The rural world, which represents 88% of the 36,000 French municipalities and 22 million inhabitants, is not always, but often, confronted with economic and social difficulties. For almost twenty years, the State has put in place a support system for rural revitalization zones (ZRR), endowed with around 300 million euros per year. On the same principle as the priority districts of city policy, this network offers tax advantages or specific aid for employment or businesses.
With the ZRR system expiring at the end of the year, the government was committed to extending this land use planning policy. Renouncing a specific bill, it was ultimately within the framework of the 2024 finance bill, presented on Wednesday September 27, in the Council of Ministers, that he made his decisions known.
If the subject turns out to be very technical, it is no less politically sensitive because the ZRRs currently concern 18,000 municipalities and 9.6 million inhabitants, almost half of the rural world. So many local elected officials – and voters – are keen to be kept in the program. The new system changes its name to be called France ruralité revitalisation (FRR) but should generally maintain “the same order of magnitude” for the number of municipalities concerned, according to the office of the minister responsible for communities, Dominique Faure.
The criteria for this network remain population density (less than 63 inhabitants/km2 for ZRRs) and average household income. According to the government’s plan, however, it will no longer be tax income that will serve as a reference but disposable income which takes into account the social benefits received.
The main novelty of the FRR is the establishment of reinforced aid for the most fragile rural areas. All municipalities in departments experiencing demographic decline will be eligible, those with a density of less than 35 inhabitants/km2 and whose population has fallen by at least 4% in twenty years. Cantal, Creuse, Haute-Marne, Indre, Meuse and Nièvre would be affected.
New “vulnerability indicator”
The reform also establishes a reinforced level of aid for the municipalities most in difficulty, selected according to a new “vulnerability indicator” based on several indices.
The main associations of elected officials, including the Association of Mayors of France, are calling for a return to a 2015 reform which transferred the level of zoning from municipalities to intermunicipalities. A system which has the drawback of excluding certain poor villages located within a group of ineligible municipalities. The government has maintained zoning at the intercommunal level but will give the power to prefects to reintegrate living areas (an INSEE category which delimits 1,700 in the territory) into the FRR network.
Support for rurality will be at the heart of the exchanges between Dominique Faure and the rural mayors gathered at the congress from Friday September 29 in Alpe d’Huez in Isère. Last June, Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne unveiled the new “France ruralité” plan to strengthen the attractiveness of territories. One of the pillars of this plan consists of installing advisors in the sub-prefectures intended to help elected officials design and implement their projects. Specific aid programs had also been launched in the areas of health, mobility and biodiversity.