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Communes of France

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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, comuni in Italy or ayuntamiento in Spain. 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.

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  • ✪ 2. The Paris Commune and Its Legacy
  • ✪ 5 Erreurs d'Orthographe Super Communes en Français 😖
  • ✪ John Merriman: Paris Commune of 1871
  • ✪ Anatomy of a Revolution: The Paris Commune
  • ✪ Facts about France #36600 communes françaises


Professor John Merriman: Okay, today I want to talk about the Paris Commune. This is how I end the previous course, but it's the most appropriate place to start this one, because the Paris Commune hung over Europe for the next twenty or thirty years. And, in my view, the Paris Commune and the massacre that followed the Paris Commune, the massacre of thousands and thousands of people, anticipated the twentieth century, when you became guilty for just being who you were. "À Paris tout le monde était coupable,"--"in Paris everybody was guilty," shouted out one of the prosecutors as they shot men and women down. It would be, and I'll conclude with this, the largest massacre that would take place until the massacre of Armenians by Turks in the latter years of the nineteenth century, and in World War One, as well, in 1915, and it sadly anticipates the horror shows of the twentieth century. "À Paris tout le monde était coupable." You were guilty because you were left in Paris, because you were too poor to get out. So, what was the Paris Commune? Some of you already know this, but let me talk about that and then give you my view on it. The Paris Commune has to be placed in the context of two things going on. One is that during the Second Empire, which was that regime of Napoleon III that lasted from 1852 to till he was really rounded up by the Prussians in 1870. There was in the late 1860s a revival of republican and socialist organization, and of anarchist disorganization, if you will. In June of 1868 the Emperor legalizes public meetings, which had been illegal, and in Paris and in very many places, particularly on the edge of Paris, on the margins of urban life, you had meetings in large warehouses, and in big cafés where people discussed politics and imagined reforms that they wanted in the Empire, or many of them wanted a republic, or some sort of democratic, socialist republic. So, there's a political mobilization in the late 1860s, and in the beginning of 1870 there's a wave of strikes. Strikes had been illegal in France until 1864. Unions would be illegal in France until 1881; but, so, you had a wave of strikes. So, that's really the first context and the mobilization of many ordinary people living in Paris. The second context is the Franco-Prussian War, which you can read about in Chip Sowerwine's book. But, basically what happens is that Louis Napoleon, Napoleon III, gets suckered into a war without any allies at all because of various dumb things that he'd done against the very clever, extremely aggressive Otto von Bismarck, the Prussian chancellor. It involved one of those obscure things that one had to learn in Western Civ., the way it was taught a long time ago--well I suppose it's worth remembering anyway--it involved the candidacy of a Royal Family member, a rather obscure one, for the throne of France, which would have left France surrounded by the Royal Family of Prussia, Hollenzollerns, a name that in this course you need not retain unless it's in some extraordinarily complicated crossword puzzle. But Napoleon protests vigorously, and then, trying to add insult to injury, his ambassador literally chases the German emperor around his garden and is fairly abusive in a verbal way, and Bismarck seizes on this to stoke up anger against France and then reveals to the European world, or those people who cared, that Napoleon III had earlier tried to make a deal which in exchange for supporting Prussia against Austria he would receive Belgium and Luxemburg, which of course the British could never tolerate. And so, what happens is that he goes to war in the summer of 1870, without any allies, against Prussia and its South German allies, and he thinks he's going to win. But--as my team was in the Michigan State game last Saturday, with me present, a very sad person you're looking at--he was blown out, and on September 4th, 1870, there is yet another insurrection in Paris. A crowd storms down to the town hall, they seize power, they proclaim a republic, they name streets different names, and they want to prolong the resistance against the Prussian Army, which has through betrayal and cleverly organized military victories--is sweeping aside French resistance. And Napoleon III, who's very sick, he would die a couple of years later, probably of stomach cancer, is captured in the Battle of Sedan, s-e-d-a-n, which is a textile town near the Belgian border in the north of France, and he goes off to--is sent packing off to Britain. Now, what happens then is that there are those who want to keep fighting. It's quite clear that one of the demands of Prussia--;and, as of late January, a unified Germany--the German Empire was proclaimed in the Hall of Mirrors in the Château of Versailles, by coincidence--but one of the demands is that there'll be a huge indemnity, which the French will have to pay, and that Alsace and Lorraine, those Eastern provinces, largely German speaking, I remind you, would be amputated and would be annexed by Germany. And, after the Paris region, Alsace and Lorraine were the two most industrialized and prosperous parts of France. And, so, in Paris people find themselves surrounded. They find themselves surrounded, and Paris is--it's nothing like- -it's one-third the size of London at this same time, or at any other time, but it has a huge circumference. There is a wall around Paris and there are exterior forts, but you've got an enormous number of people besieged by Prussian and other German forces, holding on. At one point, a French politician whom you'll meet in the textbook, at least, called Gambetta, who died very young, flies away in a balloon, flies down toward Tours on the Loire Valley to try to raise up resistance there, but things get quickly very grim indeed. In October, a French general capitulates rather scandalously in the town of Metz, in the east, which would become a German town--in fact you go to Metz, maybe some of you have been there, Metz--you'll see this huge sort of lugubrious railroad station that was clearly built in the Second Reich of the Kaisers and of Bismarck. And, so, Paris is surrounded in this sort of glory that was supposed to be, the Empire has collapsed on the head of France. And, to be sure, there were lots of crowds in Paris. There were the inevitable crowds who shouted for war, which was sort of odd because Paris was increasingly a leftwing city, because the vast majority of the population of Paris were ordinary people, were workers, more about that another time when I talk about Paris; but, the siege goes on and on, and Paris changes appearances. Military dress or parts of uniform become seen just about everywhere. The problem is feeding all of these people, how are you going to feed them? You've got all sorts of animals. You've got horses which you need for the army but also which they start slaughtering; you've got cattle but you have enough food to last for maybe a month; there's