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After a new and ambitious reform, referred to as the ‘Territorial Big Bang’, France was confronted, from the end of 2018, with the revolt of the yellow vests, often originating from the country’s most peripheral or troubled territories. These oppositions and contestations from the territories may seem all the more astonishing since the ambitious territorial reform initiated in 2015 and which took shape with the NOTRE and MAPTAM laws aimed precisely at repositioning the role of the territories at each scale. How and why have we arrived at the current result, which seems to revive the historical territorial divide between Paris and the provinces, transforming it into an opposition between the major cities and the rest of France? In this article, we show how the territorial reform of 2015 was a failure and we take stock of the fact that far from affirming a new stage of decentralization, it has consisted above all in favouring large structures and the search for economies of scale, and has left behind territories that don’t matter anymore for the public policies.
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Article accepté dans la revue European Planning Studies
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The territorial big bang: which
assessment about the territorial
reform in France?
Authors:
Sebastien BOURDIN, Associate Professor, EM Normandy
Business School, Metis Lab, Department of Regional Economics
and Sustainable Development.
André TORRE, Research Professor, UMR Sad-Apt, University
of Paris-Saclay, INRA, AgroParistech
Abstract
After a new and ambitious reform, referred to as the "Territorial Big Bang", France was confronted,
from the end of 2018, with the revolt of the yellow vests, often originating from the country's most
peripheral or troubled territories. These oppositions and contestations from the territories may seem all
the more astonishing since the ambitious territorial reform initiated in 2015 and which took shape with
the NOTRE and MAPTAM laws aimed precisely at repositioning the role of the territories at each scale.
How and why have we arrived at the current result, which seems to revive the historical territorial divide
between Paris and the provinces, transforming it into an opposition between the major cities and the
rest of France? In this article, we show how the territorial reform of 2015 was a failure and we take
stock of the fact that far from affirming a new stage of decentralisation, it has consisted above all in
favouring large structures and the search for economies of scale, and has left behind territories that
don’t matter anymore for the public policies.
Keywords: decentralization, territorial reform, territory, public policy
Article accepté dans la revue European Planning Studies
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Introduction
Barely three years after the launch of a new and ambitious reform, often referred to as the "Territorial
Big Bang", France was confronted, from the end of 2018, with the revolt of the yellow vests (Chamorel,
2019; Lianos, 2019), often originating from the country's most peripheral or troubled territories. The
demands of the latter originally motivated by an increase in the tax on vehicle fuel and a reduction in
their speed to 80 km/h include many elements of a spatial or territorial nature, the first of which are
protests against the planned decline of public services in rural or peripheral areas. Indeed, the gradual
withdrawal of hospitals or schools, of post offices, and the removal of regional railway lines in favour
of the main routes for high-speed trains or motorways, is leading to a feeling of abandonment and unease
which gives rise to numerous demonstrations and protests, creating a difficult and conflictual social
climate.
Thus, France, like other countries, finds itself in the grip of problems that fall within the geography of
discontent (Dijkstra et al., 2019). As in the United Kingdom, Italy or the United States, there has been a
rise in extreme or protest voting, particularly in areas on the periphery or far from major cities (Bruter
& Harrison, 2011; Van Gent et al., 2014; Gordon, 2018; McCann, 2019), in which the Rassemblement
National gets high scores in France for several years now. But to this protest vote which expresses the
rejection and the voice of voters living in the famous "places that don't matter" (Rodríguez-Pose, 2018)
is added an additional characteristic, which is expressed in the streets. Opposition does not only take
place through legal channels, but also takes more frontal and violent forms, which makes it similar to
the movement of revolutions and reforms that can be seen all over the world.
These oppositions and contestations from the territories may seem all the more astonishing given that
the ambitious territorial reform initiated in 2015 and which took shape with the NOTRE and MAPTAM
laws was precisely intended to put the territorial question and the actors in the territories back at the
heart of public policies and to extend the process of French-style decentralization (Cole, 2006; Cole and
John, 2012). How and why have we arrived at the current result, which seems to revive the historical
territorial divide between Paris and the provinces, transforming it into an opposition between the major
cities and the rest of France? In this article, we show how the territorial reform of 2015 was a failure
and we take stock of the fact that far from affirming a new stage of decentralisation, it has consisted
above all in favouring large structures and the search for economies of scale.
Based on the idea that Big is beautiful, the public authorities have sought above all to increase the size
of the regions and give more power and funding to the major metropolises (Pasquier, 2016). In doing
so, they have forgotten or neglected the territorial dimension, as well as many territories that have found
themselves excluded from these changes, or even they have added difficulties as a result of the changes
made. The feeling of abandonment and the violent reactions that followed are an indication of this
failure. In the following paragraphs we begin with a history of the reform, before presenting the stated
objectives, and then look at the links with the territorial policies at work in Europe. We conclude by
asking ourselves about the risks presented by this reform, linked in particular to the excessively large
size of the regions, which could prevent them from truly specialising, as well as to the paradoxical
oblivion of the territories in an approach that was supposed to put them in the forefront.
I. The history of the territorial reform
On June 3, 2014, in an op-ed published by many regional dailies, the President of the French Republic,
François Hollande, announced the launch of a reform aimed at modifying the territorial architecture of
the Republic. It was a question of radically changing the organization of local authorities in a country
which then had in 2014 no less than 36,658 municipalities, 2,054 cantons, 101 departments, 13
metropolises (including Greater Paris) and 27 regions. This territorial reform took place in a context
where countries are witnessing a "rise of regional authority" (Hooghe et al., 2010) or a "rise of the meso"
(Loughlin & Keating, 2013), which reflects a growing interest in the local conditions for exercising
governance (Reiter, 2010; Van Langenhove, 2016).
