France is considered by many as one of the most prosperous countries not only of the European Union, but also of the entire world. Also known as the French Republic, this European country is bordered by Belgium, Luxemburg, Germany, Monaco, Italy, Switzerland, Andorra and Spain and, due to its strategic location within the continent; France has acquired tremendous power within the region, which in turn has helped it gain great influence over the surrounding countries.
On top of that, its economic solidness and the tremendous strength of its cultural heritage has gained France the admiration of both old and new generations, which has made it one of the top destinations of choice when it comes to choosing not only a vacationing site, but also a place to live. It also helps, of course, that the French enjoy one of the lowest retirement age averages in the region, as well as the best healthcare system in the entire Europe.
But behind its economic strength and its vast cultural and gastronomical heritage, the secret of France’s unity resides in the cohesiveness of its communities. Communities in France are very integrated, and they are usually composed of a city and its suburbs. However, contrary to other countries that applied similar ways of internal organization, communities in France are relatively new, having just appeared in the mid 20th Century. But even so, their tremendous success cannot be denied.
Communities were also one of the smartest choices made by the French administration, since before them, they had tried (unsuccessfully) to merge small suburbs into larger entities. So, with the advent of communities, the French Government managed to finally get the cooperation and the better administration of these smaller suburbs.
Currently there are 16 urban communities in France, which have around 8 million inhabitants. Let’s take a look at the most important of them:
- Urban Community of Lyon: Also known as the Gran Lyon, this community is the largest in France and is composed of 57 smaller communes.
- Urban Community of Lille Metropole: This community stands out due to its great management of its transport system (comprised of busses, trams and a metro system) and of its environmental efforts. It was one of the first to be founded and is composed of 85 small cities and villages. One of the most pressing issues that this community is facing today is that it borders with the Belgium country, which means that certain things might not be totally under their control.
- Urban Community of Marseille: A community that takes its name from the city of Marseille (which it houses), it is one of the most independent communities. However, it is also perceived as one of the poorest ones. This has led to some small inner conflicts and to the initiative (on the part of its smaller communes) to abandon this community.
- Urban Community of Bordeaux: As its name suggests, this community is home to the famous city of Bordeaux and most of its suburbs, but not all of them. It is home to more than 750,000 of inhabitants and is one of the most prosperous communities of France.
- Urban Community of Greater Toulouse: Known also as just The Grand Toulouse, this community of more than 600,000 citizens houses the city of Toulouse and most of its suburbs, and was created just recently, in the year 2009. However, due to some political issues, some smaller (but very important) communes have refused to join it.
- Urban Community of Nice: This particular community encompasses the popular city of Nice and the majority of its suburbs. The community of Nice faces the also tremendously popular French Riviera, which has given this small region a huge appeal with tourists.
Urban Community of Strasbourg: This particular community gathers the city of, Strasbourg and some of its suburbs. However, as some of the communities mentioned above, this one also has some of its metropolitan area on German territory, which has caused some governability issues that are being handled somehow efficiently by the specially-created Strasbourg-Ortenau eurodistrict.
All of these communities work based on the concept of “intercommunality”, which is a form of cooperation between communities that aims to empower them with the use of legal regulations that are not be available for the use of each individual community. Now, within the concept of intercommunality there exist 2 types of structures: communities with and without fiscal power.
Intercommunalities without fiscal power are far more flexible in their regulations, and usually depend on the creation of syndicates in order to gather some financial contributions since they do not have their own taxes. The problem that this type of intercommunalities face is that communes that integrate them can freely leave the syndicate at any time, which makes their plans far less reliable. On the other hand, due to their flexible nature, syndicates can be formed almost overnight with any particular objective.
On the other hand, we have intercommunalities with fiscal power, which are given funds from taxes in order to carry out their own projects. However, with the availability of tax funds, also come a series of responsibilities for the communities that integrate this type of intercommunalities, like the proper management of their transport system, the development of housing projects and the implementation of environmental protection plans as well. Now, since funds are managed by the main communities of these intercommunalities, this leaves smaller communes without much authority over important matters.
As you have seen, while in theory it might not sound as efficient as other internal organization methods, the truth is that management through these smaller communities has come to be extremely effective, and all of France is divided into these. The funny thing is, however, that while extremely important for its internal organization, these communities and their differences stay completely invisible for visitors, so they can focus on enjoying this beautiful country.