The cantons of France
are territorial subdivisions of the French Republic's 341 arrondissements
and 100 departments
Apart from their role as organizational units in certain aspects of the administration of public services and justice, the chief purpose of the cantons today is to serve as constituencies for the election of the members of the representative assembly (General Council) in each department. For this reason, such elections are known in France as "cantonal elections".
There are currently 4,032 cantons. Most of them group together a number of communes (the lowest administrative division of the French Republic), although larger communes may comprise a number of cantons, since the cantons are intended to be roughly equal in size of population – unlike the communes which range in size from more than two million inhabitants (Paris) to just one person (Rochefourchat).
Role and administration
The role of the canton
is, essentially, to provide a framework for departmental
elections. Each canton
elects a person to represent it at the conseil général du département
— or general council for the department
, which is the principal administrative division of the French Republic.
In urban areas, a single commune generally includes several cantons. Conversely, in rural areas, a canton may comprise several smaller communes. In which case, administrative services, the gendarmerie headquarters for example, are often situated in the principal town (chef-lieu) of the canton,although exceptions, such as cantons Canton de Gaillon-Campagne and Canton de Sarreguemines-Campagne, which have in common a "chief-town" which does not belong to either canton, occur.
For statistical (INSEE) purposes, the twenty arrondissements of Paris — the administrative subdivision of that city — are sometimes considered cantons, but they serve no greater electoral function.
Cantons also form legal districts, as seats of Tribunaux d'instance or "Courts of First Instance" (also, "TI"...). Historically, the cantons are called justices de paix or "district courts".
were created in 1790
at the same time as the départements
by the Revolutionary
Committee for the Division of Territory (Comité de division
). They were more numerous than today (between 40 and 60 to each département
were, at first, grouped into what were called districts
. After the abolition of the district
, they were reorganized by the Consulate
. The number of cantons
was then drastically reduced (between 30 and 50 units) by the Loi du 8 pluviôse an IX
), or the "Law for the Reduction of the Number of District Courts", or Loi portant réduction du nombre de justices de paix
. The département prefects
were told by the government to group the communes
within newly established cantons
. The département
lists, once approved by the government, were published in the Bulletin des Lois
; these lists are still the basis of the administrative divisions of France in place today, although cantons
with small populations
have been eliminated and new cantons
created in areas of strong demographic growth. On the whole, their number has increased appreciably.
The number of cantons
varies from one département
to another; the Territoire de Belfort
, for example, has 15, while Nord
has 79. The island of Mayotte
, which has an administrative form similar to that of a département
, is divided into 19 cantons