Allow prefects to act faster and according to local specificities. The government decided in the Council of Ministers on Wednesday, April 8, to extend to all of these senior state officials in the territories a right of exemption. This right, tested for two and a half years in two regions, seventeen departments and three overseas territories, allows the prefect to derogate from national regulations from time to time to take account of local circumstances. And this, in specific areas: spatial planning and city policy, employment and economic activity, environment, agriculture, forestry, etc.
“This is a sign that we can adapt to make life easier for French people”, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said on Wednesday. “In the coming weeks and months, he added. The prefects’ power of derogation could be a useful tool to facilitate the recovery of our country. “
The decree may well have been presented to the Council of Ministers in the midst of a health crisis, but one should not overinterpret what would rather be a matter of coincidence in the calendar. “There is no connection. The planned trial period is over, we are generalizing. We are keeping a promise of devolution that the President of the Republic has made for a long time ”, specifies the entourage of Mr. Castaner, while supporting the words of the Minister: “In the current context, it will be a tool for the prefects that will help the way out of the crisis. This will give them more room for maneuver. “
Derogations must be based on “general interest”
It is therefore not a question, for example, of preparing targeted or differentiated deconfinement according to regions. Besides, says Fabrice Melleray, professor of public law at Sciences Po Paris, “The law of March 23 [loi d’urgence pour faire face à l’épidémie de Covid-19] gives exorbitant police powers to the Prime Minister. He therefore does not need this decree to organize the deconfinement “. Besides, says the Elysée, the exemptions “Relate only to individual requests and must be based on a ground of general interest”. This probably means, says Melleray, that this is outside the regulatory power of the prefect, which allows him to take action “General and impersonal”.
Certainly, adds the professor, “This comes at a time when the government considers that the prefects are working really well”. But the decree adopted Wednesday is rather, he explains, in the context of“A recurring claim” local authorities to be able to adapt national rules to the reality of the territories. However, this is not a decentralization measure, which is part of the increase in the power of local elected representatives. The decree, in fact, reinforces deconcentration, that is to say the approximation closer to the ground of state decision. But “It goes hand in hand “Recalls Mr. Melleray: “For true decentralization, there must be a strong deconcentration”, he notes.