Who created the departments and for what purpose?
The departments were created in 1790, at the start of the French Revolution, to modernize the administration, but above all to control the populations. Hence the idea of a capital accessible from all over the department in a day’s riding.
It was only very gradually that a local power entrusted to two elected officials was established. For a long time, the prefect remained master of everything. Indeed, it was not until the Defferre laws of 1982 that the State supervision over the departments ended.
Can you remind us what they are responsible for today?
Social action is their big business. The departments deal with the elderly, the disabled, children in difficulty, as well as the management of the RSA. Their other major missions are colleges and departmental roads.
Is presiding over a department more a matter of management or politics?
It’s in between. Department presidents are politicians. But it is true that they are often less marked than deputies or senators. And that their room for maneuver is quite low, especially with regard to social action. The services cannot vary much from one department to another. The regulations are national and it is impossible to deviate from them. A president of the left cannot, for example, double the RSA in his department.
Doesn’t a department on the left or the right really change anything?
At election time, everyone tries to make their difference. The right will tell you that it spends more money on investments, the left that it does more for the social. But, in reality, there is a very large consensus on the management of departments. The proof is that their presidents, left and right, are still all united against the Minister of Local Authorities. Because they will always find that the State is not generous enough with the departments.
Knowing this, what advice do you give voters to make up their minds?
The first criterion is their own political convictions. We all have a sensitivity more to the right or more to the left. The second criterion is the effectiveness of the leavers. If the results are good, why change a winning team? As for the more tactical voters, they will try to ensure that the councilors elected in their canton belong to the departmental majority. It is often a guarantee that their territory will be better served …
We regularly talk about removing departments. Will we ever do it?
They were very threatened, but with the creation of the large regions, they became very important again. In particular the rural or outlying departments. Of course, in Brittany, the question is different, because the region was not affected by the reform. But I don’t believe that departments are the unnecessary layer of administrative millefeuille. Which does not mean that we should not reform.
Which ones do you have in mind?
In my opinion, it would be necessary to organize the election of departmental councilors within the framework of the inter-municipal authorities, which would in a way be the new cantons. This would avoid competition between these two levels of territorial administration. The problem is not the stacking of the rungs. It is the lack of complementarity between these local authorities.
Are the French still attached to their department?
Yes. The best proof being the outcry that followed the removal of the number of departments from license plates. There is, among the French, a strong awareness of belonging to a department. The mayonnaise concocted in 1790 has taken well.
However, the departmental campaign remains in the shadow of that of the regional ones. Was it a bad idea to hold both elections on the same day?
No. It was impossible to do otherwise. With the pandemic, it makes sense not to multiply election campaigns. And I see it rather as an advantage. Insofar as the regional elections motivate more than the departmental elections, this will undoubtedly make it possible to have a better participation.
What are you expecting on June 20 and 27?
There is, for these elections, a large bonus for leavers. The right currently runs about 60% of the departments, the left 40%. I am willing to bet that the balance will remain the same after the election.
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