Forty mayors resign every month in France, a minister has revealed, blaming the impact of the pandemic at the time of the most recent local elections in 2020.
Christophe Béchu, Minister for Ecological Transition and Cohesion of the Territories, said in response to a question from senators: “We had lots of resignations at the very beginning of the mandate, some of which were certainly linked to Covid, and a difficult context when taking up office.”
He went on to say that violence towards elected officials was also a factor.
Reduction in mayors’ powers
Mr Béchu was addressing comments made by David Lisnard, president of the Association des maires de France (AMF), during an interview with Le Figaro.
Mr Lisnard claimed resignations of local elected officials had reached “unprecedented levels”, which he called “revealing of the civic crisis visible in all domains, in a country marked by the rise in abstention, assault, etc”.
The minister confirmed that 1,293 mayors had resigned since 2020, but said this was “comparable” to previous years.
Between 2014 and 2020, there were 2,925 resignations.
The AMF responded by insisting that the number of resignations was higher than in the past, reflecting increased bureaucracy and a reduction in mayors’ powers due to the abolition of local taxes.
Residents complain more
Pierre Pantanella, president of the Association des maires ruraux de l’Aveyron, said the pandemic and increasing red tape were behind the resignations.
“I think Covid had a big impact on people: they complain more than they did before,” he said.
“Society is now increasingly individualistic, and people want everything right away.
“They will go to see the mayor about a broken street light, and think by clicking their fingers it will be fixed. When it isn’t, they come back and insult the mayor.
“I take it in my stride, but for young mayors, I can understand they feel like they are being attacked.”
Mayors are on the front line
He said this is not a new phenomenon, but has been amplified by social media, whereas disputes had previously been settled locally.
“Historically, mayors are on the front line of French society.
“They are the representatives of the state and authority in the commune, and the one people go to with family problems, or issues with their neighbours.
“People are slightly more aggressive than before. We have lost this fraternity. We don’t know how to listen to each other any more.”
‘People don’t see us dealing with the sewers’
Mr Lisnard claimed mayors were also subjected to “veritable textual harassment”, as French bureaucracy becomes more cumbersome.
He gave the example of the Code de l’urbanisme, which went from 600 pages in 1982 to 3,600 pages.
Mr Pantanella agreed that mayors are “fed-up” with ever-increasing rules and obligations, leading to a “general fatigue”.
He cited rules around clearing vegetation to prevent forest fires, which he says do not account for local specificities.
“New mayors do not realise how much work it involves,” he added.
“People see the mayor with his suit and his sash. They don’t see him dealing with human relationships, or with the sewers.”
Close to burnout
At the start of the year, Jean-Pierre Miagoux, 70, resigned as mayor of Tréogat (Finistère), a village of 600 inhabitants – a post he had held since the previous mayor resigned in 2021.
It was “with a heavy heart” that he gave up a role he enjoyed, for reasons related to health and family life, he said.
Photo and credit: Jean-Pierre Miagoux, ex-mayor of Tréogat (Finistère)
“I have family in Lyon and Paris, and I realised the mayor does not have that much control over his schedule. My wife went on her own several times.
“I was close to burning out. One morning I woke up and thought ‘I don’t see my children or grandchildren any more. I’m repeating what I did when I was working.’”
He had combined several roles, including as vice-president of the communauté de communes in charge of housing.
Mr Miagoux agrees that the administrative burden is too heavy.
“Lots of documents arrive from the prefecture or elsewhere. I was always in meetings, including sometimes at 21:00 or 22:00.”
Covid complicated things as he could not get to know his team via physical meetings, he added.