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In line with the 1982 decentralization laws and the inclusion of the decentralized Republic in the
Constitution in 2003 (Thoenig, 2005), the President assigned a new ambition to the reform: to simplify
and clarify the territorial organization of France (so that everyone knows who decides, who finances and
from what resources). He thus proposed a constitutional revision involving a reform of
intermunicipalities, a reduction in the number of Regions from 22 to 14, with new competences and
adapted financial resources. The main objectives of the future law reforming territorial organisation was
quickly followed by the presentation, in the Council of Ministers, of two bills giving substance to the
operation to simplify France's institutional architecture. While the first concerned the delimitation of the
regions and the modalities of regional and departmental elections, the second related to the new
territorial organisation of the Republic. The debate, which was brought before Parliament, quickly took
on a confrontational form and focused on two particular points. The borders of the Regions (and their
capitals) on the one hand, and the maintenance or abolition of departments on the other hand.
As the recitals were unclear and poorly specified, the arguments in favour of reform were immediately
and strongly contested. The pretexts of economy were quickly swept aside, as it turned out that the
merger of Regions and the transfer of competences will entail a substantial cost. The map of the Regions
changed contours several times, and the departments saw their place maintained even if they lost some
of their competences (Mazzoleni, 2015). Metropolises were confirmed as the focal points of regional
architecture, around which the activities of other territories or authorities must be organised. The
NOTRE law is finally voted by weary parliamentarians, in an electoral climate that was not conducive
to long-term thinking, between recent departmental consultations and the future regional elections.
Beyond the traditional incantations on the need to reform and simplify the territorial "millefeuille", it
appears in fact that the differences were particularly strong on the levels to be eliminated. The initially
stated idea of abolishing the départements the level to be eliminated will be long-lasting, following
the mobilization of local elected officials, who insisted on the services rendered by these départements,
but also because of the difficulty in distributing their numerous competences and the related financing
to other parts of the institutional system. In particular, rural elected representatives highlighted the
services provided by the departments in areas that were sometimes isolated, far from metropolitan areas
and with populations in difficulty. But their usefulness in peri-urban areas, now well established in the
French landscape, was also often stressed, particularly in terms of social cohesion, so that their
maintenance was finally acquired.
Another problem concerned the borders of the new Regions, as well as the merger of some of them,
which must be carried out on identical perimeters since no internal reconfiguration is allowed. This very
French little game, which has already been played by various think tanks, including the Balladur
Commission in 2009, gave rise to a number of debate, involving both the Presidents of the Regions
concerned and the Mayors of the regional capitals, who did not want to lose their prerogatives. The map
initially proposed by François Hollande was quickly discarded and replaced, in the course of the
discussions, by variable configurations and architectures, which more often responded to the need for
local alliances than to rationalisation or economic imperatives. After various changes and questioning,
the map of 13 Regions finally retained revealed that mergers were particularly concentrated in the South-
West, North and East of France.
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Map. 1 : The new map officially adopted by the French Government
Beyond these events, the debates, which extended to planning and development specialists and
technicians or civil society, not to mention various pressure groups, revealed very strong questions and
fractures within French society. First of all, was it necessary to reorganize the territorial architecture of
the Republic, and if so, with what objective? Secondly, did this reform lead to savings? Finally, have all
populations and territories benefited from the new laws? In order to answer these questions, we have
collected multiple material (official texts and laws, reports from parliamentary assemblies, reports from
the Court of Auditors, reports from different associations such as the French Mayors' Association or the
Association of Rural Mayors) allowing us to have an overview of the points of view developed by the
main actors of this reform. We also launched a national consultation of researchers and stakeholders on
this question, and collected several analytical contributions. We completed the analysis of these
documents by reviewing several initiatives undertaken at the local level and resulting, at least in part,
from the territorial reform.
II. The stated objectives
From the outset, the objectives of territorial reform appear to be multiple. We shall now return to them,
examining these justifications and questioning the legitimacy of the arguments put forward to speed up
or, on the contrary, slow down the ongoing process.
The first stated objective is that of simplifying and clarifying the territorial "millefeuille", which would
be a factor of paralysis due to its complexity and multiple layers (communes, inter-communalities,
départments, regions, etc.). The idea behind this "division of labour" is to simplify the daily life of
residents and businesses in their dealings (who does what? who to contact?) in order to improve the
effectiveness of aid mechanisms. Henceforth, planning and economic action such as direct aid to
businesses are reserved for the regions and social action and solidarity for the départements, while the
municipalities and their groupings are in charge of town planning and the organisation of day-to-day
public services.
But this reduction of the millefeuille is in reality a decoy. The number of regions or communes has
been reduced, but not the institutional layers. Reducing the number of regions does not automatically
lead to a simplification of the French territorial administrative organisation. The cohesion objective is a
response to the desire to reduce the gaps between the French Regions, both from an economic and
demographic point of view. However, there is a contradiction in the wishes of a regulatory State which
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(i) advocates a rebalancing and wishes to reduce inequalities between Regions by reducing their number,
but (ii) at the same time accelerates decentralisation at the risk of increasing territorial disparities within
each Region. The cohesion sought at a given scale will not necessarily be sought at other scales.
The second objective, linked to the previous one, is to achieve economies of scale by increasing the size
of Regions and inter-municipalities. During the presentation of the bill, figures were given by André
Vallini (the Secretary of State for Territorial Reform) who announced savings of around 25 billion euros,
soon to be reduced to 15. The demonstration did not convince the opponents of the reform and in the
face of criticism, the Government revised this figure downwards whose calculation methods are
difficult to grasp which would finally be 10 billion over ten years, in return for an overall effort to
reduce the expenditure of local authorities by 5% to 10%. Today everyone agrees that the merger has
resulted in additional budgetary costs due to the relocation of services, their integration and the
alignment of the salary scales of territorial civil servants, whose numbers will vary little, while the
savings to be expected are low due to good regional management. On the contrary, the merger of the
regions initially caused significant additional costs. For example, the observed growth in expenditure
between 2017 and 2018 of the seven merged regions is higher (11.9% to €37.25 million) than that of the
non-merged regions (6.1% to €12.65 million) (see Table 1).
