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Burgundy digs into France's bureaucratic 'mille-feuille'

© Hans Andersen/Wikimedia Commons | Burgundy landscape

Text by Thomas HUBERT

Latest update : 2014-04-16

The presidents of two administrative regions in eastern France have plans to merge following calls to cut through the country’s numerous and costly layers of local government, which the French describe as a mille-feuille (thousand-layer) cake.

Regional Council Presidents Marie-Guite Dufay of Franche-Comté and François Patriat of Burgundy told reporters on Monday that they hoped to conduct an “administrative rapprochement” aiming to “merge the two authorities” in the coming years.

The announcement came days after France’s new Prime Minister Manuel Valls promised to “half the number of administrative regions” in order to cut costs and simplify France's "territorial mille-feuille".

“Our regions must have a critical mass,” Valls said in his inauguration speech on April 8, calling on regional councils to put forward their own plans for merger over the next two years. Failing that, the French PM said he would introduce legislation to draw the new regional map.

President François Hollande had already asked regional councils to prepare for mergers last January.

“We can either do it now and hope for some small financial compensation, or do nothing and the law will hit us in January 2017,” Patriat said. “The administrative mille-feuille is not simple nor efficient,” he added, echoing Valls’s speech.

Russian dolls

Burgundy and Franche-Comté are home to 2.8 million people – slightly more than the city of Paris. They are divided into eight "départements" and 3,831 municipal councils, some of which are grouped into urban areas – adding another sub-layer. These Russian doll-like local authorities provide services ranging from public transport to water supply, social housing and fire brigades. Between them, they employ more than 60,000 staff across the two regions.

Nationwide, local authorities spent 173.7 billion euros in 2012 – a 67% increase over 10 years. France's cash-strapped government is now determined to make savings by "simplifying" these bureaucratic layers.

Dufay said the planned merger would yield “a more efficient administrative organisation for the future”.

She and Patriat are members of the ruling Socialist Party of Valls and Hollande, and support government plans for administrative simplification. But not everyone agrees.

“Should we not seek the residents’ approval? Deciding on your own is part of the Socialist mindset,” a reader commented on the website of local newspaper “Le Journal de Saône-et-Loire”.

Local opposition politicians, too, support a referendum on the merger – and they are already calling on their supporters to vote "No".

One year ago, voters opposed a merger of the two départements forming the Alsace region, also in eastern France.

Date created : 2014-04-15

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