Original publication: September 2018
Author: Marek Kołodziejski
Short link to this post: http://bit.ly/2Oyvkbe
This briefing was prepared to provide information for the European Parliament’s Committee on Regional Development delegation to La Réunion on 17-21 September 2018.
1. Introduction to France and its political and administrative system
France is located in the Western Europe. To the south-west, France has border with Spain and Andorra and to the east with Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Suisse and Italy. On the south it has access to the Mediterranean Sea, on the West to the Atlantic Ocean and on the north to the English Chanel. Due to its colonial past outside the Metropolitan France (the European part of the Republic) it incorporates several overseas areas in various kinds of relationship with it. Thus, the territory of the French Republic consists of:
- Metropolitan France – divided in to 13 regions and 96 departments (including Corsica);
- 5 Overseas departments-regions (Département d’outre-mer – DOM; Région d’outre-mer – ROM): Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana, La Réunion and Mayotte;
- 5 Overseas communities (Collectivités d’outre-mer – COM): French Polynesia, Wallis and Futuna, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, Saint-Barthélémy, Saint-Martin;
- 2 special territories: sui generis collectivity (Collectivité sui generis) – New Caledonia and overseas territory (Territoire d’outre-mer) – the French Southern and Antarctic Lands.
All five overseas departments, as well as Saint-Martin (the French territory in the Caribbean) are part of the European Union (with the status of outermost region), whereas other territories are not.
Metropolitan France, also referred to as a “hexagon” due to its geographical shape, has the biggest territory in the European Union. The surface area of the country is 638 474 km2, 549 060 km2 for the metropolitan France and 89 414 km2 for the overseas territories.
With a population of over 67 million citizens, France is the second biggest country in the European Union after Germany.
Metropolitan France’s landscape is diverse and includes coastal plains, basins and a range of mountain areas such as the Alps in the east (including Mont Blanc, Western Europe’s highest peak, at 4810m), the Pyrenees in the south-west, and the Massif Central in the south. It is also shaped by a large number of rivers of which the most important are the Seine (north), the Loire (west and centre), the Garonne (west), the Rhone (east) and the Rhine (north-east).
The French Republic is a unitary state with a semi-presidential system. The constitution from 1958 (since modified on several occasions) has introduced strong executive power, represented by the President of the Republic and the government, with the Prime Minister appointed by the president. The president is directly elected every 5 years. The current President is Emmanuel Macron (since 2017). The Prime Minister is Édouard Philippe.
The French Parliament is composed of two chambers: a National Assembly (Assemblée Nationale) and a Senate. 577 Members of the National Assembly are elected by direct universal suffrage for a five-year renewable term. The National Assembly can be dissolved prematurely by the President (but not during the first year after the general elections). Since 1958, it has happened five times: in 1962, 1968, 1981, 1988 and 1997. The polling method used in general elections is the two-round, first-past-the-post poll (scrutin majoritaire à deux tours). The last elections took place in 2017.
348 Members of Senate are chosen by an electoral college (i.e. deputies, members of departmental councils, regional councils and municipal councils, etc.) for a six-year terms. Every three years, one half of its Members is subject to re-election. The last elections were held in 2017.
For a very long time the political scene was dominated by two major parties:
- Republicans (Les Républicains in the past called: Union pour un mouvement populaire) – member of the EPP; and
- Socialist Party (Parti socialiste – PS) – member of the S&D.
However, after the 2017 elections, La République en Marche – a new movement, created by president Emmanuel Macron, gained a dominant position in the French political landscape.
Other influential political movements on the national level are:
- Act, the Constructive Right (Agir, la droite constructive) – member of the EPP;
- Generations (Génération.s) – Member of the S&D;
- Democratic Movement (Mouvement Démocrate – MoDem) – member of the ALDE ;
- Union of Democrats and Independents (Union des démocrates et indépendants, UDI) – member of the ALDE;
- Unsubmissive France (La France Insoumise – LFI) – member of the GUE/NGL;
- French Communist Party (Parti communiste français – PCF) – member of the GUE/NGL;
- Europe Ecology – The Greens (Europe Écologie Les Verts – EELV) – member of the Greens/EFA;
- National Rally (Rassemblement National in the past called Front National) – member of the ENF.
In addition, in the overseas departments, local political parties and movements are influential on the local level and have their representation in the National Assembly and European Parliament.
France is one of the important players on the international scene. It is one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, as well as a member of the G7, NATO, OECD, WTO and of course European Union. France exercised the presidency of the Council in 2008 and will exercise this function in the first half of 2022.
