David Lisnard, Mayor of Cannes, Source: Mairie de Cannes

David Lisnard: The health crisis has revealed the state's inability to rise to local challenges

David Lisnard: The health crisis has revealed the state's inability to rise to local challenges

An interview with the mayor of Cannes (France) on the local approach to tackling the coronavirus crisis, the need for subsidiarity and more

David Lisnard has been Mayor of Cannes since 2014 (re-elected in 2020), Vice-President of the Alpes-Maritimes Department since 2015 and President of the Cannes Lérins agglomeration since 2017. He is also Vice-President and spokesperson for the Association of the Mayors of France (AMF) since 2017.

This interview was given originally in French. The English version has been shortened.

Mr. Lisnard, you joined Cannes City Hall 20 years ago. How has your city changed during this period?

Under the leadership of the Municipality, Cannes has been profoundly transformed over the past 20 years.

Just like businesses, cities, especially those whose economy relies heavily on tourism, are subject to increased competition that drives them to excellence.

Cannes welcomes more than 3 million visitors per year and is the leading French city outside Paris for hosting major international trade forums; 25% of Cannes’s GDP is based on tourism, of which more than 50% is in business tourism.

In order to maintain the attractiveness of the Cannes destination, we must offer residents, businesses, investors and visitors a living environment and hospitality conditions that meet their expectations.

That is why the City of Cannes has undertaken an ambitious program of structural works to modernize and beautify the buildings, equipment and infrastructure… I will only give a few examples: the Cannes Train Station has been completely renovated, the Cannes-Simone Veil Hospital has been completely rebuilt. High Service Level Bus lines have been serving Cannes since 2013 in order to encourage sustainable mobility…

Of course, security is also a priority to guarantee a peaceful living environment: Cannes thus has the densest network of CCTV cameras in France with 713 cameras, or one camera per 105 inhabitants.

Cannes, which by its geographical location, is exposed to all possible major risks, whatever their origin (natural, human, health, technology) has implemented since 2014 a proactive major risk management policy which has enabled it in particular to limit the impact of the very severe floods that the municipality suffered in October 2015 and twice in December 2019 (in particular, a fleet of sensors are used to detect "flash floods").

Finally, the municipality has considerably strengthened its sustainable development policy and in particular environmental protection… For example, the City Hall has decided, within the framework of the new Local Urban Planning Plan, to cordon off certain areas and certain districts of the municipality to new constructions or even prohibit building on certain preserved natural sites (such as the Lerins islands).

In short, in 20 years, Cannes, while cultivating its Provençal and Mediterranean identity, has become, we hope, more beautiful, cleaner, safer, more attractive, more responsible and more resilient, and therefore more protective of future generations.

Cannes beaches from airThe vast beach area is a source of pride for the French city. Source: Mairie de Cannes

What are the most important projects and principles that you will support in your second term? How is the uncertainty around the coronavirus pandemic affecting them?

We continue to beautify the city, to make it even more dynamic, attractive and pleasant to live in, to enhance our coastline, to protect our environment even more without falling into a punitive ecology that makes ideology prevail over reality. We strengthen access to culture for all via the "100% Artistic and Cultural Education" policy, of which the City of Cannes is a pioneer, we develop the creative economy, we promote the development of the Space sector, and we enhance the territory, in particular the creation of a nautical centre of excellence, etc…

It would be inaccurate and presumptuous to claim that the health and economic crisis does not affect the projects of this second term. On the one hand, because the costs induced by this crisis impact the municipal budget and, on the other hand, because the containment measures and the uncertainties linked to the pandemic are a source of delay, hesitation or even refusal to invest on the part of certain public and private partners.

However, the 2014 implementation of a proactive policy to fight against major risks, with the creation of a dedicated municipal delegation, enabled us to respond effectively and quickly to the consequences of the current health crisis, despite the failures on part of the 'State. We did it by protecting the population (from the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the City of Cannes had a stock of masks and created its own mask factory, and, in January 2021, we opened the first vaccinodrome in France despite opposition from the French Minister of Health) but also by helping merchants and the local economic fabric…

Despite the impact of the pandemic on the municipal budget, estimated at 21 million euros, or nearly 10% of the annual operating budget of the Municipality, and thanks to sound management of municipal finance, we are continuing the investment program to which the Municipality has committed. We do it while protecting the Cannes taxpayer, without increasing municipal taxes.

Vaccinodrome, Cannes

In January 2021, Cannes opened the first vaccinodrome in France. Source: Mairie de Cannes

In October 2020, Cannes became one of the latest members of ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability. What were your objectives in joining this major global network? Why now?

Cannes has been pursuing a proactive and methodical sustainable development policy since 2014, one that covers a large part of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals defined by UNESCO.

The ICLEI membership is, therefore, a continuation of and fully consistent with this policy.

By joining ICLEI, Cannes follows three main objectives:

  • Benefit from the network and feedback from other members; Cannes has just joined the European ARCH project, the international “Make Cities Resilient 2030” campaign dedicated to resilience in the face of climate risks and the “Green City Accord” commitment on issues related to water, air, noise, waste and biodiversity;
  • Mobilize this network to advance the projects that Cannes wishes to take on a larger scale, such as the integration of the Mediterranean into the ECA zone (Emission Control Area) in order to force all boats to use fuel with a sulfur content limited to 0.1% - as in the North Sea and in the English Channel… and in Cannes;
  • Promote Cannes actions in the area of ​​sustainable development internationally.

In this context, your position against the ban on diesel cars in large cities seems somewhat counter-intuitive. How do you explain it and why do you speak of “punitive ecology”?

The problem with this measure is that it is very penalizing for citizens and very ineffective for the planet. Taking into account the criteria retained by the decree of 17 September 2020, which extends this ban to cities of more than 150,000 inhabitants, millions of French people would be banned from moving.

The fight against air pollution is an ardent and urgent need, which cannot be satisfied with demonstrative measures that are at the same time very ineffective and very penalizing to many residents.

Due to the advantages of diesel over petrol cars - lower cost, lower fuel consumption, less expensive maintenance, longer lifespan - many drivers still buy this type of vehicle.

And it is always the same groups of people who are subjected to said measures taken under the moral cover of ecological transition: the youngest who have bought a used car, people with low-income, the middle classes who have made the unnecessary effort to change cars by purchasing a diesel vehicle fitted with filters.

The ecological transition, which is a major global issue, for the good of the planet, health and the quality of life of all should not be systematically equated to a sanction. France is one of the countries with one of the best carbon footprints in the world thanks to nuclear power and to a lesser extent hydroelectric power. We must stop making the French feel guilty all the time and tackle the real sources of air pollution.

The urgent and priority fight for the environment, and in particular the fight against the anthropogenic part of global warming, fine particles and damage to biodiversity, requires an entirely different approach divorced from demagogic, punitive and paternalistic logic. This dogmatism, which for example leads the government to dismember our nuclear industry, will cost our country dearly in ecological, financial and strategic terms.

We must come out with a scientific, civic and industrial approach. Significant efforts must be made in particular in research and development to project the French automobile industry into the future. Indeed, only technological innovations in terms of clean modes of transport will enable it to be competitive in a highly competitive global sector.

If we want ecology to be everyone's business, it is not possible to exclude millions of French people from accessing parts of the national territory on the pretext that they do not have the means to quickly possess a vehicle that meets a particular standard and without giving them the possibility of acquiring another within a reasonable period of time.

In short, punitive ecology is an ecology that claims to respond to environmental issues by undermining freedoms. Conversely, the positive ecology that I defend aims to support initiatives to face these same challenges… Implemented in Cannes and its greater urban area it consists of developing the network of charging stations for electric vehicles, developing cycling paths, improving public transport or even creating a hydrogen production unit to eventually make the circulation of zero-carbon urban transport possible throughout the inter-municipal territory.

You often speak of the need for greater decentralization in France. What more and better could French cities do to ensure sustainable urban development if they were given more powers?

In France, despite the first decentralization laws dating back to 1982, the functioning of the French administration remains very "Jacobin" and very centralized. The phenomenon has even accelerated in recent years.

Many decisions of local authorities are subject to the prior approval of decentralized State services such as the Regional Directorates of the Environment, Planning and Housing, the Departmental Directorate of Territories and the Sea, or the Architect of the Buildings of France, dependent on the Ministry of Culture.

However, it is clear that this organization is inefficient. The disastrous management of the health crisis was unfortunately a sad manifestation of this.

Indeed, this crisis first revealed the state's obesity, its inability to rise to local issues, to understand them and to be agile and responsive enough to act according to immediate needs….

What this crisis revealed was also that the current organization of public authorities was flawed due to what I call "reverse subsidiarity" which sees local authorities having to seize new powers to overcome the problems. This was done to palliate State failures, but without benefiting from the legal, human and financial resources that should go hand in hand with such powers. We need real subsidiarity: what can be done at the local level must be done before moving to the next level, with the exception of sovereign affairs (such as security and justice), which must remain the responsibility of the State and in which it must stay strong.

That is why I am actually pleading to rediscover the meaning of subsidiarity and to strengthen decentralization by virtue of logic that no longer dictates control by state services a priori, but rather a posteriori control on compliance with the law.

This would require giving more autonomy and therefore more responsibilities to local elected officials so that they can really have the capacity to act effectively, which also implies strengthening the financial and fiscal autonomy of communities.

I will give you two examples of what French cities could do more and better to ensure sustainable urban development if they were given more powers.

Currently, when the municipal police officers, whose salaries are financed by the Cannes taxpayer, draw up reports against offenders for an act of incivility, the fines are collected by the State, while the Municipality, in addition to paying the salaries, assumes the expenses. If the Municipality received the proceeds from these fines, these revenues would make it possible to finance additional actions to promote environmental awareness.

With regard to the preservation of the natural heritage, special environmental policing power given to the mayors of coastal municipalities in matters of maritime navigation on the water bordering the coasts would be a major step forward in order to control ships sailing and anchoring off the municipal coast. They would then be able to sanction said ships in the event of non-compliance with environmental standards…

The Mediterranean is subject to enormous pressure in terms of pollution. Also, the environmental and climate emergencies require action to be taken without delay to preserve the Mediterranean marine and terrestrial ecosystem. On the one hand, by strengthening national and international regulations in the fight against pollution, and on the other hand, by granting more leeway to local authorities, applying the principle of ecological subsidiarity, in order to give them, in an eco-responsible approach, the right to implement local regulations against sea pollution more binding than the national law and give mayors the power to enforce this regulation.

What actions to protect the environment have you recently undertaken in Cannes - ones that could serve as an example for other European mayors?

In Cannes, we created communication and poster campaigns, in the context of the anti-incivility plan, which were taken up by many French and foreign authorities. In particular, the 2015 launch of the "Here the Sea begins!" poster campaign, which, since March 2018, was boosted with the installation of enamelled nameplates near the rainwater drains to dissuade passers-by from throwing their waste on the public road.

Here the sea begins, Cannes"Here the sea begins, do not throw anything", read the warning signs. Source: Mairie de Cannes

In addition, among our most easily "replicable" actions, we can cite the following:

  • the network of connected solar-powered compacting bins that improve the cleanliness of the streets and the quality of seawater, and reduce operating costs by limiting collection rounds;
  • recurring cleaning of the sea;
  • the systematic cleaning of the seabed after fireworks displays and the systematic treatment of the waste thus recovered;
  • the installation of two macro-waste nets located on the outlets of the Old Port of Cannes in July 2020 and in December 2020;
  • the delimitation of a 43-hectare total mooring ban area north of Ile Sainte Marguerite;
  • the installation of 75 fish nurseries in the ports of Cannes, which constitute an artificial habitat where the fish larvae can feed and grow;
  • the development of a Cruise Charter since the summer of 2019, under which the cruise ship companies undertake, to use fuel containing 0.1% sulfur and to bypass the Posidonia meadows during manoeuvres and anchorages. This is the strictest charter in the Mediterranean in terms of ecological matters;
  • the "zero plastic" plan which commits all users of the Cannes public domain (event organizers, restaurateurs, beach attendants and associative partners) to eliminate the sale and provision of disposable plastic tableware and plastic water bottles.



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