Let’s switch our attention for a moment from the surreal shutdown of government in the States and this evening’s nail biting key chapter in the bizarre and lunatic Brexit, and consider the tiny rural backwater in France where I live.
This month Bréau-Salagosse was the first commune in the Département du Gard to merge with its neighbour, Mars. We are now officially the commune of Bréau-Mars.
It makes absolute sense when you consider that the population of Bréau is little more than 400, while that of Mars is under 200! There are of course even smaller communes amongst the 35000 plus French communes: over 3000 communes have less than a hundred inhabitants (while at the other end of the scale there are over 40 communes with populations of more than 100,000). But at last there has been some effort to rationalise some of the smaller ones: some 622 have merged to create 237 new ones.
I wondered whether France would ever dare reform its communes. They have existed for centuries but were given their modern status and functions after the French Revolution. In recent years their importance has diminished, with the recently created ‘communités de communes’ taking on many of their jobs. But still, suggest to a Frenchman that the day of the communes is over and you can expect a strong reaction. People hold dear the idea that they can go and seek the help of, or complain to, their maire (mayor). And of course all births and deaths are recorded in the mairie, and marriages – like our daughter, Jude’s, and friends Charles and Pierre’s – are also celebrated there.
Our new commune Bréau-Mars makes obvious sense, but I don’t think its creation will lead to much financial saving, at least in the immediate future. Both mairies (council offices) will remain in use, as will the two village halls. And at last week’s first meeting, it was clear that this new but still small commune will have five deputy mayors!
I attended this meeting and witnessed what was clearly a prearranged exercise. The former maire of Bréau, Alain Durand, remains maire of the the new commune, and his Mars counterpart, Jean-Jacques Derick, becomes his deputy. Then the outgoing maire-adjoints from the two communes were solemnly nominated and elected maire-adjoints, scrupulously in order – first maire adjoint from Breau, second from Mars etc. (It all took for ever as for every election each councillor went out of the room to complete the ballot paper!)
I was not well placed to take photos, but these at least show I was present for this – minor – historic occasion. (My photo of Alain being draped ceremonially in the French tricolore sash is blurred because Laetitia, the secretary, got up in front of me at the crucial moment.
One good outcome of this merger – once the GPS systems catch up with the administration – is that I need no longer have arguments with couriers who insist I live in Mars. Our road, Pied Méjean, used to be the boundary between the two communes. Now both sides of the road are in the same commune.
And now, I must get ready to watch Channel 4 News, in the run-up to The Vote.