History of the council

In 1789 the regional organisation of France was somewhat chaotic. The administrative, legal, military and religious divisions often overlapped or duplicated each other. Among the most common complaints of the time was a call from citizens for the creation of individual, permanent and accessible constituencies.

On 26th February 1790, the Assembly divided France into 83 departments intended to make life easier for citizens. The administrative capital was never more than half an hour from the boundaries of the department. The ambition was for proper decentralisation and democracy. The departmental council was an elected, representative assembly working for the collective interest of local citizens.

From the Constituent Assembly of 1789 to the reforms of 2004-2005, the Department has known all the different regimes, from monarchies to empires and republics. However, from 1793 the department as an institution was placed under State supervision and its scope of action was limited.

It was only in 1982 with the decentralisation laws that the Department was truly able to fulfil the role as a defender of true local democracy, defined at the time of its creation. Since this time, the Department has been independent from other powers and free to run itself. Welfare initiatives, education, transport, local planning, leisure and the environment are all part of its remit. In 2004-2005, the State gave it even greater powers with the management of the RMI and RMA benefits and the national road network.

From 1790 to 1871, a missed opportunity for local democracy

In 1790, the Constituent Assembly created the Orne department from fragments of the former provinces of Normandy and the Perche. This was a new administrative formation and did not correspond to any pre-existing entity. Like many other departments, it was given the name of one of the main rivers crossing through it.

The Orne Council was elected by selective suffrage and appointed to manage all local interests. It was a decentralised institution representing the desire of voters at local level.

However, revolutionary chaos made it impossible to apply texts. In 1793, the department Councils were suspended. National commissions with limited powers replaced them to supervise the application of laws and to maintain order in the departments.

On 17th February 1800 (28 pluviôse an 12 on the revolutionary calendar), Napoléon Bonaparte appointed prefects in the departments. They were nominated by the Premier Consul and were the only people to exercise executive power. The departmental councillors had a purely consultative role and were chosen by the government.

After the Empire and the Restoration, the department was gradually given a new democratic purpose. Councillors were elected by selective suffrage in 1833 and universal suffrage in 1848. However up until 1871, the departmental Council remained an accessory institution in a highly centralised state. The essential powers remained in the hands of the prefect, the State representative.

From 1871 to 1982, the first steps towards autonomy

On 10th August 1871, the Third Republic defined the present form of the Council, with Councillors elected for 6 years, able to meet without prior approval from the Prefect. The Council gained overall powers for matters in the department's interest. Its missions covered public works, hospitals and hospices, public education and the police.

However, up until 1982 the Council remained under strict supervision of the State. The Prefect remained at the head of the department, supervising measures implemented by the Council and with the power to suspend them. He was also responsible for the application of all decisions.

The Council still lacked the independence it required to design and implement a real local policy.

From 1982 to today, decentralisation is finally implemented

The 1982 law on decentralisation was a key moment in the department's history. The state’s supervision of the Council was done away with. Its acts became enforceable as soon as they were published, with no need for the prefect to approve them. The President of the Council became the executive head of the department, supervising the practical application of all decisions.

In 1982 and 1983, the Department's scope of action was widely extended. In addition to highways management, welfare support and tourism, it now became responsible for land planning, welfare initiatives, education, culture and transport. Powers were transferred from the State at the same time as financial resources and administrative services.

In 1988 and 1990, the council gained new responsibilities in the fields of integration and housing for the underprivileged.

The constitutional law of 28th March 2003 further reinforced decentralisation. On 1st January 2004, councils took charge of the Revenu Minimum d’Insertion and the Revenu Minimum D’Activité (different forms of income support). Since then the Department has been the sole contact point for welfare matters at local level. In 2005, the council took charge of the former national road network and school catchment area mapping.