France: Between Centralization and Fragmentation

Alistair Cole

in The Oxford Handbook of Local and Regional Democracy in Europe

Published in print November 2010 | ISBN: 9780199562978
Published online January 2011 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Politics & International Relations

France: Between Centralization and Fragmentation

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  • Politics
  • Regional Political Studies
  • Comparative Politics



Pre-revolutionary France was marked largely by the attempts of the monarchy to impose central control, however, these changed at the advent of the French Revolution from 1789 to 1794. The revolution introduced the idea that the nation was no longer embodied by the monarch but by ‘the people’ and thus became largely synonymous with that of the Republic itself. For 150 years after 1789, France was under three periods of monarchy, five republics, two imperial rules, and reactionary wartime rule by the Vichy state. During these periods, there were attempts to restore monarchical and imperial forms of government as the political system of France. However, the republic became firmly embedded in the French political consciousness as a natural revolutionary form of government. This republic form of government was re-established several times over as the form of government in France and has been the political system of the nation from 1958 to the present. This article discusses the French political system with particular emphasis on the Fifth Republic. It discusses the two Acts of decentralization that have reduced the tutelage of the central state, introduced genuine territorial checks and balances, produced a degree of policy emulation across local authorities, and improved local democracy. While the institutions of French democracy contributed in a positive manner to the issue of trust in the broader polity, the French subnational government system, however, has many principal weaknesses: particularly in terms of the institutional layering and the public confusion on where the responsibility lies for delivering services. Topics included as well in this article include: local finances and public expenditure; transparency, layering, and democracy; new forms of central steering and European regulation. The article concludes with the challenges and constraints in the French political system.

Keywords: France; French Revolution; Republic; French political system; Fifth Republic; Acts of decentralization; local democracy; institutional layering; public expenditure

Article.  10140 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; Regional Political Studies ; Comparative Politics

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