All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Sarkozy's revolution

Finally, my car will have an identity for life.....well, it will if I buy a new one.

In the run up to the last presidential elections, the Socialist Party candidate, Segolene Royal, promised more jobs for beaurocrats and the more right wing candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, promised law and order and economic and educational reform. Monsieur Sarkozy won and all France has been waiting with bated breath to see what would result. A couple of years down the line he has turned round the ship of state and produced.....national numberplates for cars.

Let joy be unconfined.

I don't care for M. Sarkozy. I don't care for Mme. Royal either. I would not trust either of them as far as I could kick them with the future welfare either of myself or France, however, it must be admitted that I do like the new numberplate proposals as a step in the right direction of simplifying life in difficult times.

French local government has several levels. Before President Mitterand, it just had communes and departments, but he thought that this was frustrating for the budding politicians and beaurocrats seeking a chance to get their noses into the trough and invented regions, between departments and the state. Later reforms introduced things called 'pays' between communes and departments, as opportunities were seen to be still unfairly limited.

Harking back to before the French Revolution, the country was composed of provinces, like Poitou, Anjou, Berry, Provence, all annexed to the French crown at different times and conserving different traditions, laws and, of course, taxes. While the French crown did its' best to create uniformity, differences persisted, as in the tax on salt, the 'gabelle'. Regions were either subject to the little gabelle or the big gabelle and salt smuggling was big business between the salt pans on the Brittany coast and the regions on the other side of the river Loire. Thus, the government, or, more exactly, the tax 'farmers' who paid the government for the right to collect taxes, set up tax collection points at the boundaries between regions. There is a very nice tax office at Chinon, beside the river Vienne, for example, and there must be plenty of others if you want to do some research...the tax was known as 'octroi'.

The Revolution abolished the provinces and set up the departments in their place, named after the rivers that ran through their territory. Octroi was abolished likewise, but its ghosts still clanked their chains when it came to registering your car.

All was well if you bought a car in your own obtained a certificate that nothing was owing on the vehicle and that was that. However, if you were so disloyal as to buy a car in another department, then you had to get the first department to certify that it was free of outstanding claims and then pay to register it in your own department, and get another number plate! All time and money which will be saved under the new provisions.

Saving time and money? How unFrench! What a revolution!


  1. My wife and I recently stumbled upon your blog and I quickly ran through all your entries...sometimes my jaw hit the floor- not in surprise- but because I can relate to so much of what your write!

    Several of your posts caught my attention (particularly regarding the 'artisan francais' since we are starting our own renovations and the attitudes of certain expats in France...), but wanted to comment on this post as you touch on the 'make work for politicians' scheme with the multiple regions and departments where one person will hold 4-6 posts (mairie, conseil regional, depute, ministre, etc). The accumulation of mandats has once again become hot news in France with the various proposals to eliminate this practice.

    I am gobsmacked every time I read about this- one person, because of name recognition/popularity, will run in multiple races, win the election, then fob off his/her responsibility for the posts that they cannot occupy concurrently to someone else (typically a 'chief of staff'. French democracy in action. Sort of gives proof to the comment that the French really did kill of one monarchy (the king) to implement another (the engineer).

    Long live the ENArch!

  2. T.W. M-J,

    Sorry to be so long in replying...I really do not housekeep the blog as I should.
    I so agree with you on this 'cumul des mandats' business...just strikes me that those concerned want to get their hands in as many tills as possible while doing nothing of any value.
    I am glad....well, in a way...that you recognise what I write about, as so many people who have moved to France appear to have adopted blinkers.
    Good luck with the renovations!