always a lot to drink because of the caves, that is, the wine cellars that people had, but things get worse and worse. The last regular mail delivery was on September 19th, and thereafter they used balloons. The balloon was invented in the Ardèche by Montgolfier in the late eighteenth century, and the balloon becomes a sort of symbol of perhaps liberty. The people in Paris are awaiting some sort of military help from the provinces, but it simply goes on and on. And during the siege there were sixty-five balloon flights carrying two and a half million letters, weighing a grand total of 10,000 kilograms, so roughly about 20,000 pounds. One astronomer actually left Paris to go off and to observe an eclipse. They begin using pigeons in order to fly messages out, and then the Germans, who were of course portrayed as committing atrocities--and they'd committed a few, they'd shot some people up in the northeast, but nothing like would occur in 1914, and, of course, nothing at all like what would occur in very different circumstances in 1939, 1940. The Germans bring in these falcons and they go out and they munch the pigeons; and so this was another reason for them, just like the Germans, these poor little pigeons who became the sort of sacred bird, I guess a pigeon's a bird. Pigeons--people, including me, eat pigeons; pigeoneau is actually quite good. But, anyway, it seemed like an awful thing to do when they're bringing these falcons and hawks who were imported to intercept these people. Now, the Paris population included national guardsman, come from the outside to take refuge inside. So, it's rather like a medieval siege, from that point of view. You've got people from the outskirts coming in for food and safety; but, the population is slightly over two million people, and that's a lot of mouths to feed. You've got 1,500 Americans, several of whom leave accounts of the whole thing, 40,000 Belgians, 30,000 Swiss and 5,000 English. So, you're starting out with about--please don't write these down--24,000 cattle, 150,000 sheep, 6,000 hogs, and that is not enough to eat, and people become quite obsessed with what they're going to eat. And you're looking at somebody who basically does not like dogs at all but who loves cats, and canine butchers replaced horse butchers. The horses had mostly been eaten up or had been commandeered, as I said before, by the army. You can still in France today find not canine butchers, you can find horse butchers, and it's always a red front with a gold head of a horse, appropriately enough. But people began to eat first--not first, but they ate the animals in the zoo and what's his name, Castorin Pollocks, who many Parisian children, generations, had gone to visit the zoo, find themselves eaten; and they can't eat the tigers because they're afraid to open the cages, and, unfortunately, the tigers simply croaked because they're not going to waste food on them, from their point of view; but, they begin eating dogs and cats. And, so, you had this rather odd situation where instead of dogs guarding their masters or mistresses, you had the masters and mistresses guarding the dogs against people who would take the dogs and, unfortunately, kill them and eat them. And they eat cats as well, and, of course, rats. And Paris had and still has millions of rats. Even if you come home about two or 2:30 in the morning near our apartment you can still see rather large rats dashing across the street; some of them look so bloated they look like sangliers, or wild boar, which you can see occasionally in parts of rural France. There were tales, inevitable tales of--and with French food, as you know, presentation accounts for something very much. When food arrives you're likely to say "c'est bien, bien presentée"; it has all sorts of meanings to it, it's well presented, but it's how it looks but how it's served and of course how it tastes, where you would have--unfortunately this pains me when I think of my poor little kitty--a cat with mice artfully placed around the cat carcass; one has to call it that--what do you have?--carcass of cat. And people simply got by as best they could. And so they have this--and Bismarck had predicted that the siege would end if Parisians went several weeks without their café au lait, the whole thing would be over. But, they create a Central Commission of Hygiene and Sobriety which tell people--encourage people to eat healthfully, and don't just get wasted all the time--which is what I would have done, I'll tell you that. No, I take that back, do not film that. Here's the proposed menu. You don't have to know French to know this, but here's a menu that they're--this is early in the siege. The word for French is cheval, and here's a menu; but these people must have been friqués, or fairly wealthy to have been able to eat like this. You don't even have to know French to get this. It starts it with a consumée de cheval, cheval braisé au chou, collet de cheval à la mode, côte de cheval braisé, fillet de cheval rôti, boeuf et cheval salé froid--you couldn't do much with horse ice-cream, so it sort of trailed by the end. And somebody once wrote many a superb champion of Longchamps, that is the racetrack, met their end on the table of some well-heeled person from the western fancy districts of Paris. But, it ceased being funny, and it was nothing like the siege of Leningrad where something like a million people died in World War Two of starvation; but, there were all sorts of little caskets being dragged along to what passed then for mortuaries. Old people and young people, the youngest died in droves; and, of course, sheer drunkenness becomes an enormous problem, and so did venereal disease because of the--Paris at any one time, depending on who's counting, but the number of prostitutes was at least 10,000 and probably about 25,000, and so venereal disease becomes rampant; and there are also very strange cases of mental illness that were predictable. There are people who are brought into mental institutions who literally think that they're Joan of Arc, who was burned au Calvados--I shouldn't say that--but, in Rouen in the fifteenth century; or there are people that believe that they're God, or that they're Saint Louis and can somehow save France. So, hunger sets in and it becomes extremely sad and tragic, and attempts to break out simply don't work; but, it had its light moments, and I can never resist those. They do a contest--those of you who like to enter contests--saying, "how can we break out of this awful mess, oh, whatever can we do?" And just three of the suggestions that came in, that I would have rewarded them some sort of prize, were the following, or maybe just two of them. One, somebody says that all of these prostitutes are a valuable resource for Paris--Berlin had its own sad legions of prostitutes as well--and that they must be equipped with what they called Prussic, as in Prussian, but Prussic needles that would have a poison, and then the prostitutes would go out to encounter in some sort of cash exchange Prussian soldiers and, at some key moment in the exchange, would stab them in the neck very gently with this pin; that would be the end of their eating sauerkraut and then Paris would free itself. Somebody else suggested that because of the influence of Wagner and because of the traditional kind of om-pah music that the Parisians always associated with Germans that you would take the orchestras of Paris and teach them how to play om-pah music--this is what