Can Qatar bail out France’s banlieues?

Can Qatar bail out France’s banlieues?

While the investors and credit ratings agencies may be mulling over the economic turmoil gripping France, one set of investors is seeing opportunity. In Le Monde, Arthur Frayer profiled the efforts of Qatar to create a 50 million euro investment fund for the banlieues, France’s poverty-stricken, largely-immigrant suburbs.

The initiative, formally announced in December, began after the National Association of Elected Local Diversity (French acronym ANELD), a group of officials who are descendents of immigrants to France wrote to the Ambassador of Qatar to France earlier this fall. In their initial correspondence, they asked for help for the people of the poor banlieus, areas that have suffered nothing but "abandonment from the French state."  These neglected suburbs have been especially hard hit by France’s weak labor market.

"For once, our identity was promoted and was no longer a handicap," Kamel Hamza, the president of ANELD told Le Monde about the announced investments.

The fund would invest in small entrepreneurs living in the banlieu, encouraging small businesses to access capital that they would not have necessarily had access to.  Already, ANELD has received hundreds of applications for possible projects.

However, the initiative has received mixed reviews. Renaud Gauquelin, a former local official, was appreciative of the money, but was more critical of the state of affairs which required foreign investment to rescue the neglected areas. Former Senator Claude Dilain saw it as another example of the "disconnect" between French society and the suburbs. Previously, the State Department had reached out to these disaffected suburbs to stem anti-American sentiment

The Qatari investment is part of a broadening effort by the small country to expand its international presence through investment and diplomacy.  Besides opening an office in Doha to broker talks between the U.S and the Taliban, it is hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and gradually expanding its international development assistance programs.