French Senate opens door not to merge Alsace with other regions

Law Commission passes two amendments that could leave Alsace outside an Eastern macro-region made up of Champagne-Ardennes and Lorraine · Conditions on transferring departaments from one region to another one have been softened · Draft law should now be debated by full Senate, go back to National Assembly

Alsace and Languedoc-Roussillon are set to regain their individuality in France's map after the Law Commission of the French Senate yesterday approved three amendments to the draft law on borders of regions that the National Assembly had passed on first reading before the summer. Two of the amendments "dissociate Alsace from the Lorraine-Champagne-Ardennes grouping," while the other one prevents Languedoc-Roussillon (capital city Montpellier) from merging with Midi-Pyrénées (Toulouse).

The amendments on Alsace had been proposed by a group of Alsatian senators. They argue that "for years" Alsatian politicians have tried to "create a single territorial collectivity in Alsace" by merging the Regional Council and the general councils of Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin. This proposal, the senators say, enjoys the support of 96% of Alsatian councilors, and could not be implemented in the event of Alsace joining an Eastern macro-region. The senators also recall that 12,000 to 15,000 Alsatians marched in Strasbourg, "the most important demonstration of the last 50 years," to reject the merger with Lorraine and Champagne-Ardennes.

According to the Alsace President Philippe Richert (UMP, centre-right), keeping Alsace as a region of its own would be in line with a "more coherent and effective decentralization."

The single territorial collectivity proposal -which should also be the basis for a transfer of new powers from the French government to Alsatian institutions- was voted in April 2013 in Alsace. Bas-Rhin voters supported it, but Haut-Rhin rejected it. Project proponents believe that it could now be approved if a new vote was held.

Department transfer from one region to another: softened conditions

Another important issue of the amendments adopted by the Law Commission of the Senate refer to the procedure by a department can exit a region and join a neighbouring one. This is especially important in the case of the department of Loire-Atlantique, where a prominent social and political movement seeks to re-unite it with Brittany. Opinion polls say most Loire-Atlantique inhabitants support leaving the current region of Pays de la Loire and joining Brittany instead.

Under yesterday's amendment, any department can seek to join a different region if three-fifths of both the departmental assembly and the assembly of that region support the move. The assembly of the region from which the department seeks to separate can still oppose the change, but only if three-fifths of its assembly members vote so.

All these changes still depend on the vote of the full Senate, which is set to meet next week. After that, the draft law still needs to be passed bt the National Assembly, which could introduce new amendments to the text.

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