they called it, not the Prussians, of course--and that one day they simply would open up one of the gates of Paris, heavily defended, and would march out playing this music and then behind them would become this huge Trojan horse, which they would call the musical mitrailleuse, or the musical machinegun, which would then open up and start blasting away the poor Prussians, who were always assumed to be, by the sneaky Parisians, to be very dumb, but of course they weren't. And the other, somebody wrote in and said, well let's just take this huge tarp, put it on the Place de la Concorde, put bacon and other things and use pigeon power, and all the pigeons would come to that place, and then you engulf the pigeons and you have this powerful balloon that can carry all these people in some sort of airborne stagecoach, or diligence, out of Paris. But, the thing, it becomes less and less funny and not at all. And, at the very beginning there was a train that went around the Wall of Paris, more about the walls of Paris another time, that's fun to talk about, and Parisians would take picnic lunches, and they'd get on the train, and then they'd hear these large explosions and realize that they could get killed by these large explosions. And, so, as things are going downhill many people in Paris said look, we must keep fighting, but we must imagine a different world where--we have, we're being betrayed by the provinces that are not helping us, and we need to have help from the provinces. And, in January, somebody puts up a sign, a big red sign, red being the color of the Left--red was illegal, the color red was illegal between 1849 and 1851, because it was believed to excite one group of people against another, which is an exact quote from the French Law--and it's a big red poster that says, "make way for the Commune, that the people of Paris would have the right to defend themselves and to create a better world in the future." Now, let me scramble for my implement here. And this is a conservative response to the mobilization of French workers, and this says the working class population won't at all listen to bad advice. And, notice here, this guy, this is your basic Parisian urchin who in 1830 in a Delacroix, a famous Delacroix painting called Liberty Leading the People is sort of the hero, but here he's sort of the bad guy, he's sort of a Gavroche gone totally wrong, and here is temptation, and here's this working class family that will surely resist all of this. And this is--God, I love this--one picture, you first see the first picture you can actually see of Paris, this is what they call a daguerréotype from 1837, the faubourg du temple. And you can actually, instead of imagining what things look like, you can see them. And here, this is from the steps of Montmartre, way before the god-awful Sacré-Coeur was built, the basilica--more about that some other time, when I'm in a real frenzy of contempt for the destruction of the Parisian skyline. But, anyway, this is looking down from Montmartre, and here you've got the image of-- the female image of liberty, Marianne, and she comes in as the provisional government that is going to capitulate France, it's going to give up, but not that it's going to make a damn bit of difference. And then Adolph Thiers, who somebody once called a miserable gnome--t-h-i-e-r-s, Adolph Thiers is there and he's cutting off the right arm of France, which is Alsace and Lorraine, with Strasbourg and Colmar, and la route des vins and all these important things. And here, this is Marianne being martyred by the French provisional government, and in the back is the--is it the dawning of the social republic of the Left, that is these ordinary people who have fought so long and so hard. So, France capitulates, not Paris, but France, the provisional government capitulates in the end of January of the year 1871, and the Prussian troops cavalry march down--I guess horses don't march, they trot--but they trot down the Champs-Elysées, and then the concierges from that area go and symbolically, and for real intent also, clean up the stones afterwards, and there's a huge indemnity that has to be paid off, and France will lose Alsace-Lorraine. So, France has this provisional government--you can read about this stuff, it's not that interesting; well, it's passionately interesting. But, in February of 1871 there are elections and the provinces, particularly the conservative, western provinces like Brittany return this extremely monarchist dominated National Assembly that is going to determine the future of France. And the landlords come back to Paris, because they had somewhere to go during the siege, and they say, "you pay up, you pay up money with interest"; and the provisional government says, "yes, you pay up money with interest." And people had no money, and there's just incredible anger. And Thiers, who in 1848 had advised another regime that fell to revolution, that is, of the July Monarchy, the plotting Louis-Philippe, to withdraw the troops from Paris, in the account of--if there's any trouble in Paris--he already had this in mind. On March 18th, 1871, he sends troops to Montmartre, the hill of Montmartre, the highest point in Paris, which had only been annexed in 1860, on January 1st;^( )Montmartre which still had this somewhat rural atmosphere--there's still a wine produced there, the vineyard is about as big as this room, it's just so they can sell the label of wine from there--because the National Guard of Paris that had defended Paris so heroically, they've still got these guns, and, so, they have these guns and, so, they send the troops to get the guns early in the morning. The women who are at the market see the troops coming, they call the men folk. The men folk take two generals of the provisional government, they put them up against the wall and they shoot them, and Thiers says now we're going to get these bastards, and he pulls all the troops out, headquartered appropriately enough in Versailles, and Paris is surrounded again by, in this case, somebody else's government, that is, the provisional government. So, the Commune begins on the 18th of March, 1871, and it lasts until the end of May, 1871. Lenin once called it the "Festival of the Oppressed"; and Lenin was wrong about many things, he was right about a few things but wrong about many, but he got that one right. And, so, for the first time ordinary Parisians found themselves masters of their own lives. The wealthy people mostly got out again, and the commune holds on. The commune, the numbers of the commune were swollen by political refugees. This is a woman called Elisbeth Dmitrieff, who was a Russian militant who was one of the leaders of the commune. And, as in the French Revolution, that is 1789 and following, and as in 1848, clubs of women began to form demanding rights. And the commune, despite the fact that there's lots of--you could hear in the distance the guns sometimes getting closer and closer, and attempts to break out fail miserably, they pass all sorts of impressive social legislation. They create nurseries for working women; they give contracts to make National Guard uniforms to women's unions; they plan what will be a lay, secularized education system; they ban night baking because it was not good for the health of people working in bakeries in the middle of the night. And here's a woman's club making demands. Nobody is yet, except these women, thinking of female suffrage. So, it's kind of an important moment in