The World

How Do You Say “NIMBY” in French?    

French President Francois Hollande’s plan to merge several regions of France isn’t going very well. You might assume that this is just because nothing Hollande does goes very well. This would be a reasonable assumption, but in this case, there’s also some classic NIMBYism at work.

The plan, as shown by the map above, is to reduce the number of administrative regions in France from 22 to 14. (The lines show the current regions, the colors show what the new ones would look like.) Alsace and Lorraine would become one. Bourgogne, or Burgundy, would become Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, which wouldn’t quite roll off the tongue quite as well at a restaurant.

The idea is that this would reduce bureaucracy and costs in a country were government bloat and redundancy are long-standing problems. It could also give the larger regional governments more influence at the European level, where Germany’s less numerous länder have had more clout. 

This is widely thought to be a good idea: Sixty-eight percent of the French believe it is a necessity. But an even larger majority—77 percent—don’t want their own region to disappear. Opposition is particularly strong in Alsace and Lorraine, which were grouped together as a German region from 1871 until they were regained by France after World War I.

Ironically, the one region that would like to merge, Brittany, where many are still angry that one of its subregions was added to neighboring Loire by France’s wartime Vichy government, would remain untouched by the plan.

The whole thing has not surprisingly given ammunition to National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who is riding high after her recent triumph in European elections. “The president of the republic, because he does not know the history and traditions of his country, is intent on dividing his countrymen,” Le Pen said.

Given how centralized French political power is, cutting down the number of administrative units in the country would seem to make sense. But whether for political or biological reasons, people have a powerful attachment to geographical identities. That identity usually trumps more prosaic economic concerns, unless, of course, you’re talking about someone else’s region.