(Unofficial translation)

Mr President,

On behalf of the French Delegation, I should first like to say that I fully subscribe to the terms of the statement delivered yesterday by the Swedish Delegation, speaking for the European Union. I share the concerns which she expressed and identify myself with the recommendations which she put forward.

This closeness of views is not surprising, since all of us in Europe are unwaveringly loyal to the message of Istanbul. After Habitat II, no one can pretend to ignore that the future of our countries, in the North as in the South, will be played out primarily in the cities.

This is why I, along with many others, fervently hope that this Special Session will succeed in remobilizing international opinion as to the scope, acuteness and complexity of the challenges still facing all the world's cities. For that, we need a vigorous and wilfully political Final Declaration which prolongs and amplifies the conclusions of Istanbul and is capable of having a real impact on world opinion.

If we are going to overcome the risks attaching to the tide of urbanization and seize its opportunities, we must do everything in our power to implement the Global Plan of Action adopted in Istanbul as swiftly as possible.

We are assembled here to carry out a first stock-taking of the progress achieved and the difficulties which remain. Let us do this clear-sightedly and without smugness. The obstacles that we encounter, far from discouraging us, should inspire us with the optimism that springs from action.

It is obvious that much remains to be done. Implementing the "Habitat Agenda", despite the need for acting rapidly, is something which requires a long time-span.

In France, the Government to which I belong and the local authorities have resolutely embarked on the course which was set in Istanbul.

Since 1996, major reforms have profoundly modernized our habitat and urban policy. The fight against exclusion and the exercise of the right to a home have received fresh impetus. As a further stage in the decentralization laws of the 1980s, the institutional framework for inter-communality has been considerably amended in order to adjust it to the way cities are developing. New town planning tools have been introduced. They improve the coordination of sectoral policies and are better attuned to local realities and aspirations.

The basic goals of social and territorial solidarity, urban diversity and mixedness, sustainable development and good governance today infuse all government action.

The resources devoted to rehabilitating struggling neighbourhoods and socially reintegrating their inhabitants have been greatly increased, so that these women and men can benefit, like the rest of the French people, from the return to economic growth.

More generally, a new movement towards passing contracts between the central government, the territorial authorities and their partners in civil society has been fostered, the idea being to combine their respective efforts behind joint projects aimed at both social solidarity and local development.

Measures have also been taken to increase the local population's participation in decisions of concern to it, and to see that the city becomes again what it should never have stopped being, namely a place of eminence for democracy and citizenship.

As you see, Mr President, France has strongly rallied behind the two main themes of the Istanbul summit -- "adequate shelter for all" and "sustainable human settlements".

My Government believes that the public authorities have a decisive role to play. The market alone, whatever its merits, cannot make a city economically efficient, ecologically prudent and socially harmonious, any more than it can provide everyone with decent housing and acceptable services.

The city must henceforth be viewed as a primary target for collective action, and a genuine issue for government.

We are on that account especially interested in a successful outcome to the proceedings of this Special Session. We, of course, do not want it to afford anyone with the slightest opportunity for back-pedalling on the commitments undertaken in Istanbul. It must, on the contrary, ensure their correct implementation, in a constructive and motivating spirit.

We also hope that it will promote decentralization and strengthen the capacities of local government, in conformity with the legal framework specific to each State. We expect a great deal from the consultations among national Delegations and the representatives of the local officials' associations, the non-governmental organizations and the other partners in the "Habitat Agenda". We trust that the thematic dialogues, which exemplify partnership in action, will be one of the Session's highlights.

We should like this Session to result in a stronger involvement by all the international organizations, especially the competent United Nations agencies, in implementing the Global Plan of Action adopted in Istanbul. At issue is improving the efficacy of the responsibility-sharing system and enhancing the coordinating and impetus-providing role conferred on the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements in Nairobi.

Lastly, I wish to stress the vital contribution that cities can and must make to the broad objectives of sustainable development. It is important in this regard that the World Summit on Sustainable Development to be held in Johannesburg next year should explicitly take the urban dimension into consideration.

Thank you for your attention.