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Can anyone explain to me the socio-political "geography" of greater-Paris?

Discussion in 'Personal' started by BigFrankEM, May 28, 2020.

  1. BigFrankEM

    BigFrankEM Established commenter


    After reading this article I looked for the town/ local authority area on Google maps

    It's just to the top left of "real" Paris with part of the area bordering a specific meander of the Seine

    I have visited Paris perhaps 5 or 6 times, always exceedingly briefly. Three days was the very longest; not IN Paris but close by. On the RER.

    I am aware that Paris is exceedingly small by contemporary European urban standards.

    Put another way, Paris and/ or the French state has chosen not to include any of the massive sprawl within redrawn city limits. Unlike London; around 1972/3 (?) Radcliffe-Maude(?)

    So that lots of areas which are really in Paris pretend not to be. (And in fact legally are not)

    As a result, there is a mish mash around the city.

    Which I for one find hard to fathom.

    Any takers?
  2. rararasputin

    rararasputin Lead commenter

    smoothnewt likes this.
  3. burajda

    burajda Star commenter

    A new adminstrative structure was set up in 2016. The Metropole du Grand Paris covers an area with a similar size and population to Greater London. But with both 'greater' cities there are exurbs, places like Watford or Cergy that are integrated into the infrastructure of the cities but not part of it. It could be argued that London is just the square mile or is a larger region going out as far Reading, Crawley and Chelmsford. Same for Paris.
  4. BigFrankEM

    BigFrankEM Established commenter

    Thanks you for the info, especially re the 2016 legal changes.

    Hardly for anyone born after .... 1666/ 1832?
    agathamorse likes this.
  5. Ivartheboneless

    Ivartheboneless Star commenter

    Zut alors! Try watching an episode of Maigret. (Monsieur Bean est tres drole).
  6. fraisier

    fraisier Senior commenter

    Yes it's a bit of a "mish mash" as you write Frank, or "a territorial mille-feuille", or "administrative mille-feuille" as the French call it.


    (27 regions was before the 2016 reform of the regions, only 18 now. Slightly fewer communes too, about 35,000).

    I'll try to entangle this mish-mash for you Frank, starting with the basics, and in several instalments to make it more fluid to read.

    I'll start with Paris as a commune, then will on go to the département, then the région, and then wrap it up with the new kid on the block (2016), as mentioned by Burajda: Le Grand Paris.

    Paris is a commune, one of 35,000 French communes. Each commune is run by a directly elected mayor and municipal council (rules are different for Paris - and Lyon + Marseille, regarding this direct elections as they have arrondissements, sort of boroughs, see below for explanation and link to a Le Monde article on the subject). The election is called the Municipales and is held every 6 yrs.

    are a cornerstone of the French system, and therefore very important, and therefore the people who run communes, the mayors, are professional directly elected politicians – except in the small villages with a pop. of <500, where they are elected too of course but they can't live off it as their wage is only ~€8,000/year – and thus if you extrapolate those mayors are keen to keep the system in place. I can't imagine many mayors of the big towns near Paris (many of them with a population of >75,000) being too keen to be subsumed into a Greater London-style conurbation and therefore lose their (substantial) wages & perks, their status and even possibly their career. So there's always been resistance to significantly change this side of governance in France, there's been tweaks (most notably with the advent of the intercommunalité structure about 20 yrs ago, a sort of big communal authority, but within which each mayor more or less keeps their prerogatives and most of their remit) but that's all.

    This fundamental difference between France and the UK helps to understand why there's never been a Greater Paris like Greater London for instance, often abbreviated to London as people have integrated the idea that it's one city, or New York City and its five boroughs.

    The last Municipales were held only 2 months ago – March 2020 – but the election process was interrupted by the Covid pandemic lockdown between the two rounds, they could only hold a first round and will hold the second and final round on June 28th. However, as in 30,000 communes a candidate got >50% in the first round and was therefore elected, only the voters in 5,000 communes will vote, but that batch of 5,000 includes most big cities, Paris, Marseille, Lyon etc.

