In the administrative divisions of France, the department ((フランス語:département), ) is one of the three levels of government below the national level ("territorial collectivities"), between the 27 administrative regions and the commune. There are 96 departments in metropolitan France and 5 overseas departments, which also are classified as regions. Departments are further subdivided into 335 arrondissements, themselves divided into cantons; the latter two have no autonomy and are used for the organisation of police, fire departments and sometimes elections.
Each department is administered by an elected body called a departmental council (''conseil départemental'' (sing.), ''conseils départemantaux'' (plur.)). Before March 2015, they were called ''general councils'' (''conseil général'' (sing.), ''conseils généraux'' (plur.)). Each council has a president. Their main areas of responsibility include the management of a number of social and welfare allowances, of junior high school (''collège'') buildings and technical staff, of local roads and school and rural buses, and a contribution to municipal infrastructures. Local services of the State administration are traditionally organised at departmental level, where the prefect represents the government; however, regions have gained importance in this regard since the 2000s, with some department-level services merged into region-level services.
The departments were created in 1791 as a rational replacement of Ancien Régime provinces in view of strengthening national unity; the title "department" is used to mean a part of a larger whole. Almost all of them were therefore named after rivers, mountains or coasts rather than after historical or cultural territories which could have their own loyalties. The division of France into departments was a project particularly identified with the French revolutionary leader the Abbé Sieyès, although it had already been frequently discussed and written about by many politicians and thinkers. The earliest known suggestion of it is from 1764 in the writings of d'Argenson. They have inspired similar divisions in many countries, some of them former French colonies.
All French departments have a two-digit number, the "Official Geographical Code", allocated by the ''Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques''. This is used, for example, in postal code and was until recently used for all vehicle registration plates. It is common for a resident to use the numbers to refer to their department or neighbouring ones, though it is unlikely to be used for more distant departments since few people know the numbers of departments outside their area. For example, an inhabitant of the Department of the Loiret can refer to their department as "the 45".
In 2014, President François Hollande proposed to abolish departmental councils by 2020, which would maintain the departments as administrative divisions, but transfer their powers to other levels of governance. This reform project has since been abandoned.
(詳細はPonts et Chaussées (Bridges and Highways) infrastructure administration.
Before the French Revolution, France gained territory gradually through the annexation of a mosaic of independent entities. By the close of the Ancien Régime, it was organised into provinces. During the period of the Revolution, these were dissolved, partly in order to weaken old loyalties.
The modern departments, as all-purpose units of the government, were created on 4 March 1790 by the National Constituent Assembly to replace the provinces with what the Assembly deemed a more rational structure. Their boundaries served two purposes:
* Boundaries were deliberately chosen to break up France's historical regions in an attempt to erase cultural differences and build a more homogeneous nation.
* Boundaries were set so that any settlement in the country was within a day's ride of the capital of the department. This was a security measure, intended to keep the entire national territory under close control. This measure was directly inspired by the Great Terror, during which the government had lost control of many rural areas far from any centre of government.
The old nomenclature was carefully avoided in naming the new departments. Most were named after an area's principal river or other physical features. Even Paris was in the department of Seine.
The number of departments, initially 83, was increased to 130 by 1809 with the territorial gains of the Republic and of the First French Empire (see Provinces of the Netherlands for the annexed Dutch departments). Following Napoleon's defeats in 1814-1815, the Congress of Vienna returned France to its pre-war size; the number of departments was reduced to 86, as three of the original departments had been split. In 1860, France acquired the County of Nice and Savoy, which led to the creation of three new departments. Two were added from the new Savoyard territory, while the department of ''Alpes-Maritimes'' was created from Nice and a portion of the ''Var'' department. The 89 departments were given numbers based on their alphabetical order.
The department of ''Bas-Rhin'' and parts of ''Meurthe,'' ''Moselle,'' ''Vosges'' and ''Haut-Rhin'' were ceded to the German Empire in 1871, following France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. A small part of ''Haut-Rhin'' remained French, however, and became known as the ''Territoire de Belfort'', and the remaining parts of ''Meurthe'' and ''Moselle'' were merged into a new ''Meurthe-et-Moselle'' department. When France regained the ceded departments after World War I, the ''Territoire de Belfort'' was not reintegrated into Haut-Rhin. In 1922, it became France's 90th department. Likewise, the Lorraine departments were not changed back to their original limits, and a new ''Moselle'' department was created on the regained territory, with slightly different limits than the pre-war department of the same name.
The reorganisation of Île-de-France (1968) and the division of Corsica (1975) added six more departments, raising the total to 96. Counting the five overseas departments (French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Réunion and Mayotte) the total comes to 101 departments. In 2011, the overseas collectivity of Mayotte became the 101st department.
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