the history of women, and also it explains the viciousness of the attempt--of the massacre, really, of ordinary working class women when the whole thing falls apart, because women were conceived of as being uppity, as putting forth claims that they shouldn't be making, by conservatives. And a couple of the communards--one is a woman that you'll read about later, called Louise Michel, who spends half her time in exile in London, who was an anarchist, basically, was very important, along with Elisabeth Dmitrieff. And, so, you're surrounded--and people, they don't agree on everything. You've got Jacobins, Jacobins who are the sort of centralized radical republicans or socialists from the French Revolution; you've got anarchists who wanted not to take over the state but to destroy it, I'm going to talk about anarchists another time because I'm writing a book about one of them; and you've got moderate republicans who simply wanted Paris to have more liberties vis-à-vis the strongly centralized state, more about that next time. You've got moderate socialists, you've got this whole kind of different people, and they're meeting around tables, and talking, and arguing, and debating, and yelling, and hugging, long into the night, as the guns draw nearer. There were communes in other cities, too, with a variety of demands, in Limoges, in Le Creusot, in Saint-Étienne, in Narbonne, in Lyon and in Marseilles, and even an attempt in Bordeaux. And Paris keeps waiting for these armies of citizens to come--and citoyennes, female citizens, also to come and rescue them; but, in the meantime you've got people from the northern and northeastern quarters of Paris, the poor, living on the edge of Paris who come down into the fancy quarters, for the very first time when they're not working as someone's maid, and they, some--and the painter, Gustav Courbet, the naturalist painter from near Besançon, thus Burial at Ornans, he says, "why don't we, as a symbol, get rid of this horrible statue of Napoleon that's standing on the Vendôme column in the Place Vendôme?" The Place Vendôme is near Palais Royale, very fancy. It's known to Americans who have visited, there are many, but others because that's the Ritz Hotel where what's-her-name, Princess Diana left ten years ago now and never made it, unfortunately for her, out of the Pont d'Alma, the tunnel. He says let's tear the whole damn thing down. And, so, this is an entry path to see this, to see this thing brought down as a symbol of centralized oppression. And this is the result, this is the crashing. And, so, people would come down and they'd have their pictures taken with a picture, as if it was part of the true cross of the crashed Vendôme column; because for once they had won, for once they had won. And, so, they have to defend Paris. And, so, you've got all these cannons that you just saw before, and you've got--they still have their uniforms and they build these huge barricades. The first barricades, by the way, were built in Paris in the late sixteenth century, so there's a long tradition. And you could build barricades across smaller streets, but not across big boulevards, and that was part of the rebuilding of Paris in the 1850s and '60s, more about that in a minute and much more about that later, because it's fascinating; at least, I think it's fascinating. And here you go, right down by the Seine, there's some Monet and Manet paintings, both, that are further back, from further back, looking over. Here, you've got your basic barricade--and these things are torn up, these are where trees came out of, as in 1968; and here's your sort of kiosk of modernity, somebody selling newspapers on these boulevards, or near these boulevards, and here's some of these people. And most of them would be dead within a month of this photo. And there you are looking at them, trying to protect their city. Now, who, first of all, who were the communards, who were the people that was left? Well, when revolutions are victorious everybody rushes forward and says "moi, j'étais là," I was there, and they give their name and their address and, "why don't you reward me, or at least pay attention to the fact that I was there?" In Paris, you got the Victory Column of the Revolution of 1830, where the Bastille once stood, and it's got the names of all the people that were killed in three days of July 1830; but, in something like this you have a body count of more than 15,000 people. So, we know who the communards were, they were ordinary people; they were the ordinary workers, men and women who simply couldn't get out. They weren't all socialists; as I said, some were anarchists, some were moderate republicans, but they were who were left. They were--their very presence there, that's where they lived, but their defense of Paris reflects tensions between urban France and conservative rural France. The armies that they were opposing, the French armies, were largely staffed by peasants from conservative areas, or from National Guards brought in from towns like Vannes, or Évreux, or all sorts of places, are brought in. And, so, the commune--it's somewhat semi-proletarian, they're mostly working people. They're particularly people from the poorer quarters of the north and the northeast, more about that later. They are who, the people that were left. They are artisans, craftsmen, day laborers, domestic servants; they are the people who were left. And, what they were trying to do was imagine a new world which would be less centralized; but, for the socialists, they wanted more centralization. So, it was a very complex, complex period indeed. But it reflects the artisinal base that was still part of the French economy, for sure, with the emphasis on skilled production of handbags, and of gloves, and of finely crafted tables. The cabinet makers were always terribly important in the French Revolution, and they still are, and there are still--all the stores, or most of the stores on one particular street in Paris near the Bastille are still furniture stores. The kind of myth of the commune was, of course, that from the conservatives' point of view--was that these were the furies of hell, the men and the women who rose up to slay their social betters. Well, of course, that's not the case, that's a sort of a myth for the French Revolution as well. And then you had you had your basic republican interpretation that said they were defending the Republic against this sort of monarchy to be restored, and that certainly is part of that as well; but, it also had its socialist component and Marx, for Marx this was terribly important and for Lenin it was as well. It seemed to be Armageddon for the ruling classes, but it seemed to be that here was this proletariat--even though Marx got that all wrong, because these are not industrial workers, for the most part, but these are the workers that will one day break off their chains. And, so, you can see how this would have an impact on every country, on the United States--those of you who've taken American history, this sort of view that immigrants were increasingly bringing socialism and anarchism to the United States. The commune is important in the big Hay Market Affair, the collective memory of the commune in the Hay Market Affair in Chicago and the people hung there in--when was it--1886. But, the most important, really the most important result of it was the massacre, I think, itself, because when finally the troops of the provisional government come pouring through the