2. Administrative division of France
France is a unitary state with long traditions of centralisation. Only the reforms from 1982-83 created the self-governing regions. During the last 35 years, a number of modern decentralisation reforms were implemented. In 2015, the law on the New Territorial Organisation of the Republic (NOTRe) not only modified the number of regions but also introduced modifications in the distribution of competences to the French self-governments.
Today, France is divided into 18 self-governing regions with 13 regions in Metropolitan France (including one on Corsica, which has a special status) and 5 overseas regions. These regions are further subdivided into 101 departments (including 5 overseas departments). Finally, the fundament of the French territorial administration are 35 416 communes. France has the biggest number of communes in the European Union (around 40% of all communes in EU).
These 3 levels of the territorial administration have political, legal and financial autonomy. This autonomy is guaranteed by the Constitution and assured by:
- directly elected councils;
- a president (maire in the commune) elected between the members of the council;
- its own budget, decided by the council and based (at least partially) on own resources.
The local, departmental and region elections takes place every 6 years. The next elections are foreseen for 2021.
As most of the French communes are small (over 50% has the population smaller than 500 inhabitants) they are allowed to create together inter-communal entities (établissement public de coopération intercommunale EPCI) that can exercise part of communal responsibilities for its more efficient execution. These public establishments for inter-communal co-operations have their own resources and exercise competences transferred to them by member communes. In 2017, 1266 inter-communal entities of this kind existed, grouping 35 411 communes. In addition, there is a Lyon’s Metropole that has a special status. Three big communes, Paris, Lyon and Marseille are subdivided into municipal districts (arrondissements).
The role of each administration level in France is defined by the law. With the law NOTRe the general clause of competences for regions and departments has been removed, while it remains for communes.
Regions are responsible for regional development (e.g. regional plans for economic development), spatial planning (regional plans for territorial management, regional plans for transport, etc.), education (high schools and some universities), vocational training, culture and health, regional transport and some ports and airports.
Departments are mainly responsible for social aid: support for handicapped, elderly people, children as well as Active Solidarity Income (Revenu de solidarité active – RSA). They are also very active in the area of culture, sport and education e.g. protection of cultural heritage (not owned by the State), conservation of rural heritage, management of libraries and archives, construction and maintenance of junior high schools (collèges). Departments are responsible for departmental roads.
Communes, created in 1798, are the most emblematic level of the local self-government. They are responsible for activities like primary education, social actions (e.g. organisation of social housing, kinder gardens, sheltered housing, etc.) or protection of public order (local police). Communes are obliged to guarantee the basic services like water disposal, trash collection and treatment, creation and management of cemeteries, etc. They are also responsible for urban plans and regulations as well as municipal roads. As the “state agent”, the commune organises the elections and maintains the registration of births, marriages, etc.
3. French overseas communities
Under the French Constitution, overseas departments-regions and the territorial communities are Guadeloupe, Guiana, Martinique, La Réunion, Mayotte, Saint-Barthélemy, Saint-Martin, Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, the Wallis and Futuna Islands and French Polynesia. In addition, French Southern and Antarctic Territories and Clipperton has a special organisation. New Caledonia has a special transitional status and on 4 November 2018 will organise referendum concerning its potential future independence.
France has 5 overseas departments that at the same time are overseas regions (Guadeloupe, Guiana, Martinique, La Réunion and Mayotte). They are, in general, based on the same rules as the departments and regions in the Metropole. However, due to the specific characteristics and constraints of such communities, their statutes can be adapted. They may be empowered by statute to determine themselves the rules applicable in their territory in a limited number of matters that fall to be determined by statute (with exception of La Réunion).
As each of overseas regions cover exactly the surface and population of one department, a new type of territorial community (with a single deliberative assembly) can replace the department and region. Currently, there are two such unique collectivities in Guiana and Martinique. La Réunion and la Guadeloupe keep their structure of department and region (DOM-TOM). Mayotte became fifth overseas department in 2011 and has the status similar to the unique territorial community.
All five French overseas departments constitute part of the European Union with a status of the outermost regions (based on the art. 349 of the TFEU).
The five French overseas territorial communities are Saint-Barthélemy, Saint-Martin, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, the Wallis and Futuna Islands and French Polynesia. Until 2007, Saint-Barthélemy and Saint-Martin had constituted part of Guadeloupe department. Four of these entities are not part of the EU. Saint -Martin is the sixth French outermost region and thus is also a part of the European Union.
 Source: Eurostat
 Source: Les collectivités locales en chiffres 2017, Direction Générale des Collectivités Locales
Link to the full publication: http://bit.ly/617-483