Table 1: Additional annual expenditure of the regions' indemnity plan between 2016 and 2021
Regions
Increase in the annual amount of the indemnity plan
between 2016 and 2021
Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes
3 to 4 M€
Bourgogne-Franche-Comté
2 M€
Grand Est
16 M€
Hauts-de-France
0,65 M€
Normandie
10 M€
Nouvelle-Aquitaine
14 to 17 M€
Occitanie
3,7 M€
Source: reports of the Regional audit chambers
A telling example concerns Occitanie, which has chosen not to hold any of its plenary assemblies in the
regional capital city in the name of a desire for balance within the merged region: its regional council
meets in plenary session in Montpellier, and not in Toulouse. Moreover, neither of the two hemicycles
can accommodate the 150 elected members of the regional council: while the one located in Toulouse
could be the subject of development work for this purpose, for an amount estimated at €7 million by the
local authority, the configuration of the one in Montpellier excludes any possibility of substantial
resizing. The local authority is therefore calling on a service provider to organise these sessions at the
Montpellier 120 exhibition centre, for an initial unit cost of €140,000 (which has now been reduced to
€98,000).
However, even if savings are made in the operating costs of the new Regions by eliminating
duplications, reducing the number of elected representatives and pooling services, the fact remains that
the bulk of expenditure for example the TER (regional express trains) or secondary schools will not
be halved. Recent studies lead by the French Audit Court even suggest that the cost of merging the
Regions would have been relatively high in the end, due to the restructuring required, as well as the cost
of merging services, the movement of people and administrations, and the revaluation of the salaries of
the least well-paid staff compared to their colleagues in other Regions. It would have been interesting
to try to measure the critical size of the transition from economies to diseconomies of scale. Indeed, the
reduced flexibility and loss of proximity resulting from the merging of regions can lead to additional
costs for the community.
The argument most often put forward, but probably also the most discussed, concerns the rationalisation
of public budgetary expenditure by moving from 22 to 13 Regions. 27.9 billion in 2012, i.e. only 22%
of the expenditure of local and regional authorities (out of a total of 225.9 billion), which does not seem
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excessive. The reform thus differs from previous ones in that it does not aim to increase the volume of
local finances but rather to rationalise them. As the French are very sensitive to the issue of reducing
expenditure, the Government justifies the savings in the budgets of local authorities by promising to
contain the increase in local taxation and thus free up public investment capacity.
The fourth objective concerns the quest to increase the competitiveness of the Regions by increasing
their size. This neo-liberal ideological discourse on the need to strengthen economic competitiveness
(Brennetot, 2018) has led to a questioning of the departmental level in favour of the regional level
(Bristow, 2005 and 2010). The idea of the Big is beautiful is based on the desire to place France in the
global competition, with larger, more visible and stronger entities and metropolises whose weight would
be reinforced (MAPTAM law). This principle is disconnected from the search for the "relevant
territory", which is based on a logic of geography, functionality (linked to the customs of the inhabitants)
or identity (history, culture). It should be noted that the groupings of regions projected by the impact
study, in support of which socio-economic arguments were proposed, will not be those retained in the
law promulgated on 16 January, 2015
1
.
One may wonder whether regions such as Aquitaine or Rhône-Alpes were so narrow that they had to be
merged with other neighbouring regions? All the more so as it is impossible to prove a link between the
size of the regions and their dynamism. Competitiveness cannot be decreed; it is built with a long-term
strategy and an adequate budget. However, the merger of the regions has led to the addition of the
resources of the old entities but has not given the new regions significantly extended competences to the
point of competing with the large European regions of neighbouring countries. Thus, Bavaria's budget
alone in 2015 was double the budget of all the French regions, reflecting the major differences in
institutional organisation.
Some even support the idea that the increase in the size of the regions only accentuates the need for
other levels of proximity such as the département, whose future remains in doubt. The creation of
metropolises - with the desire to replace the départements from 2021-2022 - leaves the question of rural
areas unresolved. Moreover, and whereas for a long time the commune was the local level par excellence
of proximity to the citizen (Schmidt, 2007), inter-communality has been a tremendous success. The new
communities of municipalities or agglomerations could well become this new intermediate level of
proximity, justifying the rise of groupings of municipalities so as to reach a threshold of at least 20,000
inhabitants.
Finally, an argument very often put forward in favour of spatial reorganisation concerned the
rationalisation of public action and the clarification of competences, in particular between the different
territorial authorities. In fine, the NOTRE law leads to a limited but very real redistribution of
competences, especially between Regions and départements, at the cost of abandoning some of their
prerogatives. Henceforth, planning and economic action such as direct aid to companies are reserved
for the Regions and social action and solidarity for the départements, while the municipalities and their
groupings are in charge of town planning and the organisation of day-to-day public services. If the
simplification operation has not been on the scale desired by the government, it is real. The abandonment
of the universal jurisdiction clause can also be considered as a step forward, helping to identify the
devolution of each of the levels, putting a brake on the scattering of expenditure and limiting the
willingness to intervene on all fronts (see table in the annexes). However, beyond the question of the
1
Thus, the initial draft law did not provide for a merger for the regions Aquitaine ("its economic and social balance
and its size justify that this region should remain on its own") and Nord-Pas-de-Calais ("there is no reason to group
the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region with other regional entities; its economic dynamism and its central location in
Europe make this entity a major asset for France"). Champagne-Ardenne and Picardy were grouped together to
give rise to "a border and maritime area of more than 3.2 million inhabitants integrated and linked to both the
European economic backbone and the Ile-de-France region", as were the Centre, Limousin and Poitou-Charentes
regions, on the grounds that "the new area comprising these three regions already constitutes a particularly
integrated whole thanks to a road network strengthening interconnections (A20-A10 network), particularly with
the capital region".
