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France: Departments

Last modified: 2010-11-12 by
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Status of the departments

In 1790, the departments (départements) were created to replace the monarchic administrative system, which included the traditional provinces. The departments were to be administrated by a Department Council (Conseil du Département) and a Board of Directors (Directoire) including the Préfet and one or more Sous-Préfets.
In 1800, the General Councils (Conseils Généraux) were created; during the ephemeral Second Republic (1848), the General Councils were for the first time elected by universal suffrage.

In 1871, the fundamental Law of 10 April 1871 prescribed that each canton (subdivision of a department) should be represented by one Councillor (Conseiller Général), elected for 6 years. In practice, there is an election (élection cantonale) in half of the cantons every three years.
The Law of 2 March 1982 established administrative decentralization, given extended executive power at the department level to the General Council. The President of the General Council, elected by the General Councillors, is the head of the executive power. In case of equality of votes, the senior Councillor is elected for President.

Source: Website of the General Council of Aisne

Ivan Sache, 10 December 2001

Origin and evolution of the departments

The creation of the departements was decided by the Assemblée nationale constituante according to Jacques Thouret's proposal, a grid of 84 equal squares of 324 square leagues each, the whole design being centered on Paris.
On 15 January 1790, France was divided in 83 departements, each of them being divided in cantons and communes (municipalities).
The war that started on 20 April 1792 against the European powers yielded significant territorial conquests, which were incorporated to France as new departments.

Napoléon I subsequently increased the French territory: in 1810, France was constituted of 130 departements. After the fall of Napoléon and the crash of his Empire, the first Treaty of Paris (30 May 1814) restored the former borders of France, which kept one third of Savoy (Annecy and Chambéry), Avignon and Comtat Venaissin, Montbéliard and Mulhouse.
After the Cent-Jours (Napoléon's come-back, March-June 1815) and the second Treaty of Paris (20 November 1815), France lost Savoy, Landau (today in Germany), and Philippeville and Marienbourg (today in Belgium). Only 86 departements remained.

In 1860, Savoy and the County of Nice were incorporated to France following local referendums, forming the departments of Savoie, Haute-Savoie and Alpes-Maritimes. The new department of Alpes-Maritimes was increased with the eastern part of the department of Var (arrondissement of Grasse); this resulted in the odd situation of the department of Var being named after a river that does not water it.

By the Treaty of Francfort (10 May 1871), France transferred to Germany the departments of Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin, except the town of Belfort, which formed a "special territory" eventually made the department of Territoire de Belfort in 1922; parts of the department of Meurthe (arrondissements of Château-Salins and Sarrebourg) and the department of Moselle, except the arrondissement of Briey, which was incorporated to the new department of Meurthe-et-Moselle, together with the parts of the former Meurthe remained French. After the return of Alsace and Moselle to France in 1919, the department of Meurthe-et-Moselle remained unchanged, the department of Meurthe was not refounded and the new department of Moselle incorporated the territories retroceded by Germany.
This was the last significant modification in the French departments, excepted a few border regularizations in the Alps in 1946.

Ivan Sache, 14 November 2009

Index of the departments pages

Number put before each department is its official code. Information on the flag is available for the departments marked with an asterisk.

01 Ain*
02 Aisne
03 Allier*
04 Alpes-de-Haute-Provence
05 Hautes-Alpes*
06 Alpes-Maritimes*
07 Ardèche*
08 Ardennes*
09 Ariège
10 Aube*
11 Aude*
12 Aveyron*
13 Bouches-du-Rhône*
14 Calvados*
15 Cantal
16 Charente*
17 Charente-Maritime*
18 Cher
19 Corrèze
2A Haute-Corse
2B Corse-du-Sud
21 Côte-d'Or*
22 Côtes-d'Armor*
23 Creuse
24 Dordogne
25 Doubs*
26 Drôme
27 Eure
28 Eure-et-Loir*
29 Finistère*
30 Gard
31 Haute-Garonne
32 Gers
33 Gironde
34 Hérault*
35 Ille-et-Vilaine*
36 Indre*
37 Indre-et-Loire
38 Isère
39 Jura
40 Landes
41 Loir-et-Cher*
42 Loire*
43 Haute-Loire
44 Loire-Atlantique*
45 Loiret*
46 Lot
47 Lot-et-Garonne
48 Lozère*
49 Maine-et-Loire*
50 Manche*
51 Marne
52 Haute-Marne*
53 Mayenne*
54 Meurthe et Moselle*
55 Meuse*
56 Morbihan*
57 Moselle*
58 Nièvre*
59 Nord*
60 Oise*
61 Orne*
62 Pas-de-Calais*
63 Puy-de-Dôme
64 Pyrénées-Atlantiques
65 Hautes-Pyrénées
66 Pyrénées-Orientales*
67 Bas-Rhin*
68 Haut-Rhin*
69 Rhône*
70 Haute-Saône*
71 Saône-et-Loire
72 Sarthe
73 Savoie
74 Haute-Savoie
75 Paris*
76 Seine-Maritime
77 Seine-et-Marne
78 Yvelines
79 Deux-Sèvres*
80 Somme*
81 Tarn
82 Tarn-et-Garonne
83 Var*
84 Vaucluse*
85 Vendée*
86 Vienne
87 Haute-Vienne
88 Vosges*
89 Yonne*
90 Territoire de Belfort*
91 Essonne*
92 Hauts-de-Seine*
93 Seine-Saint-Denis
94 Val-de-Marne*
95 Val-d'Oise*

Overseas departments
971 Guadeloupe
972 Martinique*
973 French Guiana
974 Rénion*

Ivan Sache, 14 November 2009