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Departments: return to favor of a bad-loved chronicle

Punctual departments! The old "general councils" have recently seen a return to favor with Emmanuel Macron, who receives Thursday at the Elysee a lot of their presidents for a lunch-debate. Attacked to restore its link with the territories, the head of state flatters an institution which he promised, during his presidential campaign, to reduce the number "At least a quarter". Regularly promised to disappear, the department will finally pass without a hitch – but not without concern – the 230th anniversary of its creation, in December.

A few journalists met at the end of January at the Elysee, Emmanuel Macron has said all the good he thought of the departmental level, seen as an indispensable mediator between the field and the new "large regions". Sometimes referred to as a "President of the metropolises"criticized by a number of local elected officials for his "Jacobinism"In recent months, the Head of State has multiplied symbolic gestures and political gestures towards the territories. Like the creation, in October, of a ministry "in charge of the communities", attributed to the former president of the department of Eure, Sébastien Lecornu.

President of the Assembly of the French Departments (ADF), Dominique Bussereau raises himself with satisfaction with the executive "The search for a new proximity, a kind of return to the Girondism of his campaign, after a beginning of five-year rather centralizing". What normalize the relations with municipalities, departments and regions, without however raise all the subjects of quarrels – from the reform of the local taxation to the financing of the social aids, while passing by the limit put to the expenses of the communities.

A disappearance "in ten years"

These efforts take a particular dimension with regard to the departments, a step whose disappearance or reduction has often been mentioned in recent years, in the name of the reduction of public expenditure and the simplification of the "territorial milleille". In 2008, the Commission for the Liberation of French Growth, called "Attali", of which Emmanuel Macron is Deputy General Rapporteur, proposes "To eliminate in ten years the departmental level […] to clarify the competences and reduce the costs of the territorial administration ", regions and intercommunalities to absorb the competences of the general councils.

In 2013, it is the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that recommends the removal of departments. The following year, the Prime Minister Manuel Valls envisages it in turn, proposing their disappearance "By 2021". François Hollande, president of Corrèze before his entry to the Elysée, will also estimate, soon after, that "General councils have lived". simple "Reels", believes today Dominique Bussereau, welcoming that successive governments have always found them "A common front of all political sensibilities". Like Nicolas Sarkozy before him, the socialist government will be convinced that the country has "Need this intermediate level".

As for Emmanuel Macron, he is committed to his 2017 program in "Remove at least a quarter of the departments, where they can be brought closer to one of our big cities". That is to say 25 territories where large cities could exercise the competences of departmental councils, like the Lyon metropolis since 2015. Two years later, the idea lived, buried by the lack of enthusiasm of the communities concerned. If the merger is in sight in Marseille, it fails in Lille, Nantes, Bordeaux, Nice and Toulouse. While the disappearance of the small suburbs of Paris remains uncertain to this day.

Yellow vests, saviors of the department?

"In the rural territories, the President has always considered the department as the right working stitch", considers the Elysee. In reality, the executive recognizes half word that the presidential thought has evolved in the face of the double requirement of proximity and solidarity brought to light by the crisis of yellow vests. "The great debate has brought out the common-department couple as the right step for these topics, esteemed Sébastien Lecornu's entourage. We went from a five-year Holland where we had to remove the department, to another where it becomes the right level of proximity.

For Dominique Bussereau, "The big regions have settled the question and acted on the maintenance of the departments. How to imagine that the first interlocutor of a mayor of Creuse is regional council of New Aquitaine in Bordeaux? And then nobody wants to take social action », an expensive prerogative of the departments.

The Elysée now focuses on voluntary mergers of some of these communities, already carried out in Corsica, planned between the Upper and Lower Rhine and considered between the two Savoy. And by the voice of Sebastien Lecornu, the executive recently let hope for the communities a "Third movement of decentralization" which could, in particular, strengthen the authority of departments on social institutions. But the detail of the project, like so many others, is postponed the day after the great national debate.

Dominique Albertini

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