Ministry of Economics, Finance and Industry - what will it be called by François Hollande?

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.

Comments

  1. Thanks for another interesting and informative post! GM

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    1. You're welcome! Going behind-the-scenes at the Ministry was fascinating. I'm happy that they allowed me take photos!

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  2. Hey, spotted our mate Colbert there! I love that mail system!

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    Replies
    1. Someone told me that there's a road named after him in Tours, too! What a coincidence! ;)

      The mail system was great - we watched the boxes riding around on the little tracks for quite awhile and discussed how it must have been quite the technological marvel when the building was first constructed...and then we talked about how much the internet has advanced our lives. With the click of a button, we can send documents across the world.

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  3. I think they'll be renaming it Sherwood Forest...

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  4. What a cool trip. Thanks for taking note of the dining room cupboards for me. I like the open shelving for such a building. And it looked as if the storage was pretty much proper.

    I believe that all new construction in the US (public buildings) also have the 1% for art mandate as well. Sometimes the art is good, sometimes the art is bad and sometimes the art is controversial (see Richard Serra and Titled Arc).

    I love the boats too, I'm pretty sure I've seen them running the river before but I didn't know there was a moat. I know I could look it up, but where is rue de Bercy? In the 16th? And the Elysee Palace is in the ???.

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  5. oh no wait, I just enlarged the photos! The storage is horrible, but I like they used protection bags for the coffee carafes (I think that's what's in the brown anti-tarnish bags). The cups are stacked within each other, two not being so bad, but I don't like that they are on such a high shelf. And it's all rather untidy. And do I see a pack of cigarettes?

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  6. The mail system at the ministry reminds me of the "pneu" that still existed when I first started out as a freelance translator. All the Paris post-offices were connected up by underground pipes through which urgent mail was sent using a pneumatic system (whence the name). It was first set up in 1866 and finally disappeared in 1984 when fax machines took over.

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  7. Delighted to hear about the Limoges plates. At least our région is getting some support that way!
    There's a pharmacie in Guéret which still aas a pneumatic delivery system. The kids love watching things fly through the see-through pipes. I hope they never get rid of it!

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