The dÃˆpartements (or departments) are administrative units of France, roughly analogous to British counties and now grouped into 22 metropolitan and four overseas rÃˆgions. They are subdivided into 342 arrondissements.
Each dÃˆpartement is administered by a Conseil GÃˆnÃˆral elected for six years, and by a prÃˆfet appointed by the French government and assisted by one or more sous-prÃˆfets based in district centres outside the departmental capital. An administrative reform in 1982 transferred some of the prÃˆfet’s powers to the president of the Conseil GÃˆnÃˆral.
The capital city of a dÃˆpartement bears the title of prÃˆfecture. DÃˆpartements are divided into one to five arrondissements. The capital city of an arrondissement is called the sous-prÃˆfecture. The civil servant in charge is the sous-prÃˆfet.
The dÃˆpartements sub-divide into communes, governed by municipal councils. France (as of 1999) had 36,779 communes.
Most of the dÃˆpartements have an area of around 4,000-8,000 kmâ‰¤ and a population between 250,000 and a million. The largest in terms of area is Gironde (10,000 kmâ‰¤) and the smallest the city of Paris (105 kmâ‰¤ excluding the suburbs, now organised in adjacent dÃˆpartements). The most populous is Nord (2,550,000) and the least populous LozÃ‹re (74,000).
The dÃˆpartements 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 metropolitain departments. The overseas departments get two letters for the ISO 3166-2 code.
DÃˆpartements were created on January 15, 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 dÃˆpartements are named after the area’s principal river(s) or other physical features.
The number of dÃˆpartements 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 dÃˆpartements.
Three were yielded to Germany in Alsace-Lorraine in 1871 (Haut-Rhin, Bas-Rhin and Moselle) re-joined France in 1919.
Reorganisations of the Paris region (1968) and the division of Corsica (1975) have added a further seven dÃˆpartements, raising the total to one hundred – including the four overseas dÃˆpartements d’outre-mer (DOM) of Guyane (French Guiana) in South America, Guadeloupe and Martinique in the Caribbean Sea, and RÃˆunion in the Indian Ocean.
Map and list of dÃˆpartements
French rÃˆgions and dÃˆpartements
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 rÃˆgion at the same time.
Beyond these there are also three “overseas territories” (French: territoires d’outre-mer, or TOM) that are part of France but not of the EU. They are: French Polynesia, Wallis and Futuna and the French Southern and Antarctic Territories.
Furthermore there are three separate special status territories (French: collectivites territorialles), also part of France but not of the EU: Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Mayotte and New Caledonia. New Caledonia used to be a TOM.
Finally, France maintains control over a number of small islands in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.
French dÃˆpartements in the Netherlands
French dÃˆpartements in Algeria
The 130 dÃˆpartements of the Napoleonic Empire