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perimeter of future Regions, there was room to think about real progress in terms of decentralisation and
reorganisation, in particular in favour of employment or development, to keep pace with contemporary
developments. Today there are indeed challenges in terms of extending economic competences and the
resources allocated to the Regions, which remain low, even though the Regions have done a huge
amount of work in terms of reflection and the implementation of their major priorities with the
development of Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) in terms of European Smart Specialisation.
Furthermore, the question of the identity of the Regions and above all the sense of belonging and
involvement of their inhabitants is raised. Indeed, one of the achievements of the reform is that it has
increased the legitimacy of the role played by the Regions, because of the media coverage of the debate
on their geographical borders and the groupings that have taken place. This discussion has contributed
to their definitive recognition as one of the major organisations in the structure of the State, ahead of the
departments or municipalities, so that no one disputes their pre-eminent place in the architecture of the
French Republic.
III. What European integration? A reform that comes at the same time
as the EU's smart specialization policies
One of the stated objectives of the territorial reform is to "provide the French regions with a critical size
enabling them to exercise the strategic competences assigned to them on the right scale, to compete with
comparable authorities in Europe and to achieve efficiency gains" (text of the draft law NOTRE). This
objective is similar to that has been already pursued in other European countries, in a somewhat different
economic context. Indeed, compared to their European neighbours, the French regions have a very low
budget and competences; the centralising French State is still a reality. For example, while the average
expenditure of European regions is 4,000 euros per year per inhabitant, that of French regions is ten
times lower.
In spite of these differences, territorial reform seems to be following, as in other European countries, a
twofold movement of deepening the role of the regional level and the major cities, but also of affirming
the metropolis-region couple. If we look at the reform processes at work in countries such as Italy,
Portugal, Spain or the Netherlands, we can see that regions and metropolises are on the rise everywhere
(Lang and Török, 2017; Rozenblat and Pumain, 2018), while intermediate territorial levels such as
departments seem to be called into question. This is the case in Italy, for example, where Matteo Renzi
has passed a bill reducing the powers of the provinces with the aim of abolishing them definitively in
the long term. The "Renzimania" was also accompanied by an accelerated and in-depth constitutional
reform, with consensus on both the left and the right (Caruso et al., 2019). The transfer of competences
to the regions is also being systematised in many countries. For example, the Belgian State has
transferred to its three regions the sum of 17 billion euros, corresponding to new competences acquired
in the field of health and employment (De Ceuninck et al., 2016).
At the same time, the lowest common denominator of territorial organisation, the municipality, accused
of being the most spendthrift territorial level, tends to be increasingly questioned. The economic crisis
has favoured municipal groupings in Europe in order to reduce operating costs. Globalisation and
increased competition between territorial authorities have also led to the need for better pooling of
resources. This is notably the case in Greece, where the number of municipalities has been divided by
three in 2011. An argument often put forward in France to push for a reduction in the number of
municipalities is that 40% of European municipalities are French. Nevertheless, far from being a French
exception, municipal fragmentation also affects other countries, even if not in the same proportions.
While the merger of municipalities remains a failure in France and Spain favouring more
intermunicipality, and thus a new layer of the millefeuille other countries have been resolutely
engaged in the process since the 1970s, such as the Scandinavian and Central and Eastern European
countries, the United Kingdom and Germany in particular (Bran et al., 2019).
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Looking at the level of the European Union, it can be seen that a good part of European policies,
including cohesion policy, have taken a territorial turn since the 2010's, after the criticisms addressed to
the Lisbon policy - which aimed to make Europe the world's leading technological power - in particular
following the Barca report (2009). The diagnosis of this policy revealed several limitations (Giannitsis,
2009) and it has been demonstrated that there is a need for territorialisation of the EU cohesion policy
(Bourdin, 2019). In particular the smaller share of European economies composed of high-tech, R&D
intensive sectors, the fragmentation of R&D efforts, which prevented the emergence of critical mass
effects and of localized learning processes, and the insufficient attention to the differences between the
different regions and territories of the EU, due to the "one size fits all" technology development policy
.In addition, many of the policies implemented by EU public authorities to promote convergence
between the economies of European states (such as ERDF programs) have been unable to prevent
processes of marginalization and are now sharply criticized and funding for these programs has been
significantly reduced (Berkowitz et al.., 2015; Camagni and Capello, 2013).
The reform of European growth and development policies has focused on a place-based approach and
on the differentiating advantages imagined in the framework of smart specialisation. The so-called Smart
Specialization Strategy (S3) or policy, is very different from previous ones, in that it takes greater
account of knowledge networks, spatial dimensions, as well as regionally specific modes of governance
(Mc Cann and Ortega Argiles, 2013). In concrete terms, in order for regions to receive development
funds, they must establish programmes and projects aimed at encouraging entrepreneurship and
innovation, based on a strategy explicitly drawn up on the basis of an inventory of the territory's
strengths, and particularly of the regional and territorial areas and the networks linked to them. The EU
invited each region to choose a few key domains or activities or technologies, based on three criteria:
the overall context (the chosen activity should fit into a value chain and not be isolated at the local level),
specialization in specific fields of activity, and coherent diversification through related variety (the
sectors selected must be closely related or belong to interconnected and complementary fields of
activity). To qualify for development funds, EU regions have had to set up programs and projects aimed
at promoting entrepreneurship and innovation. Thus, in principle, the logic of the policy prioritization
process is neither exclusive nor exhaustive but is based on thematic choices and is conceived to promote
competition in resource allocation proposals (McCann, 2015).
According to the European Commission, regional smart specialisation strategies thus lead to a more
comprehensive set of development objectives and encourage regions to build their innovation strategies
both on the basis of the existing structure and according to the potential for diversification. But the
deployment of RIS-IS is taking place in the context of the territorial reform of merging regions and the
strengthening of the competences of metropolises and regional councils in the field of economic
development. The implementation of this reform is likely to change the links between regions, as well
as between regions and metropolises in this field. Their strategies in terms of higher education, research
and innovation could be impacted. The implementation of the SRI-SI will therefore have to take into
account this new territorial balance.
