1The law of 16 January 2015, which came into force in early 2016, redrew the map of France : the country’s 22 metropolitan regions were reduced to 13. Six regions underwent no territorial change ; the other seven were created by merging pre-existing regions : Alsace with Lorraine and Champagne-Ardennes ; Limousin with Poitou-Charentes ; Auvergne with Rhône-Alpes ; Bourgogne with Franche-Comté ; Languedoc-Roussillon with Midi-Pyrénées ; Nord-Pas-de-Calais with Picardie ; and Basse-Normandie with Haute-Normandie. In connection with this historic territorial reform, INSEE has published a series of texts based on census statistics that describe the new map of France. The work includes series of key figures, fact sheets on specific topics, maps indicating the new regional boundaries, and a panorama of the 272 regions comprising the 28 countries of the European Union.
2All of France’s continental regions now have over 2 million inhabitants. Limousin, which used to have the second-lowest population (736,000), has become part of a region with a total of 5.9 million inhabitants. Between them and the two largest regions–i.e. Île-de-France (population 12 million in 2014) and the region resulting from the merging of Rhône-Alpes and Auvergne (7.8 million)–are two groups of comparably-sized regions : five intermediate ones, each with 5 to 6 million inhabitants, and five others, each with 2 to 4 million inhabitants. Corsica, the only non-continental metropolitan region, has only 323,000 inhabitants and remains autonomous.
3By merging some of its regions, France has created territories whose population sizes are now fairly comparable to those of regions in neighbouring countries. The geographically vast eastern region made up of Alsace, Lorraine and Champagne-Ardennes (5.5 million inhabitants) now has a larger population than its neighbour Rhineland in Germany (4 million). The new northern region (Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardie), with 6 million inhabitants, is far larger that Belgium’s Wallonia (3.5 million) and about the same size as Flanders (6.3 million). The new map of France has therefore worked to reduce demographic spreads between regions in contiguous European countries. And with a total of 18 regions (overseas ones included), French territory has certainly not been carved up to the same extent as the United Kingdom or Germany, with 37 and 38 regions respectively.
4European Union region GDP-per-inhabitant disparities remain substantial, though they have been receding since the early 2000s, mainly as a result of closing gaps with the Eastern European states admitted in 2004. One mechanical effect of the merged French regions is smaller interregional differences at both the demographic and economic levels. Merging fourteen regions into seven larger ones diminishes differences because averages change. Densely populated regions or regions with older populations have been merged with regions with much younger, sparser populations. Per-inhabitant GDP is not as different from one region to the next as it was prior to the reform. Some territorial disparities do subsist, however ; there are still considerable geographic size differences. The populations in the regions of the north and east are not rising as fast as the French average and are still relatively young even after the merger. Conversely, the populations of the regions in the south and west are rising and ageing faster than the others.
5Though the government had not yet selected the new French regional capitals when the document went to press, it is a pity that it contains no comparison of the strengths and weaknesses of the former administrative centres. Should the capital of the new Bourgogne Franche-Comté region be Besançon (134,000 residents in 2011) or Dijon ? (238,000.) Should Montpellier (population 400,000) remain the administrative centre of Languedoc-Roussillon Midi-Pyrénées, or should Toulouse (892,000) take over that role ? The Council of Ministers report of July 2015 indicates that the larger cities of the new regions were ultimately selected. However, to maintain some balance–and save political figures further constituent discontent–cities not chosen as centres were appointed to run major regional administrations such as health agencies and school boards. A vacuum was nonetheless created between Orléans (already a centre) and the new region capitals Lyon, Toulouse and Bordeaux.
6The distance between these metropolises will probably have little impact on inhabitants as they do not have much administrative business to conduct in regional centres. Cantons, greater urban areas and départements will continue to be the main work and consumption spaces. The median length of time required to reach the nearest facilities (especially primary need businesses) is approximately 5 minutes for residents of densely populated municipalities (65% of inhabitants of metropolitan France), 8 minutes for medium-density municipalities (31%), 13 minutes for low-density ones (4% of the population). Conversely, home-workplace commutes are shorter in rural areas than urban ones as holders of jobs in the latter are less often residents there. The reform is likely to impact the economic development of businesses in the former administrative centres.
7This overview of the new French regions is supplemented by texts on low and high density spaces, the notion of rurality, changes in metropolitan French city rankings over the last 30 years, lifestyles in European cities, and occupational concentrations across the territory. These geographical analyses draw on various INSEE methods for breaking down French territory : urban zoning (zonage en aires urbains or ZAU), urban units (UE), employment zones (ZE), and grid references. The texts do not seem to have been written specifically for this book and therefore do not really enlighten us on the possible impact of the new regional division of French territory. But they provide readers with information on a more important issue : the territory itself, rather than boundaries within it.