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France reduces number of regions to cut costs
December 17, 2014 / 6:22 PM / 3 years ago

France reduces number of regions to cut costs

PARIS (Reuters) - The French parliament passed the final version of a territorial reform on Wednesday that cuts the number of administrative regions by nearly half, although the level of savings from the changes remains uncertain.

France will now be divided into 13 regions instead of 22, which the government argues will be more cost-effective and result in savings as France tries to meet its deficit reduction goals.

France’s lower house of parliament, which has the final word, passed the bill by 95 votes to 56, rejecting changes made by the Senate, or upper house, which favoured having 15 regions.

French voters will elect the councillors of the new 13 regions at the end of next year.

France’s system of local government is so complex it is often compared to a “mille-feuille” or a multi-layered puff pastry. It has been targeted for an overhaul by the Socialist government of President Francois Hollande, which is under pressure to accelerate economic reforms and cut spending.

Opinion polls show most French people support the new map, although some regions with distinct identities and diverging cultural traditions fiercely oppose the changes.

More than a thousand people demonstrated last month in the eastern city of Strasbourg against the proposed merger of Alsace, on the German border, with neighbouring Lorraine and Champagne-Ardenne, amid chants in local dialect of “Elsass Frei”, or “Free Alsace”.

One government-commissioned report found that 5.7 billion euros (£4.54 billion) were wasted each year between regional authorities due to overlaps. Another found each region had 75 different bodies dedicated to economic development on average.

The undersecretary of territorial reform, Andre Vallini, had said the change could reap savings of 10 billion euros a year, an estimate doubted by some economists and critics who say the reform could even add to spending.

Reporting by Emile Picy; Writing by Michel Rose; Editing by James Regan

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