Translated from Dutch NOS TV:
Battle threatens on French fields where an airport is supposed to come
Today, 12:00 Updated at 12:45
An immense agricultural and animal husbandry area in Western France has become involved in a bizarre power struggle. The Macron government reportedly has a few thousand police ready to decide this fight, if necessary by force.
It is all about the construction of an airport near the village of Notre-Dame-des-Landes, not far from Nantes. The idea was to create one or even two runways there. But for the time being there are pirate flags, car tires are piled up high and roadblocks.
About half a century ago, the French authorities decided that a new airport could be built north of Nantes. At the time, the press had already been jubilant: the area could well become the Rotterdam of aviation in Europe.
But as ambitious as the plans were, the effect was disastrous. Farmers in the area protested and many French people showed solidarity.
Caravans and cabins
Almost ten years ago the first occupants settled in the area: they squatted buildings, put caravans in the meadows and built ramshackle huts along mud paths. To save the environment and to support the farmers, they say.
The result: not one French government dared to continue the construction of the airport. The protest seemed too big. The opponents always won the battle for public opinion and managed to stop the plans for decades. Until Emmanuel Macron became president. He announced action.
“At a certain moment you have to make a decision and really do something”, said Prime Minister Édouard Philippe last week. “We are taking a decision this month and will be implementing it.”
For the Macron government there are two options on the table: constructing this new airport at Notre-Dame-des-Landes, as it was suggested fifty years ago, or expanding the existing airport at Nantes. That is about twenty kilometers away. In both cases, the area that is still occupied will be vacated, according to President Macron.
Some 250 activists still live in the area of the intended airport. “Some are farmers, others are environmental activists, and others want to create a different kind of society”, says a spokeswoman.
“This airport is the symbol of everything we are against: the money economy, the environmental pollution, the authoritarian politics of a power elite, all individuals for themselves, etc. We want to live differently, with as core values: sharing, solidarity, community.”
Signs have been placed on the site with the slogan: ‘We are here and we will stay here’. “We are not going to leave,” says the spokeswoman. The French government has already gathered about 2500 policemen to evacuate the entire area in the very near future.
It promises to be a heated battle. In 2012, an attempt was also made to get the occupiers out. It resulted in days of fighting between police and activists. The result: the police left, the occupiers stayed.
UPDATE, 17 January 2018: France drops decades-old plan to build Notre-Dame-Des-Landes Airport: here.