    Even tiny places with a population of only 8 or 10 inhabitants have commune status (if they’re not a hamlet or lieu-dit and integrated into a commune) and therefore a mayor and municipal council (which obviously would be very small with a population of only 8 people! 1 or 2 councillors, the mayor and her/his deputy basically), and a mairie, town hall, also a website, eg this tiny commune of Mérona in eastern France, which has a population of 8 and has a website (La commune compte 8 habitants), it's law I think to provide a website even for communes of literally a handful of inhabitants.

    Paris is sub-divided into 20 arrondissements, each with their mayor. Only Lyon and Marseille in France have the same arrondissement system. These 3 cities elect their mayor differently from the rest of France, the mayor there isn't directly elected, it's a bit long to explain here but your French is good I seem to remember and this Le Monde article has the lowdown.

    The Paris town hall is this impressive building below, near Notre Dame, (it's called the Hôtel de Ville and has been the HQs of the Paris municipality for nearly 700 years. Most of the building is from 16th-17th-18th century, but it's not a uniform ensemble as it was partially burnt down during the bloody Paris Commune, which I wrote at length about a couple of days ago in relation to the Père Lachaise):


    As Paris, like Lyon and Marseille, is divided into arrondissements, there are arrondissement council meetings open to the public etc. but the big
    Paris Municipal Council (17 arrondissement mayors + 163 councillors) regularly meets in that building, in this room below:


    By contrast, below is France's smallest mairie building, a former micro chapel reconverted into a tiny mairie of 8 sq metres (St-Germain-de-Pasquier in Normandy, pop: 140), 8 sq metres in which they have to squeeze the mayor, his/her 10 councillors + the secrétaire de mairie who takes the minutes! This system, which is good I suppose to look after towns & villages more directly than in the UK, can also get silly in its micro-administrative structure (it explains why there are 600,000 municipal councillors in France, that's almost 1% of the population).
    As the building is a mairie, they also have to conduct weddings and stuff in there... (as explained in the French excerpt under the photo, the guests have to stay outside and try to see what's going on through the windows).

    (the 2014-2020 municipal council of this village, they all have to squeeze in 3m by 2,7m, + the secrétaire de mairie who's not on the photo).

    C’est en Normandie que se trouve la plus petite mairie de France, plus exactement à Saint-Germain-de-Pasquier. Avec une taille de 2,7 mètres sur 3, elle offre une surface d’à peine 8 mètres carrés dans lesquels se réunissent 11 élus… sans oublier la secrétaire !
    On s’en doute, les convives d’un mariage ne peuvent pas tous entrer. À part les mariés, leurs témoins et leurs parents, les invités doivent rester à l’extérieur et essaient de voir ce qui se passe par les fenêtres.

    Mairies in small villages and towns, especially if you’re not from the area or don’t know where to go for your paperwork etc., often act as a information centre and your first port of call, via the secrétaire de mairie who is often a great fount of knowledge.
    Obviously French admins have offices and websites but the Mairie people are often invaluable in helping you through the maze of the French admin (they, the mairies, themselves deliver lots of documents and are registration offices – Birth, Marriage etc.), for anything from tax-related matters to health matters to immigration stuff (who to contact in the nearest Inland Revenue centre, how to go about getting your carte vitale - the health card - which service to contact in the Préfecture for your Residency card/paperwork etc.).
    7eleven, agathamorse and burajda like this.
  7. burajda

    burajda Star commenter

    Where in Paris do Londoners live? At the same scale if Trafalgar Square is dropped on top of Place de la Concorde. By pure coincidence the two towns, I mentioned before, Cergy and Watford are in the same place.

  8. fraisier

    fraisier Senior commenter

    Paris is sub-divided into 20 arrondissements, each with their mayor

    Sorry, I'm writing bollo.cks, not each arrondissement has a mayor, as there are 20 arrondissements but only 17 arrondissement mayors.

    I'll try to post the second part, on départements, later this afternoon or tonight (as Paris is also a département - the only French départment with only 1 commune in it, the City of Paris). And that fact, Paris being a département in its own right, has made it of course more difficult to go towards a Greater London type conurbation.
    7eleven likes this.
  9. fraisier

    fraisier Senior commenter

    As promised, Paris as a département then.

