chapter  5
17 Pages

THE TRAILBLAZERS

Another, more indirect French influence has to do with the existence of well in excess of 36,000 communes, each with an elected council and mayor. Some are simply too small, but there is no sustained attempt at consolidation. The half a million mayors and councillors are a force to reckon with, the more so since many a mayor is also a deputy, a senator or even minister. State services, often through the agency of the préfectures administering the départements into which the French Revolution has divided the country, fill the gap. The prefect used to order, entice or cajole communes to do what was right, but France is decentralising, so this is changing. One answer to fractured local government is to focus on bassins de vie, or pays, territories with some common feature covering several communes. This is like early Dutch planners identifying areas between the municipal and provincial scale, soft spaces not coextensive with any jurisdiction, as planning arenas. French pays are the objects of flexible arrangements to formulate what is called a projet de territoire. Participants are expected to take the strategy, in the formulation of which they have participated, into consideration. Although a statutory document, the Schéma de cohérence territorial represents a similar approach. At first sight to draw a parallel with the EU seems fanciful. However, there are many issues in the EU criss-crossing borders. Such issues cannot be pressed into the straightjacket of territorially fixed entities. CEMAT and the Council of Europe Working Party ‘Regional Planning a European Problem’ have already been shown to point this out. In this respect, the EU seems to once more have taken a leaf out of the book of the French. It gives incentives for cross-border and transnational cooperation with the intent of promoting ad-hoc strategic cooperation. Like in strategic spatial planning à la française, tailor-made arrangements exist, the latest being the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. The so-called European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation (EGTC) offers administrative facilities for cross-border cooperation – perhaps the reason why some Member States are reluctant to transpose the relevant EU legislation. The relation between French and European planning is mutual. Thus, in pursuance of the ESDP, a study of ‘France 2020’ directed by the then délégué at DATAR, Jean-Louis Guigou, saw the light of day. The second edition (Guigou 2002) in particular positioned the French urban network in a wider context of European macro-regions, sometimes called ‘pétites Europes’ – ‘little Europes’. Without an immediate follow-up, the study nonetheless reverberates in French policy but of course as elsewhere the discourse changed to take account of the concern for competitiveness. The name of DATAR became DIACT (Délegation interministérielle à l’aménagement et à la compétitivité des territoires). As already in the Brunet Study, the issue is no longer defined in terms of what has once been described by an expert from Brittany as the ‘cancerous’ growth of Paris. Rather, like in EU cohesion policy, the issue is defined in terms

of the co-evolution of all territories so as to maximise their potential and in so doing to contribute to the competitiveness of France as a whole. The latest expression of this policy is a strategic report expressing a ‘novel ambition’ (DIACT 2009). It shows the French keenly observing the evolution, still to be discussed, of thinking in the Territorial Agenda of the European Union in which France has of course participated. Accordingly, the new report identifies climate change and energy as new challenges. It also reflects themes in the Green Paper on Territorial Cohesion, also to be discussed, invoking policies of concentration, connection and cooperation. The DIACT report emphasises the interdependence of territories and the need for inter-regional cooperation, with metropolitan areas assuming responsibility. It also underlines the need for transnational cooperation. Perhaps because DATAR is an international brand name, the acronym was reinstated in December 2009, but it now stands for Délégation interministeriélle à l’aménagement du territoire et à l’attractivité régionale. Note that ‘regional action’ has been replaced by ‘regional attractiveness’. It is sometimes said that the French view Europe as an extension of France. Clearly, France has been successful in shaping the EU and its institutions. True, the British and the Scandinavians, followed by the new Member States, have meant change. English is now more common and lunches no longer last for two hours compensated by the willingness to stay late at work. What remains, though, is French willingness and effectiveness, at least where the experts are concerned, to think one’s way through the issues. An English author concludes that amongst the political classes of Europe ‘only one … has left its distinctive mark on Brussels and the European Union. … For if we ask about élites within European states today, one thing is clear. Easily the most formidable, the best educated and most determined political class in Europe is that of France’. (Siedentop 2000: 134). Clearly, the rest of us have much to learn from the French.