"There is a real problem with governance in the southern Mediterranean. These countries have elites, but the administrative organisation of powers and the management of projects is lacking. There needs to be a support structure and knowledge sharing to ensure that infrastructure projects are as effective as possible," says Henry Roux-Alezais, president of Institut de la Méditerranée , outlining the objective of the future French Agency for Sustainable Mediterranean Regions and Cities.
"France has a lot of expertise in these complex areas. It knows how to implement them as part of a broader decentralisation," explains Jean-Claude Tourret, managing director of Institut de la Méditerranée. The Grand Paris initiative, the Etat-Région contracts and urban policy are three examples.
Institut de la Méditerranée is involved on the front line of this project. It has mobilised not only the government, through Datar (Interministerial Delegation for Territorial Planning and Regional Attractiveness), but also the Provence Alpes Côte d'Azur region, the General Council of the Var department, the Marseille Provence Métropole urban community, the Toulon Provence Méditerranée metropolitan area, the city of Marseilles and the Euroméditerranée public authority.
The following bodies are also taking part in the project: Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations (the French government's investment banking arm), the French Development Agency (AFD), the Marseille Provence Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Sophia Antipolis Foundation, the association for the Jean Nouvel Foundation, the Sustainable Solutions for Coastal Towns agency and the Mediterranean Foundation of Strategic Studies.
Training, cooperation and consolidation
"The agency will channel the best of French expertise. It will be the driving force behind all operational cooperation in Mediterranean countries," claims Mr Roux-Alezais. Algeria has already committed to working with the new agency through its own National Territorial Planning Agency. Spain and Italy are also showing an interest.
The French Agency for Sustainable Mediterranean Regions and Cities will focus on three main elements: training, cooperation and consolidation.
To begin with, a programme (IHEDAT Med) will be launched in 2012 in Marseilles with high-fliers from the region, based on the existing programme offered by the Institut des Hautes Etudes d'Aménagement du Territoire (Institute of Advanced Studies in Regional Planning) in Paris. It will provide high-quality training for executives.
The next step is cooperation. "Cooperation in the southern Mediterranean countries is mainly technical and involves water, town planning, waste, etc. There is very little institutional cooperation in large-scale infrastructure projects with regional and cross-sector expertise. That's where we want to invest. We're not about the technical side of things. We deal in governance - administrative and political workings," says Henry Roux-Alezais.
The final stage is consolidation, which will involve discussions with the southern Mediterranean countries on what constitutes a modern 21st-century city.
The agency, which is still waiting for a ministerial decree before it can be officially established, will have an initial annual operating budget of €600,000-€700,000. Based in Marseilles, it will become operational in the first quarter of 2012.