Hollande's new territorial map of France sparks discontent

Reform set to devolve more powers to regions, numer of which will be cut from 22 to 14 · President says proposal will be submitted to parliamentary debate · Opposition voiced in Brittany, Alsace, Savoy, Languedoc

Yesterday on the Elysée website, and today in a number of newspapers, French president Francois Hollande unveiled its proposal for a new territorial map of France. The official number of regions in metropolitan France is cut from current 22 to 14 by merging several of them. But the map release immediately attracted a lot of criticism. Hollande stressed that his proposal will be submitted to parliamentary debate, but also states that the reform "must move quickly."

Upper left picture (click on it to enlarge) shows the map as it has been released on the Elysée site. Limits of current regions are shown in black; colours indicate planned mergers. In the north, the two Normandies will be merged into one single region, while an Alsace-Lorraine is also envisaged. Brittany and Pays de la Loire are set to maintain their current boundaries. In the centre, a new macro-region will absorb part of the Occitan lands (Limousin). While in the south, a new large region centred around Toulouse (which will be including Northern Catalonia) will be established. Aquitaine, Provence and Corsica will remain unchanged.

According to Hollande, the reform is necessary because regions of "European size" have to be created. These regions will be vested with more powers than they now have. The reform will also lead to the disappearance of the general councils (assemblies of the departaments) by 2020, whose powers will be transferred to regions and to intercomunalities (groupings of municipalities).

Brittany. The movement of the Bonnets Rouges and 44 Breizh and Bretagne Reunie groups are calling for demonstrations today in all Brittany's prefectures and sub-prefectures against Hollande's proposal. The groups argue the department of Loire-Atlantique (now included in the region of Pays de la Loire) should be re-attached to Brittany, to which it belongs from a historical and cultural point of view. Hollande's map keeps Loire-Atlantique within the Pays de la Loire. Breton President Pierrick Massiot had last week detailed a plan for the unification of Brittany and Loire-Atlantique.

Alsace. Alsatian President Philippe Richert had voiced opposition to Alsace's merger into a macro-region. Hollande is finally proposing to group Alsace and Lorraine, without the neighboring region of Champagne, which is set to join Picardy. Alsatian party Unser Land says Alsace and Lorraine are "incompatible", and calls to "mobilize" to preserve Alsace's "integrity." The party also wonders if time has come to leave France and "establish a prosperous [Alsatian] state."

Corsica. No changes for the Corsicans, who are staging a different political battle: the Corsican Assembly last year asked Paris for a constitutional change that recognized a specific status for Corsica within the French Republic. The Assembly called for a greater degree of autonomy for Corsica, including co-official status for Corsican and a resident status for the islandes. The French government refuses.

Savoy. The Savoyard political movement has long demanded the establishment of an autonomous region of Savoy, made up of two departments carrying this name. Hollande's reform not only is keeping the Savoy region within Rhône-Alpes (with Lyon as its capital), but it also attaches neighboring Auvergne in the grouping, which gives even less relative weight to Savoyards. General Council of Savoy President Herve Gaymard had proposed the establishment of a Council of Savoyard Countries "with enhanced powers." Savoy Region Movement party considers the new map as a "threat" to Savoy's identity. The party calls for the establishment of a region of Savoy, separated from Rhône-Alpes.

Occitania and Northern Catalonia. Occitan territories included in the regions of Aquitaine and Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur will not undergo changes. Limousin will be merged into a macro-region with areas of central and north-eastern France, while Auvergne, as mentioned, will be absorbed by Lyon-led macro-region. In addition, a merger is expected for Midi-Pyrenees and Languedoc-Roussillon in the southern Occitan lands, centered around Toulouse. Languedoc-Roussillon President Christian Bourquin says the proposal is a "humiliation", and vows to fight "till the end" to prevent the merger. On the contrary, Perpignan Mayor Jean-Marc Pujol agrees with the plan.

Northern Basque Country. Nothing new for Iparralde, which will continue to lack institutional recognition, although business, social and political sectors there are demanding a specific Basque territory with some autonomous powers. Iparralde will thus remain within the department of Pyrenees-Atlantiques, which in turn will continue to belong to the region of Aquitaine.