Communes of France

The commune (French pronunciation: ​[kɔmyn]) is a level of administrative division in the French Republic. French communes are analogous to civil townships and incorporated municipalities in the United States and Canada, Gemeinden in Germany or comuni in Italy. The United Kingdom has no exact equivalent, as communes resemble districts in urban areas, but are closer to parishes in rural areas where districts are much larger. Communes are based on historical geographic communities or villages and are vested with significant powers to manage the populations and land of the geographic area covered. The communes are the fourth-level administrative divisions of France.

Communes vary widely in size and area, from large sprawling cities with millions of inhabitants like Paris, to small hamlets with only a handful of inhabitants. Communes typically are based on pre-existing villages and facilitate local governance. All communes have names, but not all named geographic areas or groups of people residing together are communes ("lieu dit" or "bourg"), the difference residing in the lack of administrative powers. Except for the municipal arrondissements of its largest cities, the communes are the lowest level of administrative division in France and are governed by elected officials (mayor and a "conseil municipal") with extensive autonomous powers to implement national policy.

Terminology

A commune is a town, city, or other municipality. "Commune" in English has a historical bias, and implies an association with socialist political movements or philosophies, collectivist lifestyles, or particular history (after the rising of the Paris Commune, 1871, which could have more felicitously been called, in English, "the rising of the City of Paris"). There is nothing intrinsically different between "town" in English and commune in French.

The French word commune appeared in the 12th century, from Medieval Latin communia, for a large gathering of people sharing a common life; from Latin communis, 'things held in common'.

Number of communes

As of January 2015, there were 36,681 communes in France, 36,552 of them in metropolitan France and 129 of them overseas.[1][2] This is a considerably higher total than that of any other European country, because French communes still largely reflect the division of France into villages or parishes at the time of the French Revolution.

Evolution of the number of communes[3]
Metropolitan France(1) Overseas France(2)
March 1861 37,510 n/a
March 1866 37,548 n/a
6 March 1921 37,963 n/a
7 March 1926 37,981 n/a
8 March 1931 38,004 n/a
8 March 1936 38,014 n/a
1 January 1947 37,983 n/a
10 May 1954 38,000 n/a
7 March 1962 37,962 n/a
1 March 1968 37,708 n/a
1 January 1971 37,659 n/a
20 February 1975 36,394 n/a
1 January 1978 36,382 n/a
Metropolitan France(1) Overseas France(2)
1 March 1982 36,433 211
1 March 1985 36,631 211
1 March 1990 36,551 212
1 January 1999 36,565 214
1 January 2000 36,567 214
1 January 2001 36,564 214
1 January 2002 36,566 214
1 January 2003 36,565 214
1 January 2004 36,569 214
1 January 2005 36,571 214
1 January 2006 36,572 214
1 January 2007 36,570 214
1 January 2008 36,569 212

(1) Within the current limits of metropolitan France, which existed between 1860 and 1871 and from 1919 to today.
(2) Within the current extent of overseas France, which has remained unchanged since the independence of the New Hebrides in 1980.

Map of the 36,569 communes of metropolitan France

The whole territory of the French Republic is divided into communes; even uninhabited mountains or rain forests are dependent on a commune for their administration. This is unlike some other countries, such as the United States, where unincorporated areas directly governed by a county or a higher authority can be found. There are only a few exceptions:

  • COM (collectivité d'outre-mer, i.e. overseas collectivity) of Saint-Martin (33,102 inhabitants). It was previously a commune inside the Guadeloupe région. The commune structure was abolished when Saint-Martin became an overseas collectivity on 22 February 2007.
  • COM of Wallis and Futuna (14,944 inhabitants), which still is divided according to the three traditional chiefdoms.
  • COM of Saint-Barthélemy (6,852 inhabitants). It was previously a commune inside the Guadeloupe region. The commune structure was abolished when Saint-Barthélemy became an overseas collectivity on 22 February 2007.

Furthermore, two regions without permanent habitation have no communes:

Surface area of a typical commune

In metropolitan France, the average area of a commune in 2004 was 14.88 square kilometres (5.75 sq mi). The median area of metropolitan France's communes at the 1999 census was even smaller, at 10.73 square kilometres (4.14 sq mi). The median area is a better measure of the area of a typical French commune.

This median area is smaller than that of most European countries. In Italy, the median area of communes (comuni) is 22 km2 (8.5 sq mi); in Belgium it is 40 km2 (15 sq mi); in Spain it is 35 km2 (14 sq mi); and in Germany, the majority of Länder have communes (Gemeinden) with a median area above 15 km2 (5.8 sq mi). Switzerland and the Länder of Rhineland-Palatinate, Schleswig-Holstein, and Thuringia in Germany were the only places in Europe where the communes had a smaller median area than in France.

The communes of France's overseas départements such as Réunion and French Guiana are large by French standards. They usually group into the same commune several villages or towns, often with sizeable distances among them. In Réunion, demographic expansion and sprawling urbanization have resulted in the administrative splitting of some communes.

