The départements (or departments) are administrative units of France, roughly analogous to British counties and are now grouped into 22 metropolitan and four overseas régions. They are subdivided into 342 arrondissements. Départements are also found in Côte d'Ivoire.
Each department is administered by a Conseil Général elected for six years, and its executive is, since 1982 headed by the president of that council (formerly it was headed by the préfet).
The French national government is represented in the département by a préfet appointed by the national executive. The préfet is assisted by one or more sous-préfets based in district centres outside the departmental capital.
The capital city of a département bears the title of préfecture. Départements are divided into one to seven arrondissements. The capital city of an arrondissement is called the sous-préfecture. The civil servant in charge is the sous-préfet.
The départements sub-divide into communes, governed by municipal councils. France (as of 1999) had 36,779 communes.
Most of the départements have an area of around 4,000-8,000 km² and a population between 250,000 and a million. The largest in terms of area is Gironde (10,000 km²) and the smallest the city of Paris (105 km² excluding the suburbs, now organised in adjacent départements). The most populous is Nord (2,550,000) and the least populous Lozère (74,000).
See also: List of French départements by population
The départements are numbered: their two-digit numbers appear in postal codes and on car number-plates. Note that there is no number 20, but 2A and 2B instead. Note also that the two-digit code "98" is used by Monaco. Together with the ISO 3166-1 country code FR the numbers form the ISO 3166-2 country subdivision codes for the metropolitan departments. The overseas departments get two letters for the ISO 3166-2 code.
Départements were created on January 4, 1790 by the Constituent Assembly to replace the country's former provinces with a more rational structure. They were also designed to deliberately break up France's historical regions in an attempt to erase cultural differences and build a more homogeneous nation. Most départements are named after the area's principal river(s) or other physical features.
The number of départements rose from an initial 83 to 130 by 1810 with the territorial gains of the Republic and of the Empire (see Provinces of the Netherlands for the annexed Dutch departements), but they were reduced again to 86 with Napoleon I's defeat in 1814-1815. Three more were added with the acquisition of Nice and Savoy in 1860. The numbering was estabished on the alphabetical order of those 89 départements.
Three départements in Alsace-Lorraine which had been ceded to Germany in 1871 (Haut-Rhin, Bas-Rhin, and Moselle) were returned to France in 1919. When Alsace-Lorraine was ceded in 1871, a small part of the département of Haut-Rhin was detached from the rest of Alsace-Lorraine and remained French. This territory, called Territoire de Belfort, was not reintegrated into the recovered département of Haut-Rhin in 1919 and was instead made a full-status département in 1922, becoming the 90th département of France.
Reorganisations of the Paris region (1968) and the division of Corsica (1975) have added a further six départements, raising the total to one hundred - including the four overseas départements d'outre-mer (DOM) of Guyane (French Guiana) in South America, Guadeloupe and Martinique in the Caribbean Sea, and Réunion in the Indian Ocean.
Map and list of départements
|French régions and départements |
- The préfecture of Val-d'Oise has been established in Pontoise when the department was created, but moved de facto to the neighbouring commune of Cergy.
- The overseas departments are former colonies outside France that now enjoy a status similar to European or metropolitan France. They are part of France and of the EU. Each of them constitutes a région at the same time.