IV. Too big to be smart? The risks and limits of the reform
If we link the characteristics of the new French regions to the smart specialisation process underway at
European level, the first and most obvious risk is that of a lack of specialisation. Indeed, while the
European policy of smart specialisation in Horizon 2020 and then now 2030 emphasises the choice, by
each of the Regions, of a limited number of activities or technologies that are an integral part of a value
chain, and therefore a differentiation of functions and production, we can fear the opposite effect of the
birth of macro-Regions. The latter, organized around their metropolises, are in fact often tempted to
behave like small States, reproducing all the internal skills and specializations, without making any real
development choices, at the risk of fragmentation and trivialization. This could result in a loss of
competitiveness and attractiveness, amplified by the lack of brand image of the new regional entities.
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The study carried out on the different choices of intelligent specialisation strategies of the former 22
French regions (CGET, 2015) shows that several new regions are encountering difficulties in bringing
out the highlights of their economic fabric and innovation ecosystem, and thus in choosing strategic
areas of specialisation. While those of the former Upper and Lower Normandy, now united in the new
Normandy region, are similar in their broad outlines (sustainable materials, energy and wind transition,
biomedical science and technologies), others are experiencing more difficulties, due to the diversity of
specific technological fields or sectors. Thus, whereas in the former Midi-Pyrénées, the emphasis was
on aeronautics and medical research, the former Languedoc-Roussillon region promotes the coastal
economy or the industrial energy transition, which leads to difficulties of convergence within the new
Occitanie region, which appears relatively composite.
But this reform also brings with it a number of other risks of an economic and social nature, identified
by commentators and researchers. They concern the organisation of the Republic but also the place given
to the territories and the different levels of governance in France, as well as the well-being of local
populations.
The first and most obvious problem is again linked to the size of the new regions; some have become
veritable mastodons, the equivalent of which is hard to find in other European countries. One thinks in
particular of the Nouvelle Aquitaine (whose surface area is now larger than that of Austria), Centre or
Rhône-Alpes-Auvergne Regions. It is obvious that this increase in volume is causing a part of the
population to move away from the decision-making centres, and in particular from the regional capital.
We are seeing the emergence of a recentralised organisation at the level of the large regions, which in
turn reproduce the centralised functioning of France, by organising themselves around their capitals.
Many local elected representatives or officials are now more than two or three hours away from their
regional capitals by road, and often much more by rail, and find it difficult to make their voices heard
and to represent the people's interests. The remoteness, coupled with the reign of the metropolises, has
undoubtedly contributed to the feeling of a new withdrawal of the State from peripheral or rural
territories, considered as abandoned. It may be thought that it is not unrelated to the feeling of
abandonment and isolation felt and manifested by the yellow vests (Grossman, 2019).
A negative effect of regional reconfigurations on territorial equity is also to be expected. The merging
of regions is likely to increase the concentration of activities in the most productive areas. It could lead
to a reduction in the quality, or even a lack, of local services, unless new ones are set up or local public
services are increased, which is neither in line with history nor in terms of cost reduction. There is
legitimate concern for the inhabitants of "border" areas or territories furthest from large cities or
metropolises, in a context of diminishing public resources, rationalisation of equipment and the
elimination of many local services (high schools, vocational training, hospitals, post offices, etc.) or
railway lines. The revolt of the yellow vests raised these problems with the gradual withdrawal of many
services from rural areas, including State services, and the obligation to increase travel for the
inhabitants of the most peripheral areas.
By fostering closer ties between favoured and less favoured territories, territorial reform has helped to
reduce demographic and wealth disparities between regions. For example, excluding Île-de-France and
Corsica (where the differences are too extreme), the range [in terms of GDP] around the average has
gone from +15.6% to -13.9% to only +11.7% to -8.4% according to INSEE. In other words, the gap in
wealth from one territory to another has narrowed, with the richer regions raising the average of the
poorer regions with which they have merged. In particular, these mergers have made it possible to make
up part of the gap with Ile-de-France and Rhône-Alpes-Auvergne. Since 2016, five new regions have
each accounted for 7% or more of France's GDP, compared with just one (PACA) in 2012. At the same
time, the GDP of these six large regions (including Auvergne Rhône-Alpes) accounts for almost half of
the national GDP (47.7%). The new super-regions should theoretically be better equipped to compete
with their European counterparts.
Article accepté dans la revue European Planning Studies
10
But this statistical effect is, for the moment, purely virtual. The fact that the new Rhône-Alpes-Auvergne
region contributes a larger share of national GDP does not change the situation of the Auvergne region
alone. Generally speaking, we are touching here on the contradictions of a regulatory State, which
wishes to reduce inequalities between regions by reducing their number but runs the risk of increasing
territorial disparities within each region. This is illustrated by the example of the new Alsace-
Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine region, which has many internal difficulties, particularly in terms of
economic development (only two departments out of ten have a GDP/capita above the European Union
average!). This results in inter-territorial disparities which are very significant. While some departments
have a combination of difficulties, such as the Ardennes, the Vosges or the Moselle, others have socio-
economic indicators in the black, such as the Marne and the Bas-Rhin, whose economic dynamism is
driven by the former regional capitals. Strasbourg is unquestionably becoming the centre of gravity of
the new region, at the risk of widening the gaps that have become structural.
Finally, a third risk stems from the uncertainties over the links between territorial authorities, and
especially the relationship between the Region and the metropolises, as the latter are being given greater
autonomy and extended functions, if not a driving role. This is not only a question of collaboration
between levels, but even more so of the capacity to jointly generate spillover or development effects and
initiate common dynamics at regional level. As a result, the removal of the general competence clause
could reduce the impact of the action of local authorities, by compartmentalising them within a defined
field of action, whereas territorial development, on the contrary, presupposes multidimensional action
and multiple synergies. This limitation is likely to prove all the more important as the authorities'
capacity for action will be increasingly constrained financially by the obligations they will have to fulfil
with a budget allocated by Parliament.