Western gate, a gate that had essentially been left open, in a place called Passy, where there's some very nice art nouveau buildings, by the way, but which was very collaborationist also in World War Two, though not everybody--what they do, the troops do, is they use the boulevards that had built by Napoleon III as a way of getting to those working class neighborhoods that had always risen up. And Napoleon III and his Prefect of the Seine--a name you don't have to remember now, but sometime it would be nice to remember, called Hausmann, a name so important that it became a verb; to hausmann something was to bulldoze it; a man dissed by my late friend Richard Cobb as the "Alsatian Attila"--he had plowed through working class neighborhoods and built the boulevards that--of the modern Paris that one celebrates and where one celebrates. He did it to bring more light, he did it to bring more air, he did it to free the flow for capital, money; that's why the department stores are on the boulevards. I'll do this again, not this whole lecture but that part again--and he did it because you can't build barricades across boulevards, wide ones. 1944, August, we jump ahead, the boulevard, the barricades are across the same streets where they were in many cases in 1792 and in 1789. And the problem, in 1968 it was very hard to build a barricade across the Boulevard St. Michel, which was built by Hausmann at this time. So, the troops come pouring in. This is down the Rue de Rivoli, which was completed in the 1850s and '60s, and the damage is staggering. This is the Church of the Madeleine, which is still there, and this is the Rue Royale. These streets do not matter, it's just the visual images with what is really going on that counts. The Hôtel de Ville, which was destroyed. Interestingly enough, ten years ago somebody found photos taken by this Parisian of the siege in the Commune in the back of the Hôtel de Ville; they were found ten years ago, they had survived. I just saw an exposition of them at the Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris in January, of photos that had never been seen before; but, anyway, this is the Hôtel de Ville which is down by Notre Dame, though it's not in the cité. Don't worry about these places. And then, they put the women on trial. There had been a rumor that female incendiaries, in French les pétroleuses, had been setting fire to fancy houses and had been burning down the Bank of France. And so this rumor was part of the fear of "upitty women" putting forth demands, and they squished them like grapes, and they hauled them off and shot them. Goncourt, one of the writers, the Goncourts, the one who hadn't died yet, was no friend of ordinary people, but there's an amazing scene in his memoirs when he's down by the Hôtel de Ville and he sees these women chained together, being walked around, and he says, "Well what--where are they going?" And, so, the guy next to him says, "Well they're going to shoot them." He said, "What do you--they're going to shoot them? You don't shoot women, do they?" Well they did. And he describes it and it's terrifying. I used to read it, but I could never get through it--terrifying. And then he hears the coup de grâce, it's the shots, one after another, and then he sees a priest staggering out, overwhelmed by it all, and then he moves onto something else. The Execution, this is Manet, who is horrified by the whole thing. Manet wasn't there. Courbet also did an execution scene. And, in the end what there was was this, "à Paris tout le monde était coupable," Paris, everybody was guilty. Little coffins, people were smaller then. You can still see in the Pantheon--the sort of secular monument to some very wonderful people like Émile Zola, but also just Napoleonic generals, one after another--you can still see bullet holes there, from the Commune, not just from World War Two, from where people were executed. And lots of people who were chimney sweeps were executed because they had been cleaning chimneys and they had gun--the equivalent, they had charcoal on their cheeks and people, they would rip off your shirt to see if you had a bruise from a recoiling rifle. And it wasn't a neutral massacre. What is was, they went to areas of Paris like Belleville, which is in the northeast, which had long been assumed to be a radical place, and Montmartre, and that's where their collective memory of the "forces of order," as they liked to call it, was very, very precise, and that's where they went in and massacred them. And that is the most chilling probably legacy of the whole thing. Now, I know it's easy to look at me and say, "God, there's an old leftie, why doesn't he grow up?" That's what my wife says sometimes, "why don't you grow up?" But, "why don't you get over this?" I remember when I was a student in Paris I remember going up to--there's a place at Père Lachaise Cemetery, and there's the Wall of the Féd&ea cute;rés, it's called the Wall of the Fédérés, and that's where they massacred lots of people. And people used to go up there on May Day, and sometimes on the anniversary of the commune, just to see where these people fell, with enormous more dignity than the people who shot them. And this was the ultimate lesson of the Commune that would hang over Europe. For the Left, it was a sign that the state is strong, powerful, and can be vicious. Don't let anyone ever tell you that the victims of terrorism in any century are anywhere approximately near the victims of state terrorism. No matter how awful terrorism was in the anarchist attacks at the beginning of the 1890s, and I'm going to talk to you about it because I'm interested in them; but, this was the real lesson of all of this, as the state, ever more stronger in Europe since the consolidation of territorial monarchies in the fifteenth century, the state growing in power with absolutism, growing in power with the revolution with Napoleon, growing in power with unification of national states. The state could strike back with unparalleled savagery against those people who got in the way, and that's what happened at the commune, in the Paris Commune. How many people died? Minimum estimate 15,000, probably closer to 25,000. Yet, when they did the census of 1872 in Paris alone there were 10,000 less shoemakers than there had been before. Shoemakers were an extraordinarily radical trade. Were they all hiding in their aunt's house in Orléans? Where were they? The flames engulfed the bodies, they were gone, and the amnesty for the communards, the people in the commune, wouldn't come till 1879, but it hung like a shadow over European politics and French politics for years and years. And, you know, when you go up there, as you go up to Montmartre, it's incredible--because I was there once very, very late in the afternoon, and oddly enough I met this woman who went there every day and I said, "why do you go there every day?" And she said she had some sort of lung disease and she couldn't get out of Paris but she could go into Père Lachaise, and she knew where every tomb was. And she took us up to see the Wall of the Fédérés, I was with some friends of my mother long ago, and I remember looking at that and just thinking. I remember when I was a kid, I read this book by Thomas Wolfe called Look Homeward Angel, and in the end he says--what does he say?--he said, "oh lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again." That was the commune and we're going to go on to the State next time. Have a good day.



