French regionalisation, as developed as it may seem, is still incomplete. The phenomenon is surrounded by political controversies and marked by contradictory strategies. Decentralisation reforms, particularly the 2004 laws on regionalisation, were not of such a nature as to rectify the budgetary imbalances, the specialist knowledge, and the resources that cripple the French regions. The inertia of their skills in the management fields (technical personnel of high schools) has not fostered municipal investment in the eld of innovative public policies, and even less so in terms of inventing euro-regional good practices that can be exported into the evolving linkage system in greater Europe. This results from the fact that, from a political, institutional, as well as functional and financial standpoint, regionalisation in France remains a tenuous effort and a far cry from the generally similar figures that characterise the level of autonomy and the responsibility of the Italian regions, the Spanish autonomous communities, the Belgian regions and moreover, the German Länders or the UK’s territorial entities, all of which have pro ted from the extensive development of competences at the start of the 21st century.
With respect to these experiences, France of the regions is characterised by 5 traits:
- A subsidiary recognition of elected regional members’ legitimacy to participate in the expression of the general will;
- The lack of regulative attribution, which confers upon these members the possibility of determining, on the basis of general interest by legislative or regulatory way, the public actions within their jurisdiction;
- The denial that the regions, in lieu of the state, should assume a prescriptive regulation of lower-level local government policies;
- A deregulation of regional fiscal capabilities rapidly evolving alongside the theoretical development of their skills;
- A disorderly representation of regional interests on a national scale, within a context of fragmentation and competition between different levels of government.
As a quantitative point of reference, the total budget of the seventeen autonomous communities amounts to 144 billion euros, and it represents 35,1 % of the total amount of public spending. On the contrary, the total French budget of its twenty- five metropolitan regions only reaches 25 billion euros, representing only 5% of the total amount of French public spending (280 billion euros vis-a-vis state-spending, and 200 billion euros for local governments).
Nevertheless, paradoxically the balance sheet of regional policies isn’t null. Although the competences granted to French regions do not allow them to assume a genuinely effective management of public policy within their territory, we can, however, split the powers of regional councils into three categories.
The first category concerns the sectors that are subject to a transfer exclusively on the part of the state. The category deals with the bulk of professional training, the planning, construction and operation of high schools, and the management of the regional transport of passengers, henceforth notably by rail. On the contrary, junior high schools for schoolchildren fall under the purview of the departments; and pre-school and primary schools fall under the purview of municipalities. These three sectors now occupy a 50%-share of the expenditures of regional councils.
A second category of competences is related to certain powers the regions possess exclusively within the sectors shared by various public stakeholders. This is the case for the responsibility of the cultural heritage sites inventory, whereas the jurisdiction over cultural heritage as a whole is shared by different levels of government. Here we can mention the regional roles regarding spatial planning, via grants to businesses, the development of seaports and airports, and the implementation of digital communications infrastructure. In this second set of competences, we can also add the governance roles that give the region a leadership role, which is still grey and subject to opposition, chief opposition in certain areas such as sustainable land-use planning, economic development, transport inter-modality, and support for higher education and research. In these governance roles, we can also add the participation of the region in implementing a planning contract with the state, and the responsibility for the management of part of the EU programs on its territory.
Lastly – and here we enter a grey area between competence and capabilities – the regions have developed a vocation to act in areas where their competences have neither originated, nor been transferred from another public authority or legal attribution. This is the translation of the notorious general competence clause, which means that as a democratically elected authority at its level, the region defines a regional focus in a large number of areas.
Alongside the laws of January 2014 (on the thirteen cities), January 2015 (on the thirteen metropolitan regions) and July 2015 (on the new organisation of the Republic), the state recently committed to its umpteenth territorial reform after having abandoned the one that had been initiated in 2010. Although the regions have taken the lead in terms of economic development, they are in competition with new actors – cities. This phenomenon will, therefore, be maintained, along with a constant regional redrawing, which allows the territorial multi-layered governance system to remain intact – composed of five main levels of public action – to the extent that we would hesitate to wager on the consolidation of a departmentalised region and/or a regional intra-metropolitan polarisation. It would be to the region’s advantage, as it would allow new margins of action, despite the fact that the urban inter-municipalities and the cities may also work towards a de-regionalisation. This could be one of the effects of calling into question, on the part of the state, the ability to fund local municipalities, or even, the urbanisation sought by the territorial reform that aims to transfer regional and departmental competences as well as the management of large-scale facilities and infrastructure to new structures.
France remains, thus, trapped in its incapacity to modernise its constitutional principle of the “local authorities’ administrative freedom,” which should allow a differentiated organisation and management of the Republic. This would be possible at the cost of a democratisation at the local level, something that will remain outside of the realm of reflection of left-leaning and right-leaning political parties, who have passed 35 laws on the matter between 1986 and 2015. There will, therefore, be a lack of true progress on regionalisation without a revision of the institutions and the constitutional law of the current French Republic.
by Paul ALLIÈS & Emmanuel NÉGRIER
For the full report on France, click here.
The Report on the state of Regionalisation in Europe.
More than 40 experts contributed to this work, by delivering detailed reports about the state of regionalisation and multilevel governance in chosen European countries. The study covers 41 countries, and each country report is based on a similar structure, thereby allowing a comparative approach among all studied countries.
- The first part of the report gives the political impetus from the main European stakeholders
- The second part of this report entails a summarised version of the country reports. The objective is to provide interested readers with a short overview of the main features of regionalisation in various European countries. The complete versions of the country reports are available on the AER website, under LINK
- The third part provides a thematic approach based on the main findings delivered by the country reports and the current state of regionalisation in Europe. The trends and outlooks lead to open questions on the future of the regions in the European landscape, and more broadly on the role of subnational authorities in the shaping of the continent.
- The fourth part gives the floor to the actual regional decision-makers in Europe, across a series of interviews and statements by Presidents, Vice-Presidents and elected representatives of the European regions.
Over the next months, we will be focusing on a different European country’s approach to regionalisation. During these months, look out for #RoR2017 on Twitter and/or Facebook and follow us at @europeanregions.
Strong European regions are a pathway to a stronger Europe.