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The French commune of Rouchefourchat has exactly one inhabitant.

I imagine that would make mayoral elections rather boring.

Joking aside, do such tiny municipalities even have a mayor or local government with any practical power or responsibilities? Or does, for all practical purposes, the communauté de communes take over this role? In case of Rochefourchat, the Communauté de communes du Diois unites 50 communes and has a total of 11688 inhabitants, which seems more practical for purposes of local administration and politics.

According to this undated list, there are (or were) 93 communes in France with less than twenty residents including 19 with less than ten residents, so although Rochefourchat is an extreme example¹, it is not alone in being tiny.


¹Discounting nine villages destroyed in World War I and retained as municipalities with zero inhabitants for symbolic/historical purposes.

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    Wikipedia mentions that all communes have the same powers and administrative structure regardless of their size, but doesn't give much information as to what that involves.
    – Stuart F
    Commented May 11, 2022 at 10:46
  • For what it's worth, the pure concept of tiny populations in rural areas at the smallest subdivision of local government isn't unique to France (e.g. among English civil parishes you have en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hood_Grange).
    – origimbo
    Commented May 11, 2022 at 13:49
  • I imagine that this might make sense in terms of taxes, property rights, etc. However, there may be also a historical quirk to this.
    – Morisco
    Commented May 11, 2022 at 14:51
  • 1
    @origimbo True, but when looking at a table of the number of local authority units for EU/EEA countries, France does stick out. In parts of Germany, tiny municipalities also exist, but have no own administration. In other countries (Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark) small municipalities are forcibly merged with larger ones (where the limit may be as large as 10–20 thousand inhabitants).
    – gerrit
    Commented May 11, 2022 at 15:32
  • A useful resource in french: Guide du maire (The guide of the mayor,more than 600 pages).
    – mouviciel
    Commented May 13, 2022 at 11:16

2 Answers 2

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Taking a step back, Communes are generally the lowest level of local governance in France, second only to small neighborhoