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GEORGES FRECHESMAYOR OF MONTPELLIER
You don’t need to be an expert in the Freudian concept of random association to know that the merest mention of the word Montpellier is likely to produce another word – dynamic. For in less than three decades, the hub of the Herault department has changed more than during the previous three centuries, rising in rank from the 25th to the 8th French city. Each and every opinion poll reveals that it is the place where most French men and women would like to live, work and play. Much of this is attributable to the city’s colourful Mayor and MP Georges Frêches, a skilled operator who has somehow managed to move the city along by leaps and bounds without losing sight of its historic roots.The latest feather in his cap is to have been selected by Business Week as one of 50 Europeans who ‘personify the new dynamism sweeping across the old continent’ – a member of that elite group responsible for building a Europe Inc. "In two decades", Business Week affirms, "he has transformed the city in south-eastern France from a sleepy backwater into a hive of high tech activity."The 61-year-old Mayor stands out for not having seen his provincial posting as merely a stepping stone to greater things to come in Paris. He decided to stay put. The absence of a ministerial career meant that he was able to put his heart and soul into a city he has come personify."I came to this city from the Tarn 25 years ago", Frêches told France Today, "and I loved it right away. Nor has that love waned with the passage of time. Quite the contrary, in fact – I now feel more strongly and more passionately about Montpellier than ever before. It is wonderful to see this beautiful city blossom so – it is truly a pleasure to behold."You might well be excused for thinking that ‘well, he would say that wouldn’t he’ – all part and parcel of the experienced politician’s stock-in-trade. You would certainly think otherwise, however, were you to meet with him face to face. Because like many in le midi – Frêches speaks straight from the heart, a trait which has landed him in hot water on more than one occasion.Before the arrival of big Georges (he towers over most Montpellierains at 6’2") the city let herself amble along rather lazily in the sunshine. It was understandable enough on the grounds that the Palavas train was regularly shuttling the people of Montpellier out to the beaches of the nearby Mediterranean. Then she was awoken at the start of the sixties by a gust of sirocco winging its way from across that great sea, with the arrival of nearly 15,000 ‘pied-noirs’. Bent on shaking the lethargy of the Montpellierain, these energetic and enterprising descendants of the pioneers of Algeria began to make the city stir. The Polygone shopping centre was built – and in the mid-sixties IBM established its biggest European site at Montpellier. In a process referred to by some as Meta-pellier-osis, it was the perfect background for the work upon which Frêches was set to embark – of creating a teeming metropolis which would in the course of time become the Languedocian Silicon Valley of today.Frêches’ decision to stay in the south rather than to head Paris thus turned out to be a rather good move. In an era where decentralisation was becoming all the rage – and with city Mayors enjoying more and more power – he was in the right place at the right time. He also understood long ago - way back in the mid-eighties – that in a world of globalisation, it was vital to attract multinational companies to Montpellier if the region’s economy was to grow. And the Socialist politician duly set about pitching his city’s case to investors across Europe and in the U.S.The results are now there for all to see. A thriving, modern, energetic city, where the pace is so hot you can almost feel the vibrations in the air. This summer the city’s swish new tramway opened – the first in the south of France, with Frêches thus consolidating his reputation of having single-handedly created the French California with his latest stunning success – Le Tramway.Not that a tramway in the Languedoc is a new concept in any way. For trams were running right through the city’s miniature Arc de Triumph and all the way down to the historic Place de la Comedie as far back as the turn of the century. The key words being bandied about by Frêches’ formidable PR team are propre, silencieux, rapide, confortable, ponctuel and couche-tard. Marketing hype it might well be – but having seen the tramway in action it certainly appears to be a system with which it is difficult to find fault. And Frêches being Frêches he had the good sense to open the tramway to the general public free of charge for an entire week, immediately after its inauguration. And unlike many a public work in the rest of Europe, it has to be said, the Montpellier supremo’s pet project has opened 3 months ahead of schedule – and without any increases in local taxation to boot."Another dream which has come true", crows the Mayor, whose 28 sleek coaches are now transporting up 75,000 passengers each and every day.A graduate in business studies and a professor of law, Frêches opened 11 business parks around the city and modernised road and air links with the rest of France and Europe. But that was back in the 1980s, while other cities were still scratching their municipal heads as to where their future role might lie. Meanwhile, the benefits of this foresight have been coming home to roost big time – as Dell Computers plumped for Montpellier as home for its Southern European operations. And with Palm Computing Europe doing likewise. Each and every way you turn in the city, there are scores of thriving high-tech outfits – the city now the fastest growing the whole of France.And hardly, surprising, therefore, that Frêches is likely to remain at the Mairie of Montpellier for quite some time to come.
The main Web site of freelance writer Jeremy Josephs is at www.jeremyjosephs.com Please check there if you might be interested in engaging him as a writer.
Many of his articles are available online. Please check the sitemap for a complete list.