. One leading Green (EELV-Europe Écologie Les Verts) politician attending the Rennes rally was Gaëlle Rougier, Regional Councillor for Brittany, who told the demonstrators: “Encouraging the disappearance of agricultural land through the building of this airport is inconsistent and irresponsible…” it represents… “destruction of farmland, heath, forest and wetlands”. The latter point about wetlands is one of the trump cards the squatters hope will skewer the project. They claim the airport site contravenes strict EU directives on nature conservation and wetlands preservation and have lodged appeals in Brussels.

The Prime Minister’s Green allies in government are increasingly unhappy. According to a report in L’Express:  Cécile Duflot a Green party minister in the government has downgraded the airport referring to it as  a “possible  project”  adding: “The debate (about the project) exists , there are no taboos.” Jean-Philippe Magnen , national spokesperson of Europe-Ecologie-Les Vert told AFP: “I confess I do not understand the obstinacy in government over a project that is anti-ecological and anti-economic”.  Jean-Philippe Magnen who is from Nantes spent ten years cooperating with the PM on regional bodies before this year’s general election.  He said the planned airport was “a wart on the foot (of the prime minister)” stressing that that Greens “were not fighting against the person of the Prime Minister but rather against the  Notre-Dame-des-Landes project “.  François de Rugy, co-chair of the EELV group in the National Assembly said: “This is more than a thorn in the side of government …. it is a form of stubbornness that is difficult to justify in the eyes of politicians and of public opinion…. It is inconceivable that this project will not be revisited,” he said, especially as it was the only one to survive sweeping capital expenditure cuts in the latest budget.” Christine Poupin , spokesman for the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) was much blunter telling AFP: “This is a project to please Vinci and stroke the ego of Jean-Marc Ayrault” .

Opponents of Notre-Dame of Landes Airport in front of French National Assembly. (Credit Wikipedia)

The length of this dispute which in some ways echoes that of Larzac is reflected by one report claiming that: “when first conceived the airport was planned to be big enough to showcase the (Anglo-French) supersonic Concorde (now out of service).”

The airport, due to be built by Vinci Concessions (a powerful French-based engineering and construction group), under a BOT -build, operate and transfer contract signed 30 December 2010  is scheduled to come on stream in 2017. It will replace the current Nantes Atlantique airport considered to be too close to the heavily-populated urban area of Nantes.

According to documents on the airport’s website the Vinci project–Aéroport du Grand-Ouest paid for by central government and local and regional authorities will cost 556 million euros as follows:
• Airport Construction: 446 million euros
• Airport navigation systems: 37 million euros
• Service Routes: 73 million euros

The airport prospectus claims the facility will be “exemplary in terms of its environmental impact… offering a positive energy balance and an extensive agri-environmental management plan designed to meet High Environmental Quality (HQE) criteria and comply with the spirit of the Grenelle de l’environnement (agreements on environment-related policy)

Français : Non à l'aéroport de Notre Dame des ...

Non à l’aéroport de Notre Dame des Landes (Credit: Wikipedia)

The protestors are well organised and committed but the state is even more so. According to activist members of the airport-site-squat writing under pseudonyms on the website of the ZAD occupation: “The construction project “Grand Ouest” is an economic platform of international importance stretching from Nantes to Saint-Nazaire, which will form a single, huge metropolis. Fulfilling this project means taking over the sky, the sea and the land in replacing the current airport in Nantes with a new one at Notre-Dame-des-Landes, but also enlarging the port at Saint-Nazaire and constructing new roads and highways…

“Our goals, in coming to live here on the proposed site of the airport, are many: to live on a protest site, where we can be close to those who’ve been opposing the project for 40 years and to have the power to act when construction happens; to make use of abandoned spaces to learn to live together, to cultivate the land and to be more autonomous from the capitalist system.

“The ZAD is being emptied all the time, and the expropriations continue. The residents are being pushed out of the area to be rehoused elsewhere and in worse conditions. Those who resist gradually find themselves without rights for the houses in which they have lived for years, in some cases all their lives. As for the occupied land and houses the situation is no better. Many are evictable and have already had demolition permits since early 2012. The judicial machine continues. On the 27th September 2012 the District Court of Nantes announced the immediate eviction of Le Sabot and Les 100 Chênes. They are two essential sites on the ZAD; the collective vegetable garden (an occupation initiated by the Reclaim the Fields movement) and the ZAD bakery. These two sites are inhabited. In early October the last squat in Grandchamps was also evicted. …”

Other anti airport sites here (in French)

  • Meanwhile and separately another French Green Party Mayor is provoking consternation in central Paris where he is on a hunger strike  for more money for his town hall.  Stéphane Gatignon, mayor of Sevran, a poor northeastern suburb of Paris wants 5 million euros in subsidies for Sevran’s  2013 budget. His unusual eve of winter protest now entering its fifth day,  has won him some support including a visit at the weekend from French Interior Minister Manuel Valls  and an announcement from  junior minister François Lamy  that Sevran would receive 4.7 million euros in funds for urban renewal that had been previously held up.

Story: Ken Pottinger


On Saturday November 17, a rally was held on the designated airport site as evicted squatters made plans to resume their squat and rebuild the dwellings that had been destroyed earlier.

Among politicians present were far left leaders Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Olivier Besancenot as well as several Greens including Jean-Vincent Placé and Noël Mamère. Noël Mamère told one reporter: “It is because we are in government and part of the governing majority that this action here today has gained such  momentum.” His colleague Jean-Vincent Placé added: “I used to measure my words (when) I thought Jean-Marc Ayrault had an ecological vision. (But) he is not here today.”

Estimates of the numbers of demonstrators varied between 13,000 and 40,000 people, according to a report in Rue 89. Even José Bové one of the leaders of the Larzac occupation and today a Green MEP put in an appearance in support of the protesters who have been drawing parallels between their fight and that at Larzac (France’s 70’s Woodstock, the 11-year national struggle by sheep farmers who in 1971 opposed efforts to annex their land for a military training camp).

Reached by telephone on Friday by Rue 89 as he was helping install dry toilets in a house about to be reoccupied, the former Larzac leader justified his presence and actions: “We have weighed the consequences of our actions. It is illegal, contrary to law, but it is legitimate.” Reports suggest that despite the different underlying reasons for protesting by the two groups, a firm alliance is building between local residents and farmers whose lands are affected (grouped under the ACIPA banner) and the squatters, an alliance that could cause headaches for the Prime Minister and the President.

More than 400 tractors driven by local farmers joined in the campaign according to this report of the reoccupation on the activists’ website.

400 tractors and 40,000 opponents of the new airport were reported to have taken part in the reoccupation of the zone. (Credit zad.nadir.org)


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