Central-western European state. The France counted 64,641,279 residents according to an estimate by UNDESA (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs) for 2014, of which about 63.8 million in metropolitan France and 2 million in overseas departments, a remnant of the French past of colonial power (INSEE, Institut National de la Statistique et des Études Économiques). With an increase of 9.7 million units in the last thirty years, according to Trackaah, the French population has been in a phase of growth for decades, which has however slowed since 2006 (natural balance of +302,400 units in 2006, against +238,000 in 2013; migratory balance of +112,000 in 2006, against +40,000 in 2013). With 13.1% of the population of the European Union (27 countries), France is the second most populous country, after Germany (16.1%), and is followed by the United Kingdom (12.7%) and from Italy (11.9%).
During 2014, François Hollande, president of the French Republic since May 15, 2012, undertook a major territorial reform of the administrative subdivisions, with the aim of lastingly transforming the “territorial architecture of the Republic”. The motivation was twofold: to decrease public spending and improve the ability to respond to citizens’ needs. The administration of the French territory is very complex and following the important laws on decentralization (décentralization) of 1982 and the introduction of the latter into the Constitution of the Republic (article 1 specifies that “l’organisation de la République française est décentralisée”), there has been a transfer of administrative powers and related resources from the State to local authorities, structured on four levels: the municipality, the “consortium of municipalities” (groupements intercommunaux), the department and the region. These levels of local authority acquire a certain autonomy of management in terms of personnel, goods and services, and each of them has a type of assignment, although sometimes some tasks may involve two or three different levels.
Economic and social indicators
At the time of undertaking the new reform in 2014, the France had 36,700 municipalities, 2600 groupements intercommunaux, 101 departments and 22 regions. This stratification of distinct plans in administering and managing financing, often summed up with the metaphor of territorial millefeuille, poses a problem of the legibility of the administration by the citizens and compromises the effectiveness of the public action of the territories. The intercommunalité refers to the various forms of cooperation between municipalities in favor of territorial projects. There are two modalities of inter-municipal cooperation: the first, more flexible, is called associative, while the second, more demanding, is called federative.
In the first case, a joint management of some local public services is carried out (eg waste collection, public transport) or common structures are created, in order to optimize economic resources. In the second case, a real common planning of local development projects is drawn up (Direction de l’Information légale et administrative). Since 1 January 2014, the 36,700 French municipalities are all part of an intercommunalité, structured in the form of a community of municipalities (communauté de communes), or of urban areas (agglomérations urbaines) or, again, of future metropolises (futures métropoles). In the municipal elections of March 2014, citizens elected community councilors for the first time (conseillers communautaires), but these intercommunalités, of very heterogeneous dimensions, have too little means to be able to carry out large projects. In this sense, the new territorial reform, voted by the National Assembly on 25 November 2014, provides for a further process of grouping of municipalities to expand the inter-municipal scale. According to the head of state, “each of them [ intercommunalités ], starting from 1 January 2017, will have to count at least 20,000 residents, compared to 5,000 today. Possible adaptations will be foreseen for mountain areas and sparsely populated territories “(http://www.gouvernement.fr).
The main novelties of the reform, however, are linked to the unification of some regions, which will pass from 22 to 13. This new subdivision of the French territory had already been adopted by the Assembly in July 2014, in the first reading, despite the heated discussions both in political world and public opinion, but in October the senators voted for a subdivision of the Hexagon into 15 parts, restoring the autonomy of Alsace, Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrenées. During the last vote, at the end of November 2014, the deputies instead preferred to return to the map of the 13 regions (table 1). The new organization of the state will become legally effective from 1 January 2016, but will be implemented progressively during a transitional phase of three years, at the end of which the new structure of the state will have to be definitively stabilized.
These ‘new’ regions are similar in size to those of other European regions. Hollande sees in them «the only competent authorities in the field of training and employment policies, as well as in the field of transport, from regional trains to buses passing through roads, airports and ports. They will run middle and high schools. They will also be in charge of planning and major infrastructure […]. They will have their own and dynamic financial resources at their disposal. They will be managed by assemblies of a reasonable size made up of a smaller number of elected representatives ”(http://www.gouvernement.fr).