To clarify my confusion over which town in Aude is the official prefectorial town, I turned to Val Wineyard, the fabulous writer who’s lived in and written about Aude for many years and is my font of all Aude knowledge.
This simple question, as is often the case with anything which involves French bureaucracy turned into quite an epic of an explanation that I found thoroughly fascinating and I felt it deserved to be turned into an article…..
The Languedoc Roussillon region
France is currently divided into 22 administrative regions, of which the Languedoc Roussillion is one. Within the Languedoc there are 5 departments: Lozere, Gard, Herault, Aude and Pyrenees Orientales. However, from the 1st of January 2016 the number of regions will be reduced down to 13. Languedoc Roussillon is being combined with Midi-Pyrenees. Some people want to call this new huge region Occitania, but the powers that be will probably call it Midi Pyrenees/Languedoc-Roussillon.
That said, the department of Pyrenees-Orientales, doesn’t want to be included in this new region, regardless of its name. It wants to be part of the country still called Catalonia, which straddles the border with Spain. The people speak Catalan (similar to Occitan) and are campaigning, with Spanish fury, for Independence of Catalonia as a separate country.
Prefectorial and sous prefectorial towns of Aude
What doesn’t look like changing any time soon is how each department is then divided up. Each department has a prefectorial town and in Aude the prefectorial town is Carcassonne. Then the department is further divided up under sous (sub) prefectures. These are Narbonne and Limoux. However, Carcassonne and Narbonne are rivals for the prefecture of Aude. Narbonne has an aggressive local government who are pushing housing and commerce and are now claiming they are bigger and more important than Carcassonne and the main prefecture ought to be in Narbonne. Carcassonne people think that the Narbonne people are moving away from the traditional values of the “Occitan” people!
Arrondissements, cantons and communes
Each sous prefecture is further divided into arrondissements or districts, the districts are divided into cantons, and each canton contains about ten villages or communes. This is the administrative system of France since the Revolution, all organised by Napoleon on the grounds of the number of inhabitants in each division. That is why some of them are so irregularly shaped..
This, in some ways helps to explain why so many Brits and even the French themselves can be easily confused by the French administrative system and why they have to register their house in one place and their car in another, for example.
The system of each village (now a commune) having a maire to keep order was created by Louis XIV and by about 100 years later, each village had a Mairie or maire’s office. This still has the function of being there for the people and if they don’t have the information or service you need, they will refer you to whatever organisation does. Local politics however, can be excruciating with great rivalries and bids for power, some village Mairies have started calling themselves “Hôtel de Ville” just like the big towns.
We live in interesting times! The government talks about making administrative changes to reduce costs but there’s a suspicion that these changes could mean more layers, with more civil servants and potentially more bureaucracy.
So it may be wise to take no notice. Whatever they call it, politics start locally in France. It is doubtful that any French citizen lives more than 5km from a Mairie, if ever you need help with your status in France, then ask for it. They are there for the people and, joking apart, this is what France is all about.
If you’d like to hear more about what Val has to say about the region, often from an alternative viewpoint, then head over to her site: Val Wineyard Publishing