Population of a typical commune

The median population of metropolitan France's communes at the 1999 census was 380 inhabitants. Again this is a very small number, and here France stands absolutely apart in Europe, with the lowest communes' median population of all the European countries (communes in Switzerland or Rhineland-Palatinate may have a smaller surface area, as mentioned above, but they are more populated). This small median population of French communes can be compared with Italy, where the median population of communes in 2001 was 2,343 inhabitants, Belgium (11,265 inhabitants), or even Spain (564 inhabitants).

The median population given here should not hide the fact that there are pronounced differences in size between French communes. As mentioned in the introduction, a commune can be a city of 2 million inhabitants such as Paris, a town of 10,000 inhabitants, or just a hamlet of 10 inhabitants. What the median population tells us is that the vast majority of the French communes only have a few hundred inhabitants; but there are also a small number of communes within much higher populations.

In metropolitan France just over 50 percent (57 percent) of the 36,569 communes have fewer than 500 inhabitants and, with 4,638,000 inhabitants, these smaller communes constitute just under 8 percent (7.7 percent) of the total population. In other words, just 8 percent of the French population live in 57 percent of its communes, whilst 92 percent are concentrated in the remaining 43 percent.

An example: Alsace

Alsace, with an area of 8,280 km2 (3,200 sq mi), and now part of the Région Grand Est, used to be the smallest of the regions of metropolitan France, and still has no fewer than 904 communes. This high number is typical of metropolitan France but is atypical when compared with other European countries. It shows the distinctive nature of the French commune as a geo-political or administrative entity.

With its 904 communes, Alsace has three times as many municipalities as Sweden, which has a much larger territory covering 449,964 km2 (173,732 sq mi) and yet is divided into only 290 municipalities (kommuner). Alsace has more than double the total number of municipalities of the Netherlands which, in spite of having a population nine times larger and a land area four times larger than Alsace, is divided into just 390 municipalities (gemeenten).

Most of the communes in Alsace, along with those in other regions of France, have rejected the central government's calls for mergers and rationalization. By way of contrast, in the German states bordering Alsace, the geo-political and administrative areas have been subject to various re-organizations from the 1960s onward. In the state of Baden-Württemberg, the number of Gemeinden or communities was reduced from 3,378 in 1968[4] to 1,108 in September 2007.[5] In comparison, the number of communes in Alsace was only reduced from 945 in 1971[6][7] (just before the Marcellin law aimed at encouraging French communes to merge with each other was passed, see Current debate section below) to 904 in January 2007. Consequently, the Alsace region—despite having a land area only one-fifth the size and a total population only one-sixth of that of its neighbor Baden-Württemberg—has almost as many municipalities. The small Alsace region has more than double the number of municipalities compared to the large and populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia (396 Gemeinden in September 2007).

Status of the communes

Despite enormous differences in population, each of the communes of the French Republic possess a mayor (maire) and a municipal council (conseil municipal), which jointly manage the commune from the city hall (mairie), with exactly the same powers no matter the size of the commune. This uniformity of status is a legacy of the French Revolution, which wanted to do away with the local idiosyncrasies and tremendous differences of status that existed in the kingdom of France.

French law makes allowances for the vast differences in commune size in a number of areas of administrative law. The size of the municipal council, the method of electing the municipal council, the maximum allowable pay of the mayor and deputy mayors, and municipal campaign finance limits (among other features) all depend on the population echelon into which a particular commune falls.

Since the PLM Law of 1982, three French communes also have a special status in that they are further divided into municipal arrondissements: these are Paris, Marseille, and Lyon. The municipal arrondissement is the only administrative unit below the commune in the French Republic, but existing only in these three communes. These municipal arrondissements are not to be confused with the arrondissements that are subdivisions of French départements: French communes are considered legal entities, whereas municipal arrondissements, by contrast, have no official capacity and no budget of their own.

The rights and obligations of communes are governed by the Code général des collectivités territoriales (CGCT) which replaced the Code des communes (except for personnel matters) with the passage of the law of 21 February 1996 for legislation and decree number 2000-318 of 7 April 2000 for regulations.[8][9]

From 1794 to 1977—except for a few months in 1848 and 1870-1871—Paris had no mayor and was thus directly controlled by the departmental prefect. This meant that Paris had less autonomy than the smallest village. Even after Paris regained the right to elect its own mayor in 1977, the central government retained control of the Paris police. In all other French communes, the police are under the mayor's supervision.

Other Languages
العربية: بلديات فرنسا
asturianu: Comuña francesa
Bân-lâm-gú: Hoat-kok ê commune
беларуская: Камуны Францыі
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Камуны Францыі
brezhoneg: Kumun c'hall
Cebuano: Komyun
čeština: Obec (Francie)
español: Comuna francesa
français: Commune (France)
Bahasa Indonesia: Komune di Perancis
Kapampangan: Commune king France
Lëtzebuergesch: Gemeng (Frankräich)
lietuvių: Komuna
Bahasa Melayu: Komun di Perancis
Nederlands: Franse gemeente
日本語: コミューン
norsk nynorsk: Kommunar i Frankrike
occitan: Comuna
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Fransiya kommunalari
Plattdüütsch: Gemeen (Frankriek)
português: Comuna francesa
Simple English: Communes of France
slovenčina: Obec (Francúzsko)
slovenščina: Občine Francije
српски / srpski: Француске општине
українська: Комуна (Франція)
Tiếng Việt: Xã của Pháp