France/POINT DE VUE. Decentralization and territorial reform: an issue in the presidential election
The creation of true political regions has often been proposed over the past fifty years. By François Hulbert, geographer, university professor (*)
Decentralization means streamlining the central government in Paris and giving the regions new powers and resources. It also means challenging the concentration of infrastructure, equipment and activities in the Ile-de-France region. This concentration has increased over the last few decades, raising the region's share of national GDP from 27% to 31% and its population from 11 million in the early 2000s to 12.2 million today.
This Parisian hypertrophy must be questioned all the more as the Greater Paris project is added to it, which would further increase the centralized organization of the country and the territorial inequalities between Paris and the rest of France. This was not discussed at all during the 2017 presidential election.
A necessary reorganization
Questioning Greater Paris also means stopping the gigantic construction projects planned at Roissy and Orly airports, and relieving Parisian airports of regular long-haul flights in favor of metropolises such as Lyon or Toulouse, becoming new airport entrances outside Paris.
A decentralized regional power can only develop in properly delimited regions, which is not the case since the 2015 redrawing. This necessary reorganization has already begun in Alsace with the abolition of the two departments and the creation of the European Community of Alsace (CEA.) Relying on a referendum largely favorable, its president is now demanding to leave the region Grand Est. For its part, Brittany, which is continuing its fight for the reintegration of the Loire-Atlantique region, also has a project for a single assembly to replace the departmental councils and enhance the value of the countries.
The abolition of departments has often been considered and was even officially announced before the National Assembly by Manuel Valls prime minister in April 2014. The presidential candidates must take a position on the future they intend to give to this level of the territorial millefeuille.
Other regional reorganizations must be considered for the too large regions such as New Aquitaine, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes or Occitanie, which each group together the aberrant number of 12 or 13 departments.
Restricting the power of the State in the regions
The 3D law (Decentralization, Differentiation, Deconcentration), which became 4D (Decomplexification), and finally 3DS (S for Simplification), with its catch-all content, brings neither new competencies nor new resources to the regions and does not question any of the multiple forms of central Parisian power.
Decentralization means restricting the power of the State in the regions, that of the prefects, the sub-prefects and the central administrations. Their role and their number could be reduced to the extent of the new powers and means that would be attributed to the regions. It means giving the regions the autonomy to make decisions that will enable them to get out of the dependency in which the State has always kept them, with budgets that are out of all proportion to those available to regions in neighbouring countries.
Decentralization means relocating research centers, large laboratories, and company headquarters to the regions, as well as various activities and events that are held in Paris and are always expanding there. Paris and are still expanding there, whereas a mobilization of the Regions on this issue could very well offer them places outside Paris that are favorable to their development.
We must question the candidates on the various aspects of decentralization, the Greater Paris project and its consequences, territorial reorganization and the need for a new distribution of roles, functions and activities between Paris and the regions.
(*) Latest book published: Decentralization, for a united front of territories against Paris and the central state, L'Harmattan, 2021, 88 pages.