    Since 1968, Paris has also been a département in its own right, called Paris (number 75), making the city of Paris the only commune of the 75 département, the oval-shaped red bit in that basic map of the Île-de-France region below, with its 8 départements.


    The département isn't just any admin or territorial authority in France, it's dear to people in France, many are viscerally attached to their département (and region too), which name and/or number for instance often feature in names of sports’ teams (rugby, football clubs etc. such as the “Greater Paris” historic rugby club of Racing 92 – with their impressive Paris La Défense indoors arena located, just about, outside of the Paris City limits in the 92 département – or the Girondins de Bordeaux – Bordeaux being the Gironde département –, AS Saint-Étienne Loire – St-Étienne being in the Loire dpt, or Grenoble FC 38 etc.).

    So, as I wrote in my previous post (#8), both the commune and département units are key in France and the fact that Paris is a commune + a département in its own right has been a major barrier towards creating a Greater London style admin unit, even if things are evolving, slowly, with the creation of this Grand Paris in 2016, more of which later in another episode!

    The attachment for the département, and the region too, was thrown into sharp relief for instance Sarkozy at the beginning of his term. First, his gvt wanted to do away with départements altogether, on the recommendation of the Jacques Attali commission and of some of Sarkozy's minions,,Sarkozy et Copé lancent la suppression des départements).

    Problem is, Attali, who is an arrogant neolib cross-party so-and-so who has stuck his nose in too many troughs to number them and who made his name as a shifty spad under Mitterrand, is one of those elite Paris-based super-bureaucrats who are hopelessly clueless about the pulse of the nation away from their Parisian ivory towers but still insist that they are supremely intelligent as they’ve been to the best universities/Grandes Écoles and therefore always right and therefore there’s no need for them whatsoever to listen to the rest of the population, to local people, to officials in the province, mayors etc. Ditto the über-Parisian Sarkozy who was silly enough to commission him to do it and of course went along with Attali’s bunkum. Any fool with an IQ of 20 could have told those two it was a p.iss poor idea that was never going to pass muster (because of the opposition to it) and that anyway would have probably saved fu.ck all and led to many problems in future.

    However, Sarkozy, unlike people such as Attali who always find a way to get another well-paid gig in the public or private sector, is an elected politician so he relies at least he does care to a degree to people’s reaction, and that's what happened, Sarkozy realised that his planned reform would be very hard to implement and could kibosh his chance of being re-elected if he persisted to go ahead with it, so he listened to the general mood and wisely scrapped it.

    As needless to say, this idiotic suggested reform sparked an outcry in the country, not just from thousands of local politicians (who obviously saw this as a threat to their very existence but not just that, they are attached to their département, to their terroir) but also obviously from millions of ordinary citizens (the reasons of this suggested reform are explained here, in French. But in a nutshell it was felt that there are too many admin and electoral layers in France so suppressing départements would help the matter, save money etc.).

    While that reform was quickly shelved, one thing that they wanted to go ahead with was that the département number would disappear from the main car number place. Again, big outcry so as a compromise a little place on the right of he plate would be reserved for the dpt #. Up to then, the number was an integral part of a vehicle’s number plate, like here on this 2 CV:


    The new plate system has kept the département # but it’s in small on the right, under the region’s logo, and not part of the plaque number.


    However, you can put any sticker to cover that number, it’s not law but tolerated nonetheless.

    So your car could have been registered in Paris (75) but if you’re from Marseille (13) and prefer to have that département # on your plate (with the coat of arms of Marseille or the PACA region – Provence-Alpes- Côte d’Azur), you’re allowed to, eg with these stickers:


    There are 101 départements in France, 96 in mainland France + Corsica (called “France métropolitaine”), and 5 overseas: Guadeloupe, Martinique, Guyane, Réunion and Mayotte. The missing French overseas places here – New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon etc. have a different, more autonomous, status.


