Regional reform: beware the boomerang!

Jean-Paul Bachy

President of the Champagne-Ardenne region

A great deal was expected from the territorial reform initiated by the French government a few months back. It was supposed to be a new stage towards greater decentralisation and the result of a will to simplify the levels of power, whose complexity and juxtaposition of responsibilities among municipalities, departments and regions were difficult to understand for the citizens.

The debate begun in a paradoxical way. Before dealing with the powers’ issue, the government considered more appropriate to redefine the geography of the regions, eliminating half of them…without even consulting their elected representatives.  Monopolised by some ministries and by the parliament, the decisions taken have caused great discontent. There will be 13 metropolitan areas instead of 22. It is not by making the regions bigger that you make them stronger. The debate on the financial resources with which the regions will be endowed has been pushed into the background. Besides, it is not clear how the appointment by the government of new large metropolises as regional capitals will contribute to bridging the gap between citizens and decision-makers. However, the spirit of decentralisation in the “Mediterrand era” was based on reducing the decision-making circuits to strengthen democracy and enhance effectiveness in the implementation of public policies.  Apparently, this is not the current philosophy. In terms of both form and content, we are witnessing a covert recentralisation, unspoken but very real.

The process began during the Sarkozy regime with the December 2010 law, which resulted in the almost complete suppression of the regions’ autonomy, as far as the allocation of their own funds is concerned. Since 2010, regional taxation has virtually ceased to exist. The funds allocated by the State are, in more than 90%, the sole resources of the regions.  The successive governments, both left and right wing, have been getting rid of the transfer of operating costs, which has put a strain on the regions’ finances. Therefore, they virtually have no scope to act.  

Will regions have any exclusive competences left? The economic development and regional planning are under consideration. It should be noted that in the current parliamentary debate, metropolises have the lion’s share. The departments that are going to disappear have been confirmed.

Since the 1982 great decentralisation laws, the idea that the regional level was best placed to implement public policies was more and more accepted. This level was close enough to the citizens to be distinguishable and accessible, and at the same time, it was big enough to shape these policies. But now the regional map upheaval has destroyed their identity, and the law under preparation has not simplified the territorial mille-feuille…

On-the-ground implementation of the commitments made by F. Hollande, during the first weeks of his mandate, could have given new breath to decentralisation. Unfortunately, the reality of the actions carried out is the opposite of what was expected by the citizens. In the next weeks and in the next months, the return of the boomerang could be terrible. 


© All rights reserved ORU. Barcelona 2023