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
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 36,683 communes[4] 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[5] to 1,108 in September 2007.[6] In comparison, the number of communes in Alsace was only reduced from 945 in 1971[7][8] (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 municipal 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.[9][10]

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.

History of the French communes

French communes were created at the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789-1790.

Kingdom of France


Before the revolution, France's lowest level of administrative division was the parish (paroisse), and there were up to 60,000 of them in the kingdom. A parish was essentially a church, the houses around it (known as the village), and the cultivated land around the village. France was the most populous country in Europe at this time, with a population of approximately 25 million inhabitants in the late 18th century (England in contrast had only 6 million inhabitants), which accounts for the large number of parishes. French kings often prided themselves on ruling over a "realm of 100,000 steeples".

Parishes lacked the municipal structures of post-Revolution communes. Usually, one contained only a building committee (conseil de fabrique), made up of villagers, which managed the buildings of the parish church, the churchyard, and the other numerous church estates and properties, and sometimes also provided help for the poor, or even administered parish hospitals or schools. Since the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts of 1539 by Francis I, the priest in charge of the parish was also required to record baptisms, marriages, and burials. Except for these tasks, villages were left to handle other issues as they pleased. Typically, villagers would gather to decide over a special issue regarding the community, such as agricultural land usage, but there existed no permanent municipal body. In many places, the local feudal lord (seigneur) still had a major influence in the village's affairs, collecting taxes from tenant-villagers and ordering them to work the corvée, controlling which fields were to be used and when, and how much of the harvest should be given to him.

Chartered Cities

Additionally some cities had obtained charters during the Middle Ages, either from the king himself, or from local counts or dukes (such as the city of Toulouse chartered by the counts of Toulouse). These cities were made up of several parishes (up to ca. 50 parishes in the case of Paris), and they were usually enclosed by a defensive wall. They had been emancipated from the power of feudal lords in the 12th and 13th centuries, had municipal bodies which administered the city, and bore some resemblance with the communes that the French Revolution would establish except for two key points:

  • these municipal bodies were not democratic; they were usually in the hands of some rich bourgeois families upon whom, over time, nobility had been conferred, so they can be better labeled as oligarchies rather than municipal democracies.
  • there was no uniform status for these chartered cities, each one having its own status and specific organization.

In the north, cities tended to be administered by échevins (from an old Germanic word meaning judge), while in the south, cities tended to be administered by consuls (in a clear reference to Roman antiquity), but Bordeaux was administered by jurats (etymologically meaning "sworn men") and Toulouse by capitouls ("men of the chapter"). Usually, there was no mayor in the modern sense; all the échevins or consuls were on equal footing, and rendered decisions collegially. However, for certain purposes there was one échevin or consul ranking above the others, a sort of mayor, although not with the same authority and executive powers as a modern mayor. This "mayor" was called provost of the merchants (prévôt des marchands) in Paris and Lyon; maire in Marseille, Bordeaux, Rouen, Orléans, Bayonne and many other cities and towns; mayeur in Lille; premier capitoul in Toulouse; viguier in Montpellier; premier consul in many towns of southern France; prêteur royal in Strasbourg; maître échevin in Metz; maire royal in Nancy; or prévôt in Valenciennes.

French Revolution

On 14 July 1789, at the end of the afternoon, following the storming of the Bastille, the provost of the merchants of Paris, Jacques de Flesselles, was shot by the crowd on the steps of Paris City Hall. Although in the Middle Ages the provosts of the merchants symbolized the independence of Paris and even had openly rebelled against King Charles V, their office had been suppressed by the king, then reinstated but with strict control from the king, and so they had ended up being viewed by the people as yet another representative of the king, no longer the embodiment of a free municipality.

Following that event, a "commune" of Paris was immediately set up to replace the old medieval chartered city of Paris, and a municipal guard was established to protect Paris against any attempt made by King Louis XVI to quell the ongoing revolution. Several other cities of France quickly followed suit, and communes arose everywhere, each with their municipal guard. On 14 December 1789, the National Assembly (Assemblée Nationale) passed a law creating the commune, designed to be the lowest level of administrative division in France, thus endorsing these independently created communes, but also creating communes of its own. In this area as in many others, the work of the National Assembly was, properly speaking, revolutionary: not content with transforming all the chartered cities and towns into communes, the National Assembly also decided to turn all the village parishes into full-status communes. The Revolutionaries were inspired by Cartesian ideas as well as by the philosophy of the Enlightenment. They wanted to do away with all the peculiarities of the past and establish a perfect society, in which all and everything should be equal and set up according to reason, rather than by tradition or conservatism.

Thus, they set out to establish administrative divisions that would be uniform across the country: the whole of France would be divided into départements, themselves divided into arrondissements, themselves divided into cantons, themselves divided into communes, no exceptions. All of these communes would have equal status, they would all have a mayor at their head, and a municipal council elected by the inhabitants of the commune. This was a real revolution for the thousands of villages that never had experienced organized municipal life before. A communal house had to be built in each of these villages, which would house the meetings of the municipal council as well as the administration of the commune. Some in the National Assembly were opposed to such a fragmentation of France into thousands of communes, but eventually Mirabeau and his ideas of one commune for each parish prevailed.

On 20 September 1792, the recording of births, marriages, and deaths also was withdrawn as a responsibility of the priests of the parishes and handed to the mayors. Civil marriages were established and started to be performed in the mairie with a ceremony not unlike the traditional one, with the mayor replacing the priest, and the name of the law replacing the name of God ("Au nom de la loi, je vous déclare unis par les liens du mariage." – "In the name of the law, I declare you united by the bonds of marriage."). Priests were forced to surrender their centuries-old baptism, marriage, and burial books, which were deposited in the mairies. These abrupt changes profoundly alienated devout Catholics, and France soon was plunged into the throes of civil war, with the fervently religious regions of western France at its center. It would take Napoleon I to re-establish peace in France, stabilize the new administrative system, and make it generally accepted by the population. Napoleon also abolished the election of the municipal councils, which now were chosen by the prefect, the local representative of the central government.

Trends after the French Revolution

Today, French communes are still very much the same in their general principles as those that were established at the beginning of the Revolution. The biggest changes occurred in 1831, when the French Parliament re-established the principle of the election of municipal councils, and in 1837 when French communes were given legal "personality," being now considered legal entities with legal capacity. The Jacobin revolutionaries were afraid of independent local powers, which they saw as conservative and opposed to the revolution, and so they favored a powerful central state. Therefore, when they created the communes, they deprived them of any legal "personality" (as they did with the départements), with only the central state having legal "personality." By 1837 that situation was judged impractical, as mayors and municipal councils could not be parties in courts. The consequence of the change, however, was that tens of thousands of villages which had never had legal "personality" (contrary to the chartered cities) suddenly became legal entities for the first time in their history. This is still the case today.

During the revolution, approximately 41,000 communes were created,[11] on territory corresponding to the limits of modern-day France (the 41,000 figure includes the communes of the departments of Savoie, Haute-Savoie and Alpes-Maritimes which were annexed in 1795, but does not include the departments of modern-day Belgium and Germany west of the Rhine, which were part of France between 1795 and 1815). This was fewer than the 60,000 parishes that existed before the revolution (in cities and towns, parishes were merged into one single commune; in the countryside, some very small parishes were merged with bigger ones), but 41,000 was still a considerable number, without any comparison in the world at the time, except in the empire of China (but there, only county level and above had any permanent administration).

