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France: Regions

Last modified: 2016-11-13 by ivan sache
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Index of the Regions

Ivan Sache, 24 October 2016


Status of the Regions

The Regions were granted a very limited autonomy by Law of 5 July 1972, which created the Regional Councils. Significant decentralization occurred in France only in 1982, as prescribed by the Law of 2 March 1982. Several competencies and resources were transferred of from the State to the region. The reform was completed by Law of 6 January 1986, which prescribed the election of the Regional Councils by universal, direct suffrage.

Ivan Sache, 31 December 2005


The 2014 reform

For the sake of administrative simplification, the number of Regions in continental France was reduced from 22 to 13.
The new delimitation of the Regions is established by Law No. 29 (text), adopted on 15 December 2014 by the National Assembly and on 17 December 2014 by the Senate, validated on 15 January 2015 by the Constitutional Council, and promulgated on 16 January 2015 by the President of the Republic.

Chapter I. Clauses on the delimitation of the Regions
Article 1.
I. The following clauses are modified: General Code of the Territorial Collectivities, Art. L4111-1 [see below].
II. The Regions established according to Paragraph I of the present Article shall succeed the former, merged Regions in all their rights and duties.
III. The present Article shall take effect from 1 January 2016.

Article 2.
I. When a Region mentioned in Article 1 is established as the merger of several Regions:
1. Its provisional name shall be constituted of the juxtaposition, in alphabetic order, of the names of the merged regions, except for the Region constituted of the merger of Basse-Normandie and Haute-Normandie, which is renamed Normandie.
2. Its provisional capital shall be fixed by a Decree published not later than 31 December 2015, taking into account the recommendation of the Municipal Council of the municipality planned to be the capital and of the relevant Regional Councils. [...]
3. Its definitive name and capital shall be established by a Decree adopted by the State Council not later than 1 October 2016 [...]
4. By special dispensation to 2 and 3*, Strasbourg shall be the capital of its region.
[...]
V. Taking effect from the publication of the present Law, Region Centre shall be renamed Region Centre-Val de Loire.

Article L4111-1 of the General Code of the Territorial Collectivities (text) was modified as follows:

I. The Regions are territorial collectivities.
II. Without prejudice of the clauses specific to Overseas Regions and to the Territorial Collectivity of Corsica, the Regions shall be constituted of the following Regions, within their territorial limits as defined on 31 December 2015:
- Alsace, Champagne-Ardennes and Lorraine;
- Aquitaine, Limousin and Poitou-Charentes;
- Auvergne and Rhône-Alpes;
- Bourgogne and Franche-Comté;
- Bretagne [unchanged];
- Centre [unchanged, renamed Centre-Val de Loire];
- Île-de-France [unchanged];
- Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées;
- Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardie;
- Basse-Normandie and Haute-Normandie [renamed Normandie];
- Pays de la Loire [unchanged];
- Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur [unchanged].

The names and capitals of the new regions were established by a series of Decrees signed on 28 September 2016 and published the next day in the French official gazette:
- Grand Est (Decree No. 1,262, text);
- Normandie (Decree No. 1,263, text):
- Occitanie (Decree No. 1,264, text);
- Hauts-de-France (Decree No. 1,265, text;
- Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes (Decree No. 1,266, text);
- Nouvelle-Aquitaine (Decree No. 1,267, text);
- Bourgogne-Franche-Comté (Decree No. 1,268, text).

Ivan Sache, 24 October 2016


Origin of the Regions

In 1955, the President of the Council of Ministers (that is Prime Minister, according to the Constitution of the Fourth Republic) launched five-year "programs of regional action" (programmes d'action régionale). The State Planning Commission (Commissariat Général au Plan) created 19 "programme regions" (régions de programme), each ran by a project leader (chargé de mission). The Order of 28 November 1956 increased the number of regions to 22. The goals and competencies of the regions had nothing to do with the current regional competencies prescribed by the decentralization laws voted in 1982. The regions were nothing but a tool of administrative planning. The project leaders had nearly no power since they should respect the "State neutrality".

Serge Antoine, aged 28, graduated with ENA (École Nationale d'Administration), the prestigious college training senior civil servants. As one the idle project leaders, he was commissionned to define the limits of the regions. He recalls that the limits of the early 22 regions had been designed without great care (sur le coin d'une cheminée, on the corner of a fireplace). Antoine firstly checked the regional divisions used by the Ministries and listed some 80 different systems. He then selected the main division systems and superposed them, using colour tracing papers and his ambidextrous wife as a skillfull assistant. Some regions appeared quite evidently, such as Bretagne, Alsace and Auvergne. Other places caused problems: the department of Indre, in the center of France, showed up in 12 different regional configurations
In order to solve the problems, Antoine used data from the telpehone exchanges, incorporating the problematic departments to the regions they phoned the most to. For instance, the department of Gard was incorporated to Languedoc and not to because the inhabitants of its capital, Nîmes, phoned more often to Montpellier than to Marseilles.
Antoine's system respected three rules: no department was split between two regions; no region had less than a million inhabitants; the region of Paris was geographically restricted, therefore the creation of the "buffer" regions of Centre and Picardie.
The resulting map matched the 1956 fireplace's corner map, with a few differences. Region Midi-Pyrénées lost the department of Pyrénées-Orientales, transferred to Languedoc (later renamed Languedoc-Roussillon), and the department of Basses-Pyrénées (later renamed Pyrénées-Atlantiques), was transferred to Aquitaine. The two regions of Rhône and Alpes were merged into region >Rhône-Alpes.

In 1958, Michel Debré, first Prime Minister of the young Fifth Republic, withdrew his project of dividing France into 47 departments. Two Decrees (7 January 1959 and 2 June 1960), drafted by Serge Antoine, prescribed the regions and harmonized most of the regional divisions used by the Ministeries. The divisions were called Circonscriptions d'Action Régionale.
The region map remained unchanged until 1972, when Corsica was separated from the region Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur-Corse.

In 2004, Serge Antoine, then aged 76, was then asked what he would change if he had to do it again. He would merge Basse-Normandie and Haute-Normandie into a single region Normandie [which eventually happened]; Alsace, Lorraine and Champagne-Ardenne [which eventually happened]; Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur and Languedoc-Roussillon. Antoine added he had expected the system to progressively evolve to bigger regions by mergings [which eventually happened].
[Interview of Serge Antoine by Michel Feltin, L'Express, 23 March 2004]

Ivan Sache, 31 December 2005