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Cities gear up for capital battle

MPs will decide the future map of France today, but which cities will become capitals of country's new "super regions"?

THE MAP of France was set to be redrawn today, with MPs likely to approve a 13-region model proposed last week. But that will start a whole new debate - where will the new “super-regions” base their capital?

As reported, MPs last week accepted a new-look France, which cut the number of regions from the current 22. They were due to vote through the plans today.

The proposals unite Poitou-Charentes with Limousin and Aquitaine, as well as Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardy - despite resistance from some representatives of the regions concerned - but the question of where the political and administrative centre of each new region remains unanswered.

There is more at stake than simply the prestige of being the primary city in one of France’s new “super-regions”. There is an economic impact.

"The choice of capital has a significant impact in terms of jobs," decentralisation expert Patrick Le Lidec told FranceTV info.

He explained that “capital status” would bring “administrative jobs because of the implementation of regional council services,” and would also have a knock-on effect on businesses such as hotels and restaurants.

Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve has tried to reassure MPs worried that their home towns will lose capital status.

He said reform, “does not mean that there will be administrative territorial deserts where there are currently regional capitals.

He suggested that some administrative services may be moved away from the regional capitals of the new “super-regions”.

Mr Le Lidec agreed: “One can imagine, for example, the Regional Directorate of the Environment, Planning and Housing (DREAL) would not be based in the regional capital.”

But he warned of the potentially expensive dangers inherent in appeasing cities that lose their regional capital status, saying there is a risk of “losing part or all of the desired economies of territorial reform”.

The decision on regional capitals can only be made once make-up of the regions are confirmed.

Mr Le Lidac argues that France’s major metropolises - such as Toulouse, Lille, Strasbourg and Rouen - have prior claims to become capitals of larger regions, but the new-look map could throw up a number of key local disputes.

Assuming Midi-Pyrenees does merge with Languedoc-Roussillon, ancient Cathar rivalries could re-emerge, argues regional newspaper La Depeche, as Toulouse and Montpellier vie for regional capital status.

Toulouse is the larger city, but neither the regional president of Languedoc Roussillon or the mayor of Montpellier are prepared to give up without a fight.

Meanwhile, a union of Alsace-Lorraine-Champagne-Ardenne has caused concern in the corridors of power in Strasbourg, according to the local edition of Rue89.

Its status as regional capital seemed assured under original plans which merged Alsace and Lorraine, but the addition of Champagne-Ardenne has raised the possibility that Metz could become the primary city in the new-look region.

Concerns are also being raised in Normandy, where ancient Rouen could be challenged by Caen - and the mayor of Le Havre has even suggested his city as an alternative.

There are three possibilities in a new-look Burgundy and Franche-Comté region, too. The two current regions have been happy to merge, but a choice between Dijon and Besançon may be a sticking point. This is why the UMP mayor of Dole has put his city - an ancient regional capital in its own right - as “a third way”.

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