Lyons' lion lays out the welcome mat

As France's second city prepares for next week's G7 summit, Mary Dejevsky speaks to its proud mayor Raymond Barre (left)

Lyons - The Germans have an expression, "like God in France", to describe a state of luxurious contentment. Raymond Barre, the 72-year- old politician and academic who is experiencing a second political honeymoon as mayor of France's second city, Lyons, seems a personification of the expression just now.

This week, all being well, he will experience one of his finest hours, as host to the heads of the world's seven richest nations in the annual summit of the Group of Seven industrialised countries.

Not an overtly proud or arrogant man, Mr Barre will bask unashamedly in the glory of the occasion and plans to show off his magnificent 19th century town hall to the full. Washing and brushing have been the very least of what has been done in preparation. A week ago, there was still sheeting and cables all over the floors; you shared the lifts with trestles and paintpots, and the smell of varnish was everywhere.

Thursday night's opening G7 dinner, with a secret menu that will boast the quintessence of Lyons' renowned cuisine, is to be held - weather permitting - in the loggia courtyard. The three day event will be wound up with a sound and light show over the Rhone for the citizens of Lyons, to compensate them for the inconvenience of having their city taken over by the security requirements of seven international leaders.

When you meet Mr Barre, it is evident that, one year into his mayordom, he is having a whale of a time. A former university economics professor, who has moved easily between the academic and political worlds for the best part of 40 years, he is best known for serving as Valery Giscard d'Estaing's prime minister from 1976-81.

But he has weathered the decades better than Giscard, and so have his politics. His statements are still closely watched and widely respected. He manages to combine a free-market pro-European stance with a practical social conscience - a combination that is increasingly being accepted by governments across Europe.

Mr Barre is small and his round face and smile give a general impression of rotundity - but he is actually quite dapper, despite his reputation as a bon viveur. He has the directness and spontaneity of someone who is at ease with himself and his authority.

Just over a year ago, Mr Barre thought he had made his exit from French politics by declining to stand for the presidency. He said at the time and still says that the only purpose of having power is to achieve objectives, and he judged that "the political and social conditions would not have allowed me to pursue the policies of reform and change that I thought necessary for the French economy". Almost as an afterthought, he adds: "And you know, I don't regret it one bit."

So why, given the standing and influence he enjoys, not just in France but in Europe, has he returned to frontline politics by standing for the post of city mayor - albeit of a city which is the second largest in France and which prides itself on having been the capital of Roman Gaul? "I didn't really stand at all," he corrects my terminology. "A deputation of local MPs and councillors approached me and asked me whether I would head their list for the council elections. In fact, I had quite other plans."

Mr Barre was approached as someone who had been the local MP since the late Seventies and chairman of the regional council since the mid-Eighties. But their main consideration - and the reason Mr Barre agreed to their request - was the political mess in which the city of Lyons then found itself.

The high-flying incumbent mayor, Michel Noir, had just been convicted of corruption, and Lyons had some of France's toughest housing estates and social problems on its periphery which were on the brink of exploding. If the political right was to retain power and the reputation of Lyons was to be rescued, the right's candidate for mayor had to be someone who enjoyed respect, if possible, nationally and across parties.

Mr Barre's list won a first-round victory. His original plan - it transpired when I posed this "indiscreet" question - had been to retire. Now, he has another three and a half years of political struggle ahead. Mr Barre, however, seems to regard it as a gentle and rather pleasurable form of combat - until you see him in the council chamber. Here, he rules with a rod of iron and some tart repartee. When a National Front councillor objected to the choice of music for the sound and light show as "too international" (with Bob Dylan), the mayor snapped back: "So what do you call Debussy, then?"

With the G7 summit on his doorstep (a gift from Jacques Chirac after he became president), he wants Lyons - a city regarded in France as inward- looking and hidebound despite its mercantile history - to promote itself to the outside world. "But that depends on the Lyonnais continuing the impetus," he says, adding, as though this sounds too negative. "And I believe they will."

t More than 5,000 people marched through Lyons on Saturday to protest about the holding of the G7 summit in the city and to demand that "other voices" be heard. The marchers represented trade unions, groups campaigning against unemployment, racism, environmental pollution, Third World indebtedness and a host of other ills. The march was led by the dissident bishop and gay rights campaigner Jacques Gaillot, flanked by actors singing "When will the revolution come?"

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Media Telesales Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR administrator - London - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Office and HR Administrat...

Recruitment Genius: Middleweight Designer

£25000 - £26500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The On-Site division of the UK'...

Sauce Recruitment: Financial Accountant -Home Entertainment

£200 - £250 per day: Sauce Recruitment: 6 month contract (Initially)A global e...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project