- NewCorp Conseil's major national survey -
The territorial reform desired by the Prime Minister (abolition of the general councils and division of the number of regions by two) will be difficult. Beyond the elected representatives who are already mobilising, it is the whole of the French people who declare themselves attached to their regional identity. What is the right balance between accounting mathematics and cultural identity?
76% of French people are proud of their region (proud to have been born there or proud to live there)
This is a high score and above all very "dense" in the way it is answered: of the 76% who are proud of their Region, 41% are "very proud" to have been born there, and a little less, 31%, "very proud" to live there. The Region of origin therefore retains a very important and emotional place in the hearts of the French, even if the Region of residence is also very strongly claimed and demonstrates that it can also conquer the hearts of those who have adopted it.
We are not dealing with a form of soft support, but rather with an asserted demand, which the French people almost called out in this survey.
... but are aware of the need to save public expenditure
At the same time, according to an Ifop survey, a majority of French people (60 %) are in favour of abolishing the départements and the same number say they are ready to halve the regions. The comparison of the two results is interesting because it reveals basic trends on political and economic aspects on the one hand, and cultural and identity-related aspects on the other. First of all, when the Prime Minister talks about the departments, he is mainly talking about abolishing the general councils, an administrative level that is first of all very unfamiliar and then very distant from the French, who therefore see this announcement as an opportunity to reduce a form of wasteful public spending linked to an entity for which they have neither feeling nor proximity. We are then in the syndrome of the HRD who dismisses people whose work he does not know. Secondly, with regard to the regions, it is important to distinguish between the general and the specific, there is a big difference between deleting "regions" and deleting "my" region. Finally, the French are proving once again that they are reasonable and mature, both convinced of the need to reduce public spending that they consider useless (no doubt through ignorance) and simultaneously attached to their territorial roots. It would be naive to think that the regions would be cut off without pain.
The French are attached to their territory, but doubt the usefulness of territorial political action, and therefore the legitimacy of its means
The acceptance - in principle - of the abolition of the general councils and the reduction of the regions is not to be sought on the side of a hypothesis of the disintegration of cultural territorial identity (many indicators from the territorial marketing side prove the contrary), but very clearly on the side of the loss of confidence in the usefulness of public spending. It is the same feeling that explains the rise of the tax rage, this idea of the inefficiency of political action, and therefore the loss of legitimacy of its means. It is indeed fundamental in the analysis of this project of territorial division reform to understand that public opinion sees in it much more administrative and political levels than public services. We are not talking about closing post offices or railway stations, but about teams of civil servants and elected representatives that the French do not know (ask them to name their general or regional councils!). It is for them that the crisis will have sounded the death knell.
In other words, if the French accept the idea of this territorial administrative redistribution, it is not because they are not attached to their territory, but because they think that these teams are useless. It is the lack of knowledge - at best - or the criticism of regional political action that is confirmed by this acceptance. On this point, what allows politics to reform itself is that it is badly judged, which, let's face it, is not a very glorious reason.
Regional identity: a strong demand among young people
On the generational aspect, the NewCorp Conseil and Ifop surveys are similar. The "Topdesregions" study reveals that it is mainly young people who declare themselves attached to their region of birth, much more so than older people (49% of 18-24 year olds are 'very proud' of the region where they were born versus 34% of those aged 75 and over). We find this in the Ifop study in which the majority of 18-24 year olds are opposed (52%) to reducing the number of regions, whereas 65% of those aged 35 and over are in favour. If it is not a question of generations but of eras, the regional identity, of proximity, more "community", would develop and the desired regional reform would then be at odds with the trends.
Brittany, the French record for regional pride with 96%, is untouchable
The highest levels of pride in regional belonging are found in the North, the East, but also in the West. And when we take a closer look, Brittany undoubtedly stands out as the region with the strongest sense of regional belonging, with 96% of Bretons proud to have been born in Brittany, including 73% who are very proud! Other regions with strong regional pride are Alsace, Midi-Pyrénées, Nord-Pas de Calais and Languedoc-Roussillon.
Here again it is important to remember that what creates the territorial identity base is history, culture, values, geographical sites, people, historical figures, light, fauna, flora, gastronomy... it is everything except the existence or not of an administrative level. This level comes afterwards in a way, it more or less covers the historical and cultural territory, as a form of republican recognition of the regional identity. Some regions will find their 'official' disappearance very difficult, except perhaps if they include others (for example the North). As far as Brittany is concerned, we can think that the legislator will have the good idea of not touching it, unless he wants to see hordes of hermines flooding into the capital.
At the other end of the scale, only 53% of Ile-de-France residents are proud to have been born in the region, including a meagre 21% who are 'very proud'. If we were to take into account the rate of pride in regional belonging as a criterion, the Ile-de-France would have to be wiped off the map!
The French are attached to history, to their history, to what unites them and what distinguishes them, which is why what is really at stake in this reform project is the risk of creating an administrative division that is disconnected from its historical and cultural regional legitimacy.
The risk is territorial disincarnation.
As nature abhors a vacuum, the larger the - new - Region, the further away it will be from local identities, the more these will seek to reassert themselves, as if to compensate for a diluted regional identity.
The likely scenario is a decoupling between the administrative division of financial and state inspiration and the cultural regional division, which will not recognise itself in the regions 'seen from above', i.e. from Paris.
So, the wider and more distant the regions, the finer the mesh of local identities will become. Examples already exist, such as the Vendée and Savoie, to name but two, which live more through their departmental than their regional identity (Pays de la Loire and Rhône-Alpes respectively).
Finally, it would be a mistake to imagine these identities of varying geometry as competing. We have multiple identities and it is these combinations that also constitute national pride, the pride of a country rich in cultural and regional diversity. Never before have we been so much in need of landmarks, roots and foundations as we are today. And it is also a guarantee of tolerance and respect, it is enough to be attached to one's roots to understand that others are attached to theirs. The political mistake would be to make this subject a new one to divide the French, far removed from their real concerns, by presenting it from the angle of budgetary rationalisation without demonstrating the tangible economic benefits.
Ultimately, the economic and strategic question is to know and demonstrate whether fewer regions are conducive to greater economic, regional and national dynamism?
In terms of territorial animation and federations, let's say territorial marketing, the trend in recent years has been to seek to consolidate, develop, and gather around strong territorial brands rather than to erase these regional roots and identities.
NewCorp Conseil is a research and consulting firm positioned at the crossroads between communication and opinion, a mix between consulting, communication agency and research institute. NewCorp Conseil was created by Alain Renaudin after a double experience as deputy managing director of the Ifop polling institute and president of DDB Corporate within the American communication group.
Methodology source: NewCorp Conseil's major national survey from the TOPDESREGIONS 2014 barometer. National representative sample of 2000 French people aged 18 and over, quota method, interviewed from 21 to 27 February 2014. These results are extracted from a public part of the TOPDESREGIONS barometer, which measures and compares the detailed brand image of the 27 Regions in the eyes of the French and whose results are reserved for subscribers. More information here
The synthesis: France_Regional Pride Survey_newcorp_150414
The extract from the report: The French and their Regions_NewCorp_April 150414