    A département is roughly the equivalent of a county and is run by a Conseil Départemental (sort of County Council) whose councillors are also directly elected every 6 years, at the same time as the Conseil Régional (Regional Assembly), the next ones being next year in spring 2021. Turnout is usually 55-60% between the two rounds, all French elections are two-round ones, except the Europeans of course (Municipals’ turnout averaging about 65% – obviously not the last one 2 months’ ago because of Covid fear, it still managed 46%. Presidentials’ turnout in comparison is around the 75-80% mark across the two rounds).

    Hence the relatively high number of elections in France, 6 in total (Municipals, Departementals, Regionals, Europeans, Presidentials and GEs/Parliamentarian elections to elect the 577 MPs – the Senators, Upper House of the parliament, being elected undirectly, by 162,000 so-called “Grands Électeurs”, this La Croix article explains who these Grands Électeurs are.

    As I wrote a post about the Père Lachaise, the département is a creation of the French Revolution, fine-tuned by Napoléon I a few years later who was keen to give France a proper “modern” structure and develop administration (it was pretty feudal up to then) not least to diminish the influence of the Catholic Church.

    Next time, the next slice of the mille-feuille: Paris as part of a commune-département within the Île-de-France region, sometimes referred to as “Greater Paris” in the foreign media (and by myself on here…) for convenience sake.
    agathamorse, burajda and 7eleven like this.
  10. fraisier

    fraisier Senior commenter

    Talking of which, the Hôtel de Ville in Paris (#6), it was of course the setting for arguably the best-known photo coming out of France, Robert Doisneau's masterpiece Le baiser de l'Hôtel de ville:


    which I mentioned in this 2019 thread on late 1940s photos about Paris (beautiful iconic pic, although not the product of spontaneity): https://community.tes.com/threads/how-many-of-you-remember-paris-in-1949.796317/#post-12954070

    Incidentally, the great Channel 5 series The World's Most Scenic Railway Journeys was on the Cévennes Line last night, that leaves the Roman city of Nîmes and goes through the beautiful mountains of the Massif Central to finish in the volcanic Puy de Dôme area 200 miles away and over 5 hours later.

    The 200-mile Ligne des Cévennes, which travels northwards through the Massif Central to France's volcanic heart - Clermont Ferrand and the spectacular Puy De Dome. The route takes travellers across three incredible historic viaducts, plunges deep underground to explore the area's hidden wildlife and traverses through several impressive valleys. The route winds through one of the world's most spectacular national parks, before reaching its final destination, a collection of 80 dormant volcanoes. Narrated by Bill Nighy.

    On the iplayer if you've missed it and are interested: https://www.my5.tv/world-s-most-scenic-railway-journeys/season-2/episode-4-france

    BTW, Frank, do my replies answer your Qs? No feedback from you so I'm wondering if I'm addressing your interrogations or not. Let us know and then I'll post the last bit but you need to tell us first, these things, while pleasant to write, take time to put together, so some feedback would be welcome.
    7eleven likes this.
  11. burajda

    burajda Star commenter

    The original plan was to do away with the department number altogether wasn't it? and that created a public storm as people really are attached to their departments as you stated.
    Even if BigFrank hasnt yet responded, I'm very interested to learn as I'm a bit of a francophile. Good stuff Thanks for taking the time.
    agathamorse and fraisier like this.
  12. fraisier

    fraisier Senior commenter

    Yes, that's what I wrote in post #9, above the pic of the 2CV (from "First, his gvt wanted to do away with départements altogether" etc.) but my posts are so long that bits are bound to go unnoticed sometimes!

    Thanks for that.

    And I'm now looking at the iconic Doisneau's pic that I posted this morning and I'm thinking that it's a little too dark maybe, it just doesn't do it justice so here is a better version:

  13. agathamorse

    agathamorse Senior commenter

    I'm really enjoying learning this too. Thank you.
    fraisier likes this.
  14. fraisier

    fraisier Senior commenter

    Right, last part peeps, I’ll make it short for a change! I'm a bit tired and new some fresh air, that I'm going to get very shortly, so I hope that it won't come across as too slapdashy.

    Like all départements, Paris is part of a region, the Île-de-France (population: 12 million), which for convenience sake is often referred to as Greater Paris in the foreign media.