Since then, tremendous changes have affected France, as they have the rest of Europe: the Industrial Revolution, two world wars, and the rural exodus have all depopulated the countryside and increased the size of cities. French administrative divisions, however, have remained extremely rigid and unchanged. Today about 90 percent of communes and departments are exactly the same as those designed at the time of the French Revolution more than 200 years ago, with the same limits. Countless rural communes that had hundreds of inhabitants at the time of the French Revolution now have only a hundred inhabitants or fewer. On the other hand, cities and towns have grown so much that their urbanized area is now extending far beyond the limits of their commune which were set at the time of the revolution. The most extreme example of this is Paris, where the urbanized area sprawls over 396 communes.

Paris in fact was one of the very few communes of France whose limits were extended to take into account the expansion of the urbanized area. The new, larger, commune of Paris was set up under the oversight of Emperor Napoléon III in 1859, but after 1859 the limits of Paris rigidified. Unlike most other European countries, which stringently merged their communes to better reflect modern-day densities of population (such as Germany and Italy around 1970), dramatically decreasing the number of communes in the process – the Gemeinden of West Germany were decreased from 24,400 to 8,400 in the space of a few years – France only carried out mergers at the margin, and those were mostly carried out during the 19th century. From 41,000 communes at the time of the French Revolution, the number decreased to 37,963 in 1921, to 36,569 in 2008 (in metropolitan France).

Thus, in Europe, only Switzerland has as high a density of communes as France, and even there an extensive merger movement has started in the last 10 years. To better grasp the staggering number of communes in France, two comparisons can be made: First, of the original 15 member states of the European Union there are approximately 75,000 communes; France alone, which comprises 16 percent of the population of the EU-15, had nearly half of its communes. Second, the United States, with a territory fourteen times larger than that of the French Republic, and nearly five times its population, had 35,937 incorporated municipalities and townships at the 2002 Census of Governments, fewer than that of the French Republic.

Current debate

There have long been calls in France for a massive merger of communes, including by such distinguished voices as the president of the Cour des Comptes (the central auditing administrative body in France). So far, however, local conservatism has been strong, and no mandatory merging proposal ever has made it past committee in the French Parliament. In 1971 the Marcellin law offered support and money from the government to entice the communes to merge freely with each other, but the law had only a limited effect (only about 1,300 communes agreed to merge with others). Many rural communes with few residents struggle to maintain and manage basic services such as running water, garbage collection, or properly paved communal roads.

Mergers, however, are not easy to achieve. One problem is that mergers reduce the number of available elected positions, and thus are not popular with local politicians. Moreover, citizens from one village may be unwilling to have their local services run by an executive located in another village, whom they may consider unaware of or inattentive to their local needs.


The expression "intercommunality" (intercommunalité) denotes several forms of cooperation between communes. Such cooperation first made its appearance at the end of the 19th century in the form of a law on 22 March 1890, which provided for the establishment of single-purpose intercommunal associations. French lawmakers having long been aware of the inadequacy of the communal structure inherited from the French Revolution for dealing with a number of practical matters, the so-called Chevènement law of 12 July 1999 is the most recent and most thoroughgoing measure aimed at strengthening and simplifying this principle.

In recent years it has become increasingly common for communes to band together in intercommunal consortia for the provision of such services as refuse collection and water supply. Suburban communes often team up with the city at the core of their urban area to form a community charged with managing public transport or even administering the collection of local taxes.

The Chevènement law tidied up all these practices, abolishing some structures and creating new ones. In addition, it offered central government finance aimed at encouraging further communes to join together in intercommunal structures. Unlike the only partially successful statute enacted in 1966 and enabling urban communes to form urban communities, or the more marked failure of the Marcellin law of 1971, the Chevènement law met with a large measure of success, so that a majority of French communes are now involved in intercommunal structures.

There are two types of these structures:

  • Those without fiscal power, the loosest form of intercommunality. Mainly in this category are the traditional syndicates of communes. Communes gather and contribute financially to the syndicate, but the syndicate cannot levy its own taxes. Communes can leave the syndicate at any time. Syndicates can be set up for a particular purpose or to deal with several simultaneous matters. These structures have been left untouched by the Chevènement law, and they are on the decline.
  • Structures with fiscal power. This is what the Chevènement law was concerned with, and it distinguished three structures with fiscal power:
These three structures are given varying levels of fiscal power, with the community of agglomeration and the urban community having most fiscal power, levying the local tax on corporations (taxe professionnelle) in their own name instead of those of the communes, and with the same level of taxation across the communes of the community. The communities must also manage some services previously performed by the communes, such as garbage collection or transport, but the law also makes it mandatory for the communities to manage other areas such as economic planning and development, housing projects, or environment protection. Communities of communes are required to manage the least number of areas, leaving the communes more autonomous, while urban communities are required to manage most matters, leaving the communes within them with less autonomy.

Allocation of government money

In exchange for the creation of a community, the government allocates money to them based on their population, thus providing an incentive for communes to team up and form communities. Communities of communes are given the least money per inhabitant, whereas urban communities are given the most money per inhabitant, thus pushing communes to form more integrated communities where they have fewer powers, which they might otherwise have been loath to do if it were not for government money.

