A CAMPAIGN is underway to change French law so the home village or town of a baby is listed on their birth certificate - and not just the town where the maternity hospital they were born in is located.
Its leaders, celebrity Paris lawyer Jean-Pierre Versini-Campinchi and Jean-Cyril Spinetta, who is chairman of Areva, say the centralisation of maternity services means people are increasingly born in the same places – France has just 540 maternity units – and people are losing the personal link they have with their home town or village.
They have formed an association, Renaissance des Villes, to call for a change in the way births are registered in the Napoleonic Code Civil: it would recognise babies’ home towns and not just the physical locality of the birth.
Mr Versini-Campinchi said of people’s pride in their birthplace: “This is typically French. There is strong symbolism attached to the place of birth – and our proposal for a change to the Code Civil drew 80% support in an independent survey by Ifop.”
The pride people feel is obvious all over the country: one can enter Villers-Cotterêts in Picardy and be told it is the birthplace of Alexandre Dumas; at Domrémy-la-Pucelle in Lorraine signs say it is the birthplace of Joan of Arc; arriving at Montboudif in the Auvergne the town signpost says it is the Village Natal du Président Georges Pompidou.
Modern-day little towns and villages will no longer get a mention.
Mr Versini-Campinchi said: “A few days ago I went to Aubenton, in the Aisne in Picardy, the village where Jean Mermoz, the pioneer aviator and Aéropostale legend, was born and there they honour him with a museum, signs saying Jean Mermoz was born there and again on the sign coming into the village.
This is widespread.”
They did not say this was where Mermoz was raised or lived: “This is not what is registered, it was the fact that he was born there.”
He added: “France is not like Britain where you have signs saying ‘Someone lived here’. Only for the likes of Napoleon do we have that – or in Paris.
“At present, our signs say ‘Ville Natale de’ and we cannot, for example, change this to say ‘Ville d’Origine de’ because we do not have this information. It is not a fact, unlike the birthplace. The acte de naissance does not mention the parents’ address, just the location of the birth and the address of whoever is making the declaration of birth – and that can be the nurse, the doctor or anyone else who can do it.”
Mr Versini-Campinchi wants the register of birth to be made in the “town or village where the parents live”, with a note that the birth took place elsewhere.
The campaign has attracted wide support, but is just the latest in a line of bids to change the law. A group of around 100 senators called for change last year, as did Jean-Claude Guibal, the MP and mayor of the French-Italian border town of Menton, who acted because more of the town’s babies were being born in the nearby Principality of Monaco.
British philosopher and sociologist Theodore Zeldin, an expert on France and a former adviser to President Sarkozy, said the French saw their birthplace as a way of maintaining their individuality.
“Paris is full of people who were not born there, and likewise with many other great cities. They have a mythical reaction in keeping their individuality in the great city crowds.
“When French people migrated to the cities to further their careers, they always retained their sense of identity: for example, in Paris you have those who call themselves Auvergnats or Savoyards or whatever and they have associations bringing together others from their part of the provinces.
“As far as I am aware, there is no one, apart from the Scots, who do this in London. Do people from Wiltshire have their own London association?
“This pride is also the sense of individuality of the French person. They are in part reacting against this overwhelming state power and they like to assert their independence.”