French law – Relations between the State and local authorities

Title 3 – Local and Regional Authorities

Chapter 1 – Relations between the State and local authorities

Section 1 – The superiority of the State over local authorities

Administrative controls

Deliberations, decrees, acts and contracts of local authorities are controlled a posteriori.

For the most important acts, they are not even enforceable until they are transmitted to the State representative, who assesses their legality. If necessary, the matter is referred to the administrative court: it is a prefectural referral, sometimes with a stay of execution, pronounced or not by the court.

The court either accepts or rejects the appeal. The Council of State may be seized in case of refusal of the stay.

In certain fields, the prefect can temporarily suspend an act, notably in matters of town planning, contracts, and the delegation of public services.

In practice, the control is very little used: only 3% of the acts transmitted were concerned in 2006, and only 0.022% of the acts were referred to the administrative courts.

Financial controls

Financial supervision, although reduced, still exists through the intervention of the prefect, the regional audit chambers, and the appointed accountants.

The law of February 6, 1992, strengthens budgetary control.

The regional audit chambers judge all the accounts of the public accounts of local authorities.

Section 2 – The sharing of missions between the State and local authorities

The notion of “lead” local authority is increasingly used in view of the complexity of the sharing of responsibilities.

The region is the lead authority for the economic development of the territory, for employment, for regional planning, for the environment, for links between transport, for high schools and universities.

The department is the lead agency for solidarity, social assistance, health, and colleges.

The communes (or more and more often the inter-communal level) are the leaders in urban planning.

The mayor of the commune is responsible for security and the municipal police.

Other areas are the scene of a mix of competences: roads, housing, culture and sport.

But the new map of the regions adopted in 2014 and the reforms under way should transform these intermingling competencies of the different territorial levels.

Section 3 – Local elections

The situation of local elected officials was established by the law of February 3, 1992, in an attempt to democratize access to elected office and to make the remuneration of elected officials more transparent.

The law of 27 February 2002 on local democracy provides for the possibility of creating information and evaluation missions. It develops the training of elected officials and modifies their compensation. It also provides for the establishment of neighborhood councils, which can make proposals to the mayor, and which are mandatory in cities with more than 80,000 inhabitants.

The law of February 6, 1992, is part of an objective to improve communication with citizens. Since this law, the examination of the budget must be preceded by a debate in municipalities with more than 3,500 inhabitants.

It is possible to use the referendum:

  • “when it is envisaged creating a territorial community with a special status or to modify its organization”
  • to refer to the affairs of the competence of a community

The referendum can even be requested when 1/5 of the voters of a commune are gathered, or 1/10 depending on the size of the commune.

→ Chapter 2 – The region

→ Lesson sheets – The Administrative Organization

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