The Chevènement law has been extremely successful in the sense that a majority of French communes now have joined the new intercommunal structures. On 1 January 2007, there were 2,573 such communities in metropolitan France (including five syndicats d'agglomération nouvelle, a category currently being phased out), made up of 33,327 communes (91.1 percent of all the communes of metropolitan France), and 52.86 million inhabitants, i.e. 86.7 percent of the population of metropolitan France.[12]

These impressive results however may hide a murkier reality. In rural areas, many communes have entered a community of communes only to benefit from government funds. Often the local syndicate has been turned officially into a community of communes, the new community of communes in fact managing only the services previously managed by the syndicate, contrary to the spirit of the law which has established the new intercommunal structures to carry out a much broader range of activities than that undertaken by the old syndicates. Some say that, should government money transfers be stopped, many of these communities of communes would revert to their former status of syndicate, or simply completely disappear in places where there were no syndicates prior to the law.[citation needed]

In urban areas, the new intercommunal structures are much more a reality, being created by local decision-makers out of genuine belief in the worth of working together. However, in many places local feuds have arisen, and it was not possible to set up an intercommunal structure for the whole of the urban area: some communes refusing to take part in it, or even creating their own structure. In some urban areas like Marseille there exist four distinct intercommunal structures! In many areas, rich communes have joined with other rich communes and have refused to let in poorer communes, for fear that their citizens would be overtaxed to the benefit of poorer suburbs.[citation needed]

Moreover, intercommunal structures in many urban areas are still new, and fragile: Tensions exist between communes; the city at the center of the urban area often is suspected of wishing to dominate the suburban communes; communes from opposing political sides also may be suspicious of each other.[citation needed]

Two famous examples of this are Toulouse and Paris. In Toulouse, on top of there being six intercommunal structures, the main community of Toulouse and its suburbs is only a community of agglomeration, although Toulouse is large enough to create an Urban Community according to the law. This is because the suburban communes refused an urban community for fear of losing too much power, and opted for a community of agglomeration, despite the fact that a community of agglomeration receives less government funds than an urban community. As for Paris, no intercommunal structure has emerged there, the suburbs of Paris fearing the concept of a "Greater Paris," and so disunity still is the rule in the metropolitan area, with the suburbs of Paris creating many different intercommunal structures all without the city.[citation needed]

One major often raised problem with intercommunality, is the fact that the intercommunal structures are not subject to directly election by the people, so it is the representatives of each individual commune that sit in the new structure. As a consequence, civil servants and bureaucrats are the ones setting up the agenda and implementing it, with the elected representatives of the communes only endorsing key decisions.[citation needed]

Miscellaneous facts

Most and least populous communes

Largest and smallest commune territories

  • The largest commune of the French Republic is Maripasoula (with 3,710 inhabitants) in the département of French Guiana: 18,360 square kilometres (7,090 sq mi).
  • The smallest commune of the French Republic is Castelmoron-d'Albret (55 inhabitants) near Bordeaux: 3.54 hectares (8.75 acres).
  • In metropolitan France the largest commune is the commune of Arles (50,513 inhabitants) near Marseille, the territory of which encompasses most of the Camargue (the delta of the Rhône River): 8.7 times the area of the city of Paris (excluding the outlying parks of Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes) at 759 square kilometres (293 sq mi).

Communes farthest away from the capital city of France

  • The commune of the French Republic farthest away from Paris is the commune of L'Île-des-Pins (1,840 inhabitants) in New Caledonia: 16,841 km. (10,465 miles) from the center of Paris.
  • In continental France (i.e. European France excluding Corsica), the communes farthest away from Paris are Coustouges (134 inhabitants) and Lamanère (44 inhabitants) at the Spanish border: both at 721 km (448 mi) from the center of Paris as the crow flies.

Shortest and longest commune names

Road sign marking the end of the village of Y in the Somme department of Picardy
Road sign marking the end of the village of Y in the Somme department of Picardy

Communes with non-French names

Vacqueyras in Provence,showing double French/Provençal name
Vacqueyras in Provence,
showing double French/
Provençal name

In areas where languages other than French are or were spoken, most place-names have been translated into a French spelling and pronunciation, such as Dunkerque (formerly Duinkerke in Dutch), Toulouse (formerly Tolosa in Occitan), Strasbourg (formerly Straßburg in German), Perpignan (formerly Perpinyà in Catalan), and many place names derived from Gaulish or Latin. However, many smaller communes have retained their native name. Other examples of retained names in the languages once spoken, or still spoken, on French territory:


INSEE (Institut National de la Statistique et des Études Économiques) gives numerical indexing codes to various entities in France, notably the communes (which do not coincide with postcodes). The complete code has eight digits and three spaces within, but there is a popular simplified code with five digits and no space within:


Each commune has a municipal council (conseil municipal) compound of municipal councilors (conseillers municipaux). The municipal council is the legislative and deliberative organ of the commune. The municipal councilors are elected by the inhabitants of the commune for a 6-year term. Each commune is ruled by a mayor (maire) elected for a 6-year term.

See also


  1. ^ "Code officiel géographique — Présentation" (in French). Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques (INSEEE), Government of France. Retrieved 2015-01-09.
  2. ^ INSEE, Government of France. "Code des collectivités d'outre-mer (COM)" (in French). Retrieved 2013-05-22.
  3. ^ INSEE, Government of France. "Le code officiel géographique (COG), avant, pendant et autour (Version 3, volume 1)" (PDF) (in French). Retrieved 2008-06-27.
  4. ^ "Circonscriptions administratives au 1er janvier 2015 : comparaisons régionales" [Administrative constituencies of 1 January 2015: regional comparisons] (in French). INSEE. Archived from the original on 30 April 2014. Retrieved 5 July 2015.
  5. ^ Parliament (Landtag) of Baden-Württemberg. "25 Jahre Gemeindereform Baden-Württemberg; hier: Neuordnung der Gemeinden" (PDF) (in German). Retrieved 2007-11-25.
  6. ^ "Gemeinden in Deutschland" (in German). Retrieved 2008-06-27.
  7. ^ SPLAF. "Historique du Bas-Rhin" (in French). Retrieved 2007-11-25.
  8. ^ SPLAF. "Historique du Haut-Rhin" (in French). Retrieved 2007-11-25.
  9. ^ Legislation Archived 3 January 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Decree Archived 12 January 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ [1] Archived 8 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Direction générale des collectivités locales (DGCL), Ministry of the Interior. "Répartition des EPCI à fiscalité propre par département au 01/01/2007" (PDF) (in French). Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 July 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-19.
  13. ^ INSEE, Government of France. "Populations légales 2012" (in French). Retrieved 9 January 2015.

External links

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