V. Forgetting the territorial dimension and the dream of an urban France
Reforming the organisation of France, creating metropolises, merging regions, building large inter-
municipal bodies, this may seem motivating and exhilarating. But what about the citizens of France,
those who bring life to the territories, especially when they live in less urbanised, peri-urban or
peripheral areas? Has the law thought about them? And what consideration is given to all the territories
that make up the national whole, that constitute its living forces, beyond the administrative entities?
The territorial reform was based on the idea that France is first and foremost an urban country, whose
organization should be structured around a certain number of large cities and then, through successive
disaggregations, medium-sized communes or inter-communal bodies, leading to the creation of a
network of rural areas in towns and villages. It is above all the metropolises that have been highlighted
and are the subject of all the attention, with the future of France thus taking shape around its most densely
populated and densely populated territories. The latter are considered to play a structuring role, by
organising their hinterlands, but also by steering the future of rural territories, in particular through the
contractualisation tools attributed to them in the MAPTAM law. They are thus in a position to produce
the food resources necessary for their daily functioning (urban food) and to set aside leisure areas for
young or older urban dwellers, who will be able to take advantage of landscaping amenities or satisfy
their desire for nature (leisure or nature functions).
This vision quickly proved to be dangerous, as it led to forgetting part of the territories, more specifically
the rural ones. These territories are often seen as far from dynamic. However, according to the latest
INSEE statistics, 1 in 3 French people live in a commune with less than 3,500 inhabitants and, among
rural communes, more than 80% of them are growing in population (between 1999 and 2018). Indeed,
while they are present in the expectations and the very title of the reform, they are largely neglected, in
their diversity, in the project and the final text. This is partly the story of a misunderstanding. The
territories referred to in the text of the law, without insisting too much, are those of local public policies,
constituted by local authorities. They are "given" and institutional territories, the Region or the
département for example, a common geographical delimitation around which development strategies
will be built. But there is no question of lived territories or territories built by the actors, whose
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boundaries are rather vague and which nevertheless play an essential role in local dynamics as well as
in the renewal of citizen initiatives.
However, the territories constructed refer to organised relations, groups or particular populations, which
identify themselves in common projects rather than delimited borders. Collective productions, resulting
from the actions of an organised human group, territories are not only geographical entities. In
permanent construction, they are part of the long term, with a history and concerns rooted in local
cultures and habits, the perception of a sense of belonging, as well as forms of political authority, specific
rules of organisation and functioning. These territories, which have been translated into ephemeral terms
such as "Pays" or more ethereal terms such as "Bassins de vie", are very real and are a sign of the
inescapable diversity of France, beyond the urban-centric vision of the metropolises and the areas
dedicated to their services.
As territories of initiative and projects, they reveal well differentiated modes of operation and (non-)
development, the lack of recognition of which has led to two types of problems.
1) First in terms of democracy or the representation of opinions and the people's voice. The reform was
undertaken without prior consultation or involvement of local populations in the decisions. This is all
the more unfortunate since the territories of France are characterised by a very strong and growing
interest on the part of the latter in their modalities of functioning or development. For example, in the
first round of the 2014 municipal elections, there was a 26-point difference in voter turnout between
municipalities with fewer than 500 inhabitants and those with more than 90,000 inhabitants. Moreover,
the multiplication of associations and the growing involvement of local stakeholders (individuals,
associations, businesses, cooperatives, various networks, local systems and mechanisms, etc.) are
evidence of this, revealing that the various components of civil society are willing to play a crucial role
in the definition of future projects and developments in the territories. An INSEE study in 2015 on
associative life shows that the inhabitants of rural communes are more likely to be volunteers than those
in big cities.
In this respect, rather than government, we should talk about territorial governance. Governance
understood as the set of processes and mechanisms through which the various stakeholders contribute
to the elaboration, sometimes concerted, sometimes conflictual, of common projects for the future
development of the territories (Torre and Traversac, 2011). Numerous collective initiatives such as local
charters, think tanks, governance mechanisms, land resource management methodologies, cooperative
initiatives, etc. are being developed, not to mention the rise in conflicts due to the voices of the
populations and their opposition to certain projects promoted from above, whether by large companies
or public authorities (Torre and Wallet, 2014). It would be appropriate to make room for these
expressions of democracy coming from the territories and to give them a place in a genuine reform
directed towards the latter.
2) The second type of problem arises in terms of innovations, resources and production capacities. The
idea of entrusting the future of France to the metropolises casts serious doubt on the future of sparsely
populated territories, considered, at best, to be at the service of large conurbations. This option overlooks
the particularly significant growth of these areas in recent years (even if it remains low in volume of
course), but it also neglects certain very specific dimensions of these territories. First of all, it should be
remembered that the wealth of France, a country deprived of mining and energy resources, lies above
all in two assets: its landscapes and its diversity on the one hand, resulting from its vast expanse (the
largest country in the EU), the diversity of its terroirs and its climatic and geomorphological varieties;
the quality and diversity of its human resources on the other hand, with extremely diverse skills and
experience, depending on the location, origins and types of production.
This double diversity is strongly felt in low-density, rural and peripheral territories, which are sometimes
characterised by their dynamism, productivity and capacity for innovation. It should be recalled that
many large companies with high export performances are located in these zones (Michelin, Limagrain...)
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and that the productivity of French agriculture is one of the highest in the world. But the dynamics of
the territories are not limited to this, and above all concern the importance and variety of innovations,
organizational, social and institutional, that are characteristic of the zones that are not included in the
fourteen French metropolises.
