Can Europe Make It?

French territorial reform: a huge blow for democracy and regional identities

The new territorial reform law that has just been passed by the French parliament is an affront to the feelings and wishes of Bretons and Alsatians.

Hugo Tran
19 December 2014

Alsatians protest in Colmar, France. Nicolas Ory-Genin. Photo used with permission of author.

On Wednesday, December 17, the law on the territorial reform was finally adopted by the French National Assembly. Of the 577 French MPs, 162 were present, 151 voted. 95 were for and 56 were against. It means that only 95 of 577 are in favor of the new territorial map of the country, or 16.5%.

This score shows how that law is lacking concrete popular support and enthusiasm, and how difficult it was for the government to convince the people and their MPs that their choice is the right one. Such a conviction, still today after the final vote, is very small.

After three lectures of the project of law in the National Assembly and the Senate, 6 months of debates, of passionate speeches from the few MPs who fought for the interests of their territories, and of deafness and stubbornness from the government and its majority in the Parliament, France is now sure to have a new map and repartition of the territories and the people.  

From the 22 original French regions, France will now only have 13. Among the 6 regions which remain unchanged, are Brittany and Corsica. For the Corsicans it is good news as their region remains intact, even though Paris would have never dared to touch it. For the Bretons it is a huge disappointment, after the hope of getting back the department of Loire-Atlantique and its historical capital, Nantes. It has been decided that Brittany won't have its strongly wished reunification, despite 80% of the Bretons being clearly in favor of it.

Even though the worst has been avoided concerning Brittany - after the original intention of the central power to dissolve and reconfigure it into a huge and artificial region called “Grand-Ouest” - it has not been the case for the unlucky Alsace.

Indeed Alsace will disappear as a political and administrative entity, being “united” with two big and neighboring regions. No use to say that more than 90% of the Alsatians were against such a project whose first consequence is the beginning of their disappearance.

What is striking just after the adoption of the law, is the shocking lack of true and concrete democracy in the process. The people of France had absolutely no word to say in the matter, even if they are the most concerned by the final decision. The government has constantly refused to give the population the chance to express their wills and demands, refusing the idea and the organization of local referenda or popular consultations. The fact that the Alsatians and the Bretons were asking for such procedures of expression didn't change a thing.

The French state proved to be more jacobinist and centralized than never. The government had a goal, a political target, and was blind to anything else, even to the big and several public demonstrations in the two main injured regions of Alsace and Brittany. The government decides, and their legislative majority in the Assembly just approves. The French government makes the law, not the French people.

In a pure logic of close-mindedness and centralized conservatism, the government also refused to grant the departments, which compose the regions, the possibility to change their region of membership with a popular vote. The government pretends the contrary, having included in the law a so-called “right of option”, which in reality is a lure, for the region of departure will have a right of veto against the departing of one of its departments to a neighboring and favorite region. This legal trick will be used to prevent the Loire-Atlantique from joining Brittany, in spite of the majority wish of the concerned population.

Behind the official preoccupation of “optimizing the French territorial entities”, is hidden an unofficial but very strong and motivated aim: the prevention against the rise of national minorities and their rightful claims, potentially very disturbing for the central state. Indeed, regarding the recent events in Scotland and Catalonia, the French state, traditionally opposed to the national minorities, has grown very scared of them.

Through that pretended “territorial reform”, the French government has seized the opportunity and done everything to weaken or erase the regional identities which compose the French country. In particular, concerning the two most “dangerous” regions, strongly and historically opposed to the spirit of centralization: Alsace and Brittany.

The members of the government and several MPs and French media were quick to recall that France and the French people were “one and indivisible”, that no other “people” exists in France, and that officially and legally the Bretons and the Alsatians, as well as the Corsicans or Basques, are not “people”, and have not the right to pretend that they are. They are French, and can be nothing else.

The day after the final adoption of that territorial reform, there are many who keep on denouncing it. Legal strikes are being organized, such as an appeal to the Supreme Constitutional Court based on the European Charter of Local Self-Government. Once again the European laws and principles seem to be in contradiction with the French political philosophy and spirit.

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