|Ministry of Economics, Finance and Industry buildings line rue de Bercy.|
"With all of the changes, I was worried that they would cancel our visit today" is how Véronique greeted me when I arrived at the Ministry of Economics, Finance and Industry this afternoon. Noticing the baffled look on my face, she went on to explain that many of the ministers, who are political appointees, were busy packing their belongings. It's out with the old, in with the new in Paris after Nicholas Sarkozy lost the election on Sunday. When president-elect François Hollande is inaugurated on May 15, he will appoint new ministers and perhaps change the name of the Ministry, something which I'm still trying to understand. Can you imagine how expensive it would be to modify the signs, website, documents and stationary?
|French Ministry of Economics, Finance and Industry - "A city within a city"|
The good news is that the transition will only impact approximately 20 of the 5,000 people who work at the Ministry. Known as "a city within a city", the statistics are astounding:
- 5 buildings on 5 hectares (12.4 acres)
- 206,000 m² (2,217,366 ft² ) of office space
- 48,000 m² (516,668 ft²) of windows
- 42.8 km (26.6 miles) of corridors
- 110 elevators
|"Fluctuations", an appropriately named painting by Pierre Alechinsky.|
The wheel of fortune is shown as a cycle of seven days.
As an American, I'm not sure if I'm more impressed that there is a law in France stipulating that 1% of the cost of newly constructed public buildings must be spent on works of art to decorate the building or that the ministers zip up and down the Seine in boats to attend meetings with the president every Wednesday. I guess that this would be a good time to mention that the Ministry also boasts a moat and the largest door in Europe (7m x 7m). Weighing 5 tons and made out of 50 bronze panels, the hydraulic door opens in 30 seconds. It's the exit that the ministers would use in case of an emergency.
|Forget about helicopters - one of the two boats used to transport the ministers.|
After admiring the paintings that adorn the hall and the statues that decorate the moat, we visited the large amphitheater, where more than 1,800 conferences are held annually. The open cupboards in the dining room revealed the collection of Limoges plates used for regular meals and an inventory of all of the items. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see the Napoleon III Sevres porcelain that is used for special occasions.
The complex of "intelligent" buildings that were constructed during Francois Mitterand's presidency contain five restaurants, three cafes, a nursery, supermarket and post office.
|Panel in the post office showing the different buildings.|
Built before the existence of email and instant messages, an elaborate system of 5.5 km (3.4 miles) of electro-magnetic tracks transport mail from one building to another. It takes one of the 450 containers 20 minutes to travel between the two most distant locations. Some of the workers in the mailroom are either visually or hearing impaired.
|Containers and tracks used to deliver mail.|
Visiting the Ministry of Economics, Finance and Industry shortly after the election provoked some interesting discussions among the French people in our group and it was enlightening to hear their thoughts. As we left, everyone wished our guide "Bon courage avec les changements!" (Good luck with the changes!"). At least she didn't have to spend the afternoon clearing out her office. Interestingly enough, Stephane told me that he had heard on the news this morning that the ministers don't pack their possessions themselves because they don't want to be accused of taking something that doesn't belong to them.
Many thanks to Véronique Kurtz for organizing this fascinating visit to the Ministry of Economics, Finance and Industry for members of WICE.
|View of Paris from le Grand Salon.|