    Most of the 8 départements of the Île-de-France, including Paris, are obviously very urban (stuck to Paris) but a couple are partially rural or pretty rural, such as the Val d’Oise (where Auvers-sur-oise is located, mentioning it as it was mentioned upthread or recently here somewhere else) and especially the Seine-et-Marne east of Paris, home of the Brie Camembert, Eurodisney and beautiful medieval towns such as Provins, a Unesco World Heritage Site, and 55 miles from Paris by road. When you live there, you don’t feel part of Greater Paris, although administratively you are.

    There are 18 regions in France and while that admin structure was nominally created in the 1950s, it was in the 1980s, as part of Mitterrand’s decentralisation plan, that regions acquired some oomph. They are nowhere near as autonomous as say, the German Lander, but they enjoy some autonomy.

    Now, this new structure, the Grand Paris, that Burajda rightly mentioned and that as I wrote would be my concluding point on this "why the hell isn't there a Greater Paris like there is a Greater London" topic legitimately raised by Frank.

    The Grand Paris was first mooted in the late 2000s by Sarkozy (Pourquoi le Grand Paris ? Initié en 2007 sous la présidence de Nicolas Sarkozy, le projet du Grand Paris a pour ambition de transformer l’agglomération parisienne en une grande métropole du XXIème siècle, à même d’assurer son rang dans la compétition des mégalopoles internationales. Le projet passe par l’amélioration du cadre de vie des habitants, la correction des inégalités territoriales et la construction d’une ville durable) and formed in 2016, as in the main it was becoming challenging to quickly implement major and increasingly complex trans-conurbation schemes, such as the big public transport issues of the Ile de France region, in particular the new Grand Paris Express project, see below.

    Now, it is interesting to note that Lyon has adopted a similar two-tier structure, the City of Lyon (pop: 500,000), so just Lyon proper and alongside it (but increasingly above it) the Greater Lyon authority (pop: 1.4 million, and which supersedes an older overarching structure, the Urban Community of Lyon), which is headed by a politician called David Kimelfeld who is becoming increasingly influential there so much so that the current Lyon mayor, Gérard Collomb, regularly courts him (and not the other way round) and has decided to run as Head of the Greater Lyon authority. (Veteran politician Collomb, it has to be said, is a particularly opportunistic politician, was a Socialist for decades and then suddenly switched to Macron (who then appointed him as Home Sec) when he could see circa 2016 that the Socialists were toast and since recently is a Macron dissident, and now, at 72, is embarking on a new challenge to run the bigger Greater Lyon structure.

    So what’s important to observe here in the Lyon case is the pattern, what’s happened over the years between the City of Lyon structure and the Greater Lyon one, as Paris now has more or less the same sort of two-headed structure, with the City of Paris and the Greater Paris authority since 2016.

    Gradually, the bigger structure of Greater Lyon has taken over and grown in importance, meaning that the head of that structure, while politically “inferior” and less influential than the mayor of Lyon originally, to all intents and purposes now runs the show in Lyon.

    If we extrapolate and apply that situation to Paris, in a City of Paris (pop: 2,2m) vs a Greater Paris authority (pop: 7m), I really can'[t see it working for the reasons I've explained in my other posts, I mean it's going to work to organise transport issue and stuff, but politically you just couldn't merge the two without one feeling inferior to the other and I really can't see the City of Paris playing second fiddle here in this coupling. It would be very hard for the two to co-exist and co-habit significantly beyond sorting out and implementing basic issues such as public transport (which already happens anyway, public transport across the region is well integrated, albeit maybe not adapted to the challenges ahead across the whole of the Ile de France area, which is vast, 12,000 sq kms).

    I cannot see that structure successfully developing politically and stuff, as London has done, into something significant as it would threaten, if not the existence of the Paris mayor, at least its influence and all the rest of it. Maybe it'll happen but not in our lifetime. I think that this Greater Paris is mainly a vehicle to solve the complex transport and road links issue in the Greater Paris area, not least this big project of the Grand Paris Express (said to be the largest transport project in Europe) across a big chunk of the Paris region.

    This mega-project, arguably Europe’s largest, will build four new metro lines and 68 new stations between now and 2030.

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