New year, new map of France. As of 1 January, France’s 22 regions have been whittled down to 13 in an effort to streamline the country’s formidable bureaucracy. There were howls of outrage in 2014 when the plans were announced, with critics comparing some of the merged regions to forced marriages. In a country with such intense regional pride, you could hardly expect anything less.
Some of the mergers make sense. Upper and Lower Normandy unite to become just Normandy, which would be news to the millions of tourists who didn’t realise it had two halves. Burgundy joins forces with its eastern neighbour, Franche-Comté, making a beautiful match on the wine and cheese front.
Picardy, which many British tourists don’t really clock as they hurtle down the motorway to the South every summer, has been absorbed by its northern neighbour, Nord-Pas-de-Calais. Champagne-Ardenne is now part of a sprawling eastern region with Alsace and Lorraine.
A few have escaped intact: Brittany, Pays de la Loire, Ile-de-France, Provence-Côte-d’Azur and Centre – not forgetting Corsica. It’s when you go south that things get a bit tricky. Little Limousin, whose green beauty is often overlooked, is swallowed by coastal kings Aquitaine and Poitou-Charente. Its equally green neighbour, Auvergne, is taken over by the might of the Rhône-Alpes (another cheese match made in heaven).
Occitan-speaking Languedoc and the Catalans of Roussillon are joined by Gascon-speaking Midi-Pyrénées, just to add to the dialectical fun. This mega-region contains two of France’s most dynamic and fastest-growing cities, Toulouse and Montpellier, but it’s the latter that has lost its status as a regional capital.
Then there’s the question of names. The new regions have until July to come up with names to replace the temporary unwieldy monikers of Languedoc-Roussillon-Midi-Pyrénées, Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine, Aquitaine-Limousin-Poitou-Charente, et al.
Suggestions for the Aquitaine amalgamation include just plain Aquitaine – not likely to please its neighbours who are keen to hold on to their identity. Similarly with Languedoc: the idea of calling it Occitanie wouldn’t go down very well among some Catalans near the Spanish border, who are already calling for a split from the new mega-region.
Let’s hope they don’t create barbarous acronyms such as Paca, which is what Provence-Côte-d’Azur is often shortened to and means nothing to anyone outside the region. The Alsace-Champagne merger could end up being Acal, which sounds hideous. Grand Est, one of the mooted names, is a bit better.
Quite who’s going to benefit from these changes isn’t clear – apart from the stationers and graphic designers who will have to design and print new logos. It’s not even regarded as a cost-cutting exercise, as public-sector jobs are protected and not many heads will roll. Just what all those functionless fonctionnaires will do in this new world remains to be seen.