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The commune of Ungersheim: “Village in Transition” in a mining area.

Publié par Martine le 2014-06-18
Meeting with the mayor, Jean-Claude? Mensch

The central concept of the transition movement is resilience. It’s about the ability to react to crises and be autonomous. He himself has a global outlook. We have a consciousness that is open to the outside world, it is not about turning inwards, it is intellectual autonomy. He is immune to advertising messages and the politically correct. He is for fostering freedom of expression, opening up windows, thinking for yourself. We started talking about diversification then conversion. But the mining area is in transition: this means moving towards an alternative form of economy.
Ungersheim has undertaken 21 actions that deserve to be shared and extended. They were formalized during the “seeds in your plate” week with the goal of promoting broad awareness among the local population and drawing up a resilience plan.

Four fundamental principles
1. We cannot avoid the need to live using much less energy. It is better to be prepared rather than be taken by surprise.
2. The places where we live and our communities lack the necessary resilience to survive the major energy shocks that will go hand in hand with peak oil.

3. We need to act collectively and act now.

4. By unleashing the collective intelligence of the people around us to anticipate and prepare creatively for our energy reduction, we can build life styles that are more interlinked and more enriching and that recognize our planet’s biological limits.

Action that reflects Alsace’s history and culture : He has a very militant family background: his father was a trade unionist at the mine, his mother a member of the Union des Femmes Françaises.Union of French Women. He was immersed in this culture at school and with the JOC Christian working class youth, with Marxist and Leninist leanings. The Alsace context also needs to be taken into account: it is home to several nationalities, with enclaves disputed between France and Germany since 1690! The French Revolution in 1790 made strong efforts to eradicate the local language. Alsace was handed over to Germany after the French defeat in 1870 until 1914-1918. Young Alsatians served in the German army. After 1918, Alsatian children were humiliated at school. When France was invaded in 1940, 50,000 people were displaced and male inhabitants of Alsace and Moselle called up to serve under the German flag. Strasbourg was liberated by workers’ councils, priests, soldiers from the Alsatian German army and the Soviets. When the French entered Strasbourg, the red flag was flying!
There was a great deal of suffering. His generation was forbidden from speaking Alsatian at school, so they became inward looking. In this context, the image that symbolized the local worthy was the metallurgist, paternalistic and middle-class. The potassic basin was red, but there were no left-wing elected representatives. In 1989, he was the first miner’s representative to be elected as mayor.

“We have not raised taxes since 2005” : Everything was built on local history. The coalfield was cleared a thousand years ago for the energy it provided. It was sown with food-producing crops, then became a centre for mining potash present in the subsoil over 11 hectares. It became a wasteland, and is now being rehabilitated to provide food. It is story that goes back a long way, and he learned as he went, drawing on a desire for food self-sufficiency and a climate plan in 2006. When he arrived in power, the school and swimming pool accounted for major expenditure on electricity. He switched to solar power, resulting in savings of €80,000 for the commune budget!
“Then we wanted to create a farming belt around the village. Not in theory, in practice. Too much land is taken over by roads and supermarkets. We noticed that very little local production was used to feed local inhabitants. Even though we own the land. We took over the farming lease for our land. The price of the lease corresponded to the price of the land. It was granted free of charge to a work integration social enterprise to develop organic farming. We constantly work towards the goal of establishing a “seeds in your plate” process. It is gradually taking shape: it already supplies school meals and is set to create at least 50 jobs. We are exploring the feasibility of setting up a cannery, malting plant and cooperative grocery based on crop rotation: vegetables, barley and wheat.

“We have changed scale!” : Our investments have a better focus, with the farm horse, purchase of the farming lease and a kitchen costing €750,000 including tax. We build partnerships based on shared intelligence and with companies and citizens on an equal footing. The model is built to last. Being innovative is still misunderstood. As an elected representative, you know you can be ousted at any time, and the commune gets very little aid, barely 5% of the budget. The kitchen will remain with the association, serving children. Productive investments don’t cost the commune anything, create work integration jobs and train commune staff. The commune’s technical services are very keen and are good at managing energy savings, as long as it is during their working hours. They are very interested in the percentage of energy savings made.

Taking action to “take care of the territory” : A SCOT territorial cohesion plan was launched with the ecologists, who gave it a boost. The PLU zoning confirms to the SCOT. We negotiated our entry into the Mulhouse greater urban area, which generated new ideas and brought us a Climate Plan organizer, but relations remain distant. He follows his own path: in 2008, he engaged in very little consultation on a project for an eco-museum with 500 bungalows over 30 ha. It would have been a bottomless pit for the commune. The town council unanimously refused to sell the land. The project was shelved.

The MCM has close ties with Ungersheim, which provided eight hectares of communal land for organic market gardening using work integration and basket delivery, similarly to the Jardins de Cocagne. 350 to 400 baskets have been delivered a week to individuals, creating an extra 25 jobs. The commune has already created a total of 250 jobs. Its ecohamlet project will provide accommodation for 10 households, including eight that are part of the transition approach and open to the outside. The mayor has just launched a local currency: the radish. That’s the challenge! The European project, Interreg, that the MCM and Ungersheim commune collaborated on has not been selected.

Citizen participation and commitment
Similarly, Patrick Boase said that communes in Scotland want to do the same thing but do not have the budget. Only an independent association can take action.
Bruce Darrell, an inhabitant of Cloughjordan, an ecovillage in Ireland, said that in his context, people from the outside drive the process. They are aware of conveying radical ideas. They have adopted a gradual approach to avoid raising fears. He asked Jean-Claude? Mensch what they do to win people over.

The mayor develops actions, which are accepted or rejected, but never adopting a radical approach. A project has to be shared with elected representatives and civil society before being implemented. He proceeds in stages. For market gardening, both citizens and elected representatives do the growing. Which means they have appropriated the project: beautiful potatoes, harvesting, eating together, are all joyful activities. Different people have to be found depending on the project. A team of volunteers formed around the project to build a farm at Kohlacker (a former pithead).

A blog follows the project’s different stages. link)

There is a lack of indicators to assess involvement: there are never more than 100 people (out of 1,600 inhabitants) at the theme-based meetings. But the local community say they are proud of a vision that prepares for the future, their children’s future. Which does not prevent his power being eroded. In three mandates, he has dropped from 65% to 58% then 53% votes in his favour.

And although it has proved possible, Jean-Claude? Mensch finds that the process of change is slow, very slow, as they are already up against the wall!