Indeed, a growing number of examples attest to a broad capacity for innovation and creativity of local
actors, including in territories that are not technologically intensive. These territorial innovations call on
the inventiveness of local populations, without necessarily being linked to a high level of
industrialisation or productive specialisation. They reveal the vitality of territories, which demonstrate
their dynamism and capacity for renewal by mobilising local forces. Examples include the development
of short proximity circuits, which consist in bringing producers, often farmers, and consumers closer
together, with the possibility of identifying the origin of the products consumed and avoiding industrial
intermediaries deemed too costly or dangerous to health. In addition to controlling the origin of food,
there is a social dimension, through familiarity with the producer or collaborative relationships between
producers and/or sellers, as well as the integration and recreation of social ties, for example through
cooperative production, the creation of solidarity grocery stores or places for the distribution and sale of
products.
These new practices are the basis for a more territorially focused economic operation. Most importantly,
however, they help to create and maintain a strong social fabric at the local level and make a fundamental
contribution to the resilience of territories, making it possible to limit or plug territorial fractures that
are too strong or the rise in neglect or relegation of rural or peri-urban areas. It is on their existence that
many rural or peripheral French territories rely for their continued existence and existence. It is also
largely from these territories that the revolt of the yellow vests started, led by people who felt isolated
and abandoned from power in areas too often left without much help from the State and public
authorities.
Conclusion
One of the arguments put forward by the promoters of the French territorial reform was that it could
give a power of initiative to the living forces of the nation, or at least to its most important components
in terms of population volumes. This was the main reason for the initiatives taken in favour of
strengthening the role and competences of the metropolises, recognising the highly urban character of
the French population and a clear rebalancing in favour of the most densely populated areas, from which
new dynamics were hoped for, as well as a more balanced representation of the different categories of
assets. Moreover, the massive increase in the size of the regions was also expected to enable them to
play a more important role at European level and to have a greater say in the decision-making process
by becoming key players in development policies.
Unfortunately, a certain number of points had been totally forgotten or strongly neglected in this
improvised reform, foremost among which was the place of peripheral or rural territories, which make
up the bulk of France's geographical map. The revolt of the yellow vests and the feeling of exclusion
that it carries has shown to what extent the big bang has proved to be a costly exercise, by not allowing
local initiatives to develop and populations to participate in them. Furthermore, over and above the
considerable efforts in financial and human terms to bring together the regions and administrative
services, it is proving difficult for them to join the European concert and play an important role in it, for
two main reasons. The first is linked to their weak financial capacity, which prevents them from having
ambitious economic and growth policies and from asserting their choices. The second is linked to their
very large size, which makes it difficult to make any real attempt at specialisation because of the
diversity of the areas they now cover and their own and sometimes widely contrasting specificities.
Article accepté dans la revue European Planning Studies
13
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Annexes : Share of the competences between territorial authorities
Regions
Departments
Municipalities
Lead role
Direct and indirect aid
Indirect aid
Direct aid
Lead role - Definition of regional
policy and implementation
Professional
integration within the
framework of the
Active Solidarity
Income program
Recruitment - possibility of
assisted contracts promoting
integration
Recruitment -
possibility of assisted
contracts promoting
integration
Recruitment - possibility of
assisted contracts
promoting integration
High schools (buildings, catering,
personal)
Middle schools
(buildings, catering,
personal)
Elementary schools
(buildings, catering,
personal)
Culture (heritage, education,
creation, libraries, museums,
archives)
Culture (heritage,
education, creation,
libraries, museums,
archives)
Culture (heritage,
education, creation,
libraries, museums,
archives)
Childhood (nurseries,
leisure centres)
Sport (equipment and grants)
Sport (equipment and
grants)
Sport (equipment and
grants)
Tourism
Tourism
Tourism
Lead role -
Organization and aid
Optional social actions
Planning Leadership role in
spatial planning
Regional plan for spatial planning
and sustainable development
(preparation)
Regional plan (opinion,
approval)
Regional plan (opinion,
approval)
State-Region planning contract
Natural areas
Espaces naturels
Espaces naturels
Regional natural parks
Waste (departmental
plan)
Waste (collection,
treatment)
Water (participation to the master
plans for water development and
management)
Water (participation to
the master plans for
water development
and management)
Water (distribution,
sanitation)
Energy (distribution)
Inland ports
Seaports, commercial
and fishing ports
Pleasure ports
Aerodromes
Aerodromes
Aerodromes
Regional Scheme
Departmental roads
Communal roads
Leader in intermodal transport. Rail
transport (optional) Road and
school transport outside urban
areas
Public and school transport
Article accepté dans la revue European Planning Studies
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Network management
Network management
Network management
Financing
Financing, park and
assistance, plan and
housing office
Financing, park and aid
Security municipal police
Traffic
Traffic and parking
Crime prevention
Crime prevention
Fire and rescue
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Thesis
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L’économie circulaire se présente comme un nouveau modèle économique permettant de faire face aux défis actuels du système économique linéaire. Aujourd’hui reprise dans plusieurs pays comme un levier d’évolution des pratiques et des modèles de développement économique, ses démarches sont de plus en plus expérimentées dans les territoires, dans un contexte de transition socioécologique et énergétique. L’objectif de la thèse est de déterminer dans quelle mesure l’économie circulaire peut constituer, par son caractère innovant, une opportunité pour les territoires de mettre en oeuvre des processus de développement territorial. Le cadre d’analyse mobilise différentes théories et méthodes quantitatives et qualitatives dans le but de mieux comprendre les implications de l’ancrage territorial et l’importance des dispositifs de gouvernance pour la mise en place des stratégies d'économie circulaire sur les territoires. Les résultats montrent une croissance locale de l’économie circulaire, en phase avec les enjeux de plus en plus importants en termes de politiques publiques en faveur de l’emploi et de compétitivité de l’économie. Ils indiquent que le défi actuel n’est pas seulement une question d’innovations technologiques autour de l’efficience des ressources et de la création de valeur, mais aussi d’hybridation des actions et de capacité à faire coopérer des parties prenantes variées pour la mise en oeuvre d’externalités territoriales positives. L’exemple de la méthanisation permet de mettre en évidence le rôle du contexte local dans la capacité à générer ces activités nouvelles qui, par leurs vertus économiques et sociales contribuent à créer de nouveaux liens et des processus durables, grâce à l’activation ou au renforcement des proximités et de leurs potentiels.
Chapter
This chapter provides a contextualised framework of two European countries: France and Italy. These two countries are framed with reference to their institutional structure and their planning systems. To address the topic of land take and ecological restoration and examine how they are interlinked, the proposed analysis emphasises which measures, policies and tools have been undertaken in the two countries. The choice reveals how the two countries share some common elements of discussion, but they tackle the issues of land take containment, ecological continuities and green infrastructure with different perspectives.
Book
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Participate! Portraits of Cities and Citizens in Action offers an introduction to the complex world of urban development, identity and participation. It explains how the self-understanding of cities is mirrored in their approach to urban development. The basis of the book is formed by portraits of six European cities: Berlin, Hamburg, Paris, Lyon, Amsterdam and Groningen. The book fills a gap as it provides general introductions to cities, a brief outline of the city’s planning system, a short historic introduction to the city’s planning culture. With telling and outstanding examples of citizen participation this book offers important insights in both the intrinsic logic of the cities and the mechanisms – sometimes more inclusive, sometimes more exclusive- of participation. Participate! is one of the results of the R-link project, a unique cooperation of Dutch policy makers and scholars on participation and urban development. Of interest for urban planners, architects, city journalists and students and academics in the field of urban planning.
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This chapter scrutinizes the ongoing debate on structural reform in local government in the Flemish Region of Belgium at the turn and the first decades of the 21st century. As in many European polities, discussions on the territorial and functional arrangements of the level deemed closest to the citizen have occupied a protracted place on the reform agenda. Likewise, given their often controversial and conflictual nature all but a part of these reformist ambitions have eventually been adopted and implemented. Actual structural change often only crystalizes as the residue of a heated reform base once the damp of the discussion evaporates. Full Text Preview Structural Reform In Local Government: Trends And Approaches In their comparative assessment of the status of local government at the turn of the 21 st century, Caulfield and Larsen (2002) discern a dramatic and sustained period of reform activity as a globally occurring phenomenon often ushering into conspicuous change. Some of these reforms can be determined as of the structural type in that they target the jurisdictional arrangements of local government (as opposed to the internal settings, modes and processes of local political and administrative decision-making). Aiming to alter these arrangements almost invariably impinges upon external multilevel constellations. Consequently, issues of structural reform are embedded in pre-existing and key to shifting central-local relations (Goldsmith & Page, 2010). Broadly speaking, structural reforms are often deemed as part-and-parcel of a common strategy to optimize the output-legitimacy of local government leading to a more effective and efficient production and delivery of public provisions and services in and under the authority of a hitherto delineated place-bound orbit (Vetter & Kersting, 2003a). They tend to have a central top-down policy impetus meeting diverse local bottom-up responses. Continue Reading
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The paper focuses on the Italian territories affected by regionalisation processes and subject to an institutional reform: the enforcement of Metropolitan Cities in 2014. Regionalisation processes have occurred in many European countries in recent decades, also assisted by the European Cohesion Policy. In Italy, regionalised territories have place-specific characteristics and new emerging forms of bottom-up cooperation are taking place. The new government system is having to deal with a complex scenario due to the dissemination of these forms of cooperation linked to the regionalisation taking place, alongside their potential coherence and/or contrast with the top-down design of the reform.
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This paper examines the issue of whether the UK displays high levels of interregional inequality or only average levels of inequality. The question arises due to major differences in public perceptions. Following on from recent UK public debates, the UK evidence is examined in the context of 28 different indicators and 30 different Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. Answering this question involves a careful consideration of the ways in which we use different spatial units of analysis, different measures of prosperity and different indices of inequality in order to understand interregional inequality, and the issues that arise are common to all countries. In the specific case of the UK, the result is clear. The UK is one of the most regionally unbalanced countries in the industrialized world.
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n late 2018, a series of massive demonstrations brought parts of France to a standstill. Emiliano Grossman argues that the so-called ‘yellow vests’ are a response to an intense crisis of political trust that could have profound consequences for France. [First paragraph]
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This paper represents an overview of the concept of multi-level governance and the approach delivered on innovation at European level with the purpose of helping and empowering researchers and businesses to thrive in a technologically advanced economy. The concept of multi-level governance derives from the analysis of the institutional framework for the development of Community policies and the Community political process. This stems from the presumption that the Community governance system has a high degree of differentiation and integration both vertically and horizontally. The multi-level governance model illustrates how certain competences of the national state are transferred to the supranational level or to the public or private sub-national authorities. Within this model, we can meet both supranational actors and actors at national, regional or local levels. This type of governance is characterized by the existence of a limited number of authorities, divided so as to be able to perform more functions, excluding their overlapping to exercise exclusively competences on delimited territories. Multi-level governance in innovation is characterized by a national transition as a unique place for the development and implementation of innovation policy, both at supranational and sub-national levels. Keyword: multi-level governance, European Union, development, social cohesion, institutions
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Support for parties opposed to European Union (EU) integration has risen rapidly, and a wave of discontent has taken over the EU. This discontent is purportedly driven by the very factors behind the surge of populism: differences in age, wealth, education, or economic and demographic trajectories. This paper maps the geography of EU discontent across more than 63,000 electoral districts in the EU-28 and assesses which factors push anti-EU voting. The results show that the anti-EU vote is mainly a consequence of local economic and industrial decline in combination with lower employment and a less educated workforce. Many of the other suggested causes of discontent, by contrast, matter less than expected, or their impact varies depending on levels of opposition to European integration.