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Regional Policy in France

The development of regional policy was instigated by a book entitled Paris and the French Desert which was published in 1947 by M.J.F. Gravier, a teacher of history and geography. In this book Gravier argued that the excessive growth of Paris was resulting in stagnation for the rest of France. In 1881 the Paris region contained only 5 percent of the total population of France, but by 1975 that proportion had grown to 19 percent. But that dramatic rise in the concentration of population of France in Paris does not do justice to the extent of the problem. Between 1880 and 1936 3.3 people moved from the provinces to Paris resulting in a decline in the population of France outside of Paris and a tripling of the population of Paris. Between 1896 and 1936 industrial employment in Paris increased by 45 percent but probably declined in the rest of France. Some of the growth of Paris may have been due to natural market factors but much of it was due to the past program of centralizing government administration and the transportation system in Paris. Gravier argued that the artificial overdevelopment of Paris was threatening the well being of France as a whole.

The Minister of Reconstruction and Urbanism in the French Government, M. Claudius-Petit, took heed of Gravier's warnings and created in 1950 within his ministry a division responsible for regional policy. The French term for regional planning, Aménagement du Territoire has the connotation of design and planning as well as policy. The French legislature subsequently created a national fund for regional planning.

In 1954 and 1955 the French legislature creaed subsidies for firms that would move out of Paris into certain desinated areas. In 1956 there was a shift in policy. Legislation required firms have authorization to locate in Paris and Paris firms had to have authorization to expand their operation within Paris.

In 1963 a new agency for regional policy was created. It was called DATAR (Délégation à l'Aménagement du Territoire et à l'Action Régionale. DATAR had responsibility for the regional aspects of the national economic plans France was implementing. It served to stimulate, guide and coordinate the regional planning efforts of other agencies. DATAR eventually obtained a Special Fund for Regional Development Planning (FIAT) to finance infrastructure projects required for the success of regional programs which were otherwise not provided for in other agencies' budgets. DATAR also developed a network of information offices outside of France to encourage foreign investment in France.

In the Fifth National Plan (1966-1970) provided for aid to agriculture and assistance to weaken industries, but it also conscientiously began to direct industrial investment away from Paris and toward the low income areas in the west of France. The ten regions of the west were to 35 to 40 percent of the new national employmnet created during the plan's years. Light industry with its lower transportation costs and generally higher labor intensity was given emphasis in the industry directed to the west. There was attention given to imporoving the transportation between the cities of the west and their rural hinterlands.

In the Sixth National Economic Plan (1971-75) there was a shift away from regional planning because of fear among French decision-makers that contraints on industry in Paris and the other prosperous regions might hamper France's international competitiveness. There was a concern that existing industry needed all the economies of scale they could get to keep up with the international competition. Plan did still have some provision for encouraging industry in the west but there was more concern for environmental and quality of life issues for the west. DATAR developed a program of contracts between the national government and local governments of medium-sized cities (20,000 to 200,000 in population) for carrying projects concerned with urban infrastructure and amenities. The DATAR contract called for the national government to cover one third of the costs of these projects with the local government covering the rest.

Whether as a result of regional policies or some extraneous factor the net outmigration from the provinces was reversed and the growth of Paris slowed. But DATAR's attempt to create two growth poles, one in the north at Calais-Dunkirk and another in the south at Fos (near Marseille). was unsuccessful. Generally the 1970's was a time of crisis with oil price increases and relatively smaller resources available to the governments for optional programs such as regional policy.

The Seventh National Economic Plan (1976-1980) presented 25 national action programs (PAPs) which the national government would promote and assist financially. Among these were projects to improve transportation in the west and southwest and also in the central mountainous area called the Massif. A modification from previous plan was contracts between the national government and small towns of five to twenty thousand in population.

DATAR's activities came under criticism for the way they worked out in practice. The subsidies to industry primarily went to large firms, with five firms receiving 50 percent of all government subsidies for industry. In France a substantial share of the economic is public enterprises. It was found that public enterprises received one third of all government subsidies and that nine firms (some public, some private) received over half of all subsidies. Some forty percent of DATAR's subsidies went to firms in the old industrial areas of the north where it financed a continuing dependence on declining industries rather than the search for new industrial bases.

The recent trends in migration involve a net migration into the south and out of the industrial north. In the Paris region there is considerable suburbanization that is spreading the economy of Paris over a much wider area. The large oligopolistic firms are reducing employment and the share of employment in the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) is increasing. Employment is decentralizing, whether due to regional policy or other factors. Therefore there is less of need for regional policy in recent years.

The Eighth National Economic Plan for 1980-85 was scrapped after the Socialist Party won in the national election. The Ninth National Economic Plan (1984-88) was formulated by the Socialist Party government of François Mitterand has promoted the further decentralization of the government and the economy of France.


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