PARIS — The 2017 edition of "Paris Plages," the artificial beaches installed each summer along the banks of the river Seine, will be sans sable— sandless! Why? Because on Monday, the City of Paris announced that it will end its 14-year-old partnership with French-Swiss group LafargeHolcim. But the decision here matters less than what actually prompted it. Or, to be more precise, what didn't.
In June 2016, the French daily Le Monde published claims that LafargeHolcim — the world's leading cement company — had paid terror groups, including ISIS, so it could keep its cement plant in northern Syria running. Almost nine months later, on March 2, 2017, and after an internal investigation, LafargeHolcim finally admitted to the allegations and said in a statement that although "those responsible for the Syria operations appear to have acted in a manner they believed was in the best interests of the company and its employees ... the investigation revealed significant errors in judgment."
But that's not why the City of Paris reacted. What really ruffled feathers in the French capital, according to First Deputy Mayor of Paris Bruno Julliard, was LafargeHolcim's announcement, earlier in the month, that it was ready and willing to supply cement for U.S. President Donald Trump's controversial "border wall." Julliard called it a "nefarious project."
On March 9, one week after coming clean about its activities in Syria, CEO Eric Olsen told the AFP new agency that his company is "here to supply our customers' needs. We don't have a political view on things."
That may be true. But the Socialist mayor Paris, Anne Hidalgo, and her team certainly do. As the French edition of the newspaper 20 Minutes reports, a far-left member of the city council called on the mayor to boycott the company as early as last July, describing the sand used for the artificial beaches in Paris as "tainted with blood." But for Julliard, the fact that LafargeHolcim collaborated with ISIS, a terror group responsible for more than 200 deaths in France alone, seems to matter less than the company's plan to collaborate on Trump's wall. He called the Trump connection an "aggravating factor" that goes against "the ethical commitments that Parisians can expect from the city."
To be sure, as much as they'll miss their sandy makeshift beach, many Parisians will no doubt approve of the decision. Still, the timing may leave some of them scratching their heads about their city government's ethical priorities.