Prefectures in France

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A prefecture (French: préfecture) in France can refer to :

  • the Chef-lieu de département, the town in which the administration of a department is located;
  • the Chef-lieu de région, the town in which the administration of a region is located;
  • the jurisdiction of a prefecture;
  • the official residence or headquarters of a prefect.


Role of the prefecture in departments

There are 100 prefectures in France, one for each department. The official in charge is the prefect (French: préfet). The prefecture is an administration that belongs to the Ministry of the Interior, and is therefore in charge of the delivery of identity cards, driving licenses, passports, residency and work permits for foreigners, vehicle registration, registration of associations (creation, status modification, dissolution), and of the management of the police and firefighters.

The prefect represents the national government at the local level and as such exercises the powers that are constitutionally attributed to the national government. The prefect issues ordinances written for the application of local law, e.g. to close a building that does not conform to safety codes, or modify vehicular traffic regulations (speed limit, construction permits).

The governing body of the department is the general council (French: Conseil général), which is in charge of the building and maintenance of schools and roads, financial assistance to dependent people (disabled and elderly), and promotion of local economic development, etc. In the past, the prefect was head of the department, however, since 1982, the president of the general council has assumed the role of chief executive of the department.


There is an exception in Paris (Île-de-France) and its three surrounding department. These department are administered by a single prefecture for law enforcement and security purposes, called the Prefecture of Police (French: préfet de police); a situation inherited from the Paris Commune of 1871. The power of law enforcement is usually invested in the mayor in other French communes.

Divisions of the departments

The departments are divided into arrondissements, themselves divided into cantons. The chef-lieu d'arrondissement is the subprefecture (French: sous-préfecture). The official in charge is the subprefect (French: sous-préfet. Cantons have relatively few competences, the most important of which being the local organisation of elections (cantons are electoral subdivisions).

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