TERRITORIALTER RE­FORM

As the re­gional map of France is re­drawn, Kate McNally takes a look at what has changed and sheds some light on the im­pli­ca­tions of the re­struc­ture

Living France - - INSIGHT -

France is famed for its love of red tape wound tightly around any­thing from start­ing a busi­ness to reg­is­ter­ing a car, and all ad­min­is­tered by layer upon layer of pub­lic of­fi­cial­dom. For many, es­pe­cially for those used to some­thing a lit­tle sim­pler, it is the car­bun­cle on an oth­er­wise beau­ti­ful spec­i­men. But could there fi­nally be light at the end of the tun­nel?

Fol­low­ing more than 25 years of an­i­mated de­bate among elected of­fi­cials and fonc­tion­naires (civil ser­vants) about ter­ri­to­rial re­form, the coun­try has fi­nally wielded a heav­ier ham­mer (or should that be glue?) by join­ing to­gether clus­ters of re­gions to re­duce their num­ber from 22 to 13 in a process dubbed ‘ le big bang des ré­gions’ by the French me­dia.

The prin­ci­pal aims of re­draw­ing the map of France, ac­cord­ing to the French govern­ment, are to re­duce waste in pub­lic ser­vices, to

Di­jon, cap­i­tal of the Bour­gogne– Franche-Comté re­gion pro­vide a ‘who does what’ clar­ity when it comes to ad­min­is­tra­tion thus pro­vid­ing a bet­ter re­sponse to cit­i­zens’ needs, and to give the re­gions greater pow­ers to drive for­ward much­needed eco­nomic growth.

So what ex­actly has changed and why?

A LIT­TLE BACK­GROUND: THE SO-CALLED ‘MILLE-FEUILLE’ AD­MIN­IS­TRA­TION

Be­neath na­tional gov­er­nance, France has sev­eral ad­di­tional lev­els of pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion – the prin­ci­pal be­ing the lo­cal com­munes (sim­i­lar to a lo­cal parish in the UK) run by the mairie; the ‘ in­ter­com­mu­nal­ités’, ef­fec­tively a small clus­ter of com­munes known as a com­mu­nauté de com­mune or a com­mu­nauté d’ag­gloméra­tion (bor­ough or district); the dé­parte­ments (county) and the ré­gions. The generic French term for this type of group­ing within a de­fined geo­graphic area is a col­lec­tiv­ité tér­ri­to­ri­ale. The prin­ci­pal prob­lem of this struc­ture in France, with its thou­sands of com­munes (36,700 to be ex­act, some with very few in­hab­i­tants in ru­ral ar­eas), 2,600 in­ter-com­mu­nal group­ings, 101 dé­parte­ments and pre­vi­ously 22 re­gions, is that it is too frag­mented and over­lap­ping. Add into the ad­min­is­tra­tive equa­tion all num­ber of as­so­ci­ated syn­di­cates and EPCIs – étab­lisse­ment pub­lic de coopéra­tion in­ter­com­mu­nale – at var­i­ous lev­els, set up sep­a­rately to de­liver cer­tain ser­vices or pro­vi­sions, and the lay­ers are even more in­tri­cately in­ter­wo­ven. ( There has also been grow­ing con­cern that th­ese lo­cal EPCIs are tak­ing up more and more lo­cal ex­pen­di­ture with­out any real pub­lic scru­tiny.) The re­sult, ac­cord­ing to those lead­ing the changes, is waste, du­pli­ca­tion and a lack of trans­parency lead­ing to in­ef­fi­cient use of pub­lic money and a con­fused pro­vi­sion of pub­lic ser­vices.

RING THE CHANGES

So, sub­se­quent gov­ern­ments have for a long time now recog­nised the need for ter­ri­to­rial re­form – to make the pub­lic sec­tor in France more dy­namic, more re­spon­sive, less waste­ful and bet­ter adapted to the ge­og­ra­phy of the mod­ern econ­omy.

The key el­e­ment of the change in France is greater de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion. Al­though re­duc­ing the num­ber of re­gions may seem counter to this aim, it is in fact the piv­otal ac­tion to em­pow­er­ing the re­gions. By re­duc­ing their num­ber and at the same time 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. And, by at the same time sig­nif­i­cantly in­creas­ing their size, the ar­gu­ment is they now have greater clout, in par­tic­u­lar on the in­ter­na­tional stage, to at­tract in­vestors.

An­other im­por­tant change is greater

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