From 1 January 2016 France’s regions have been reduced from 22 to 13, but why and what effect has this had on the country?
Following more than 25 years of animated debate among French elected officials and civil servants about territorial reform, the government have finally decided to reduce the number of regions from 22 to 13 in a process dubbed ‘le big bang des régions’ by the French media.
Why did the French regions need to change?
The French public administration was previously notoriously complicated. Under the previous structure there were:
• 36,700 communes run by the mairie
• 2,600 inter-communal groupings
• 101 departments
• 22 regions
Add to this the associated syndicates and EPCIs – établissement public de coopération intercommunale – at various levels, set up separately to deliver certain services or provisions and you have a complicated administration system. According to the government this caused waste, duplication and a lack of transparency leading to inefficient use of public money and a confused provision of public services.
Territorial reform is designed to make the public sector in France more dynamic, more responsive, less wasteful and better adapted to the geography of the modern economy. By reducing the number of regions from 22 to 13 and devolving power to local levels on more everyday issues, the government aims to free up the regions to focus on the bigger picture, notably economic development.
What has changed?
Previously, local communes with a minimum collective number of inhabitants of 5,000 could join forces to form and inter-communal grouping. This minimum threshold is now raised to 20,000 inhabitants, with a few exceptions in rural areas.
These now enlarged collectivités are set to take over a large chunk of both the budget and remit from the departments. They are being encouraged to group or cooperate together even further, with increased finance promised to those who manage to rationalise services and thereby achieve savings.
Major cities have been accorded grater powers in line with their influence. With a status known as métropoles they are tasked with intervening at department level, including running school transport and promoting the city overseas. The métropoles of Lyon, Rennes, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Nantes, Brest, Lille, Rouen, Grenoble, Strasbourg and Montpellier were established last year, with Grand-Paris and Aix-Marseille-Provence established in January 2016.
Departments are arguably the biggest losers in the reform, having handed over economic development control plus significant responsibilities to the inter-communal groups. Their role now is to focus on social cohesion and solidarity, social development, and also something called ‘territorial solidarity’ which is defined as developing engineering expertise to assist the local communes in technical issues such as housing and planning.
With a new emphasis on driving forward the French economy, the regions now have an exclusive remit in several sectors:
• Economic development – including business innovation, overseas growth and property investment
• Management of European programmes
• Vocational training, apprenticeships and work placements
• Sixth-form education
• Planning and environment
They also have shared responsibility, in conjunction with the departments, for tourism, culture, sport and the fight for digital inclusion.
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