The socialist mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, recently organised a ‘citizens’ vote’ (votation citoyenne) to ask Parisians about the appropriateness of a particularly punishing parking fee for SUVs, which she considers too bulky and too polluting. The vote in favour of a specific tax won the day, but in a highly questionable ballot and with an ideology emblematic of the disastrous way in which Hidalgo is managing France’s capital city.
SUVs, or sport utility vehicles, are large motor vehicles with four-wheel drive and off-road capability. Initially designed as leisure vehicles, they have become increasingly popular in recent years, including in cities where the road infrastructure (narrow streets, car parks) is not necessarily suited to their size. They get bad press because they are considered too bulky and too polluting—some towns are even considering banning them. In Paris, Mayor Anne Hidalgo has come up with the plan to subject them to a punitive parking fee—significantly higher than that for ordinary vehicles. But before introducing these regulations, she wanted to put the measure to the people of Paris for their approval.
An enthusiast of ‘participatory democracy,’ Anne Hidalgo has been holding an increasing number of impromptu votes on specific issues relating to the organisation of urban life since she took office as mayor of Paris. The stated aim is to give Parisians a say, but the methods used are highly questionable. While the proliferation of ‘participatory’ opportunities has not aroused the enthusiasm of Parisians, who have become accustomed to shunning these untimely elections, it has triggered hilarity in the Swiss, who know a thing or two about direct democracy.
Turnout is generally extremely low. It’s easy to see why voters don’t go to the polls for local issues: Parisians know full well that these ‘votes’ are above all communication operations, and that the decision has generally already been taken by the City Hall teams, whatever the result of the vote. That was the case with the vote held a few months ago on banning free-floating e-scooters. Anne Hidalgo made no secret of her intention to ban them and would have found a way to legislate against them regardless of the vote, which, in this case, went her way. On the other hand, Parisians overwhelmingly rejected the City Council’s plan to regulate the access to the ring road—the motorway that encircles the city of Paris—during the Olympic Games. Faced with this rejection at the ballot box, Anne Hidalgo’s deputy for urban planning, Emmanuel Grégoire, explained that the vote was merely a “consultation” and not a “referendum”—in short, that the City Council would continue to do as it pleased in this area.
The vote on parking charges for SUVs proved to be a rather emblematic example of the participatory dictatorship that Anne Hidalgo indulges in with such relish. The ballot was scheduled to take place on Sunday, February 4th in Paris polling stations and was announced by an aggressive poster campaign in the streets of the capital. On the day of the vote, according to a large number of corroborating anecdotes that appeared on social media, everything possible was done to make it difficult to vote in the arrondissements most likely to reject the measure—the districts in the west of Paris, where people traditionally vote on the Right and where SUV users are numerous. Closed offices, voters being sent from one office to another, missing ballot papers—everything was done to discourage even the most motivated voters. The organisational fiasco was total, and probably deliberate.
The ballots were worded in such a way that they already took a position against the infamous SUVs—without ever naming them and regardless of the voter’s choice, using a technique with which all dictatorships are familiar. The two ballot papers, one for and one against, stated that the aim was in any case to legislate on parking for “heavy, cumbersome, polluting private cars.” In other words, the art and manner of making voters feel guilty at the moment of making their choice.
The final result of the vote was 54.55% in favour of tripling the parking charge for SUVs in central Paris. SUVs will now have the distinct pleasure of paying €225 for 6 hours of parking if they get the urge to wander around Paris. Residents should not normally be subject to this grotesque rate—provided they park their car close to home.
A victory for Anne Hidalgo, who sees it as “a form of resistance.” A victory, to be sure, but one that should be put into perspective since the turnout was 5.68%, or 78,000 voters out of 1.3 million—which is, all things considered, a much better result than the 2.17% obtained by Anne Hidalgo from Paris voters in the presidential election. Given the irregularities in the election, the final result is also open to question: for example, the total number of votes cast in the 14th arrondissement was 108%.
The various opposition groups at Paris City Hall are denouncing this vote as a travesty of democracy—and a €400,000 money-generator with a 94% abstention rate at a time when the city’s debt is already running into billions.
“The new rates will penalise non-Parisians without improving the quality of life in Paris,” criticised Senator Catherine Dumas, a right-wing councillor for the 17th arrondissement of Paris.
The Les Ecologistes group (which does not belong to the municipal majority) denounced “a misleading vote” and a “Soviet pricing system.” While in favour of regulating the circulation of SUVs, they criticise the lack of tariff modulation and the disregard for family cars (which carry two or more children), which will be heavily taxed as a result, since they will be treated as SUVs.
Despite the absolute nonsense of the measure supposedly adopted at the ballot box on Sunday, February 4th, and the democratic farce that unfolded, it would unfortunately appear that Paris is leading the way. In Vienna, Austria, the Greens said that they too are ready to introduce a special parking charge. As the song goes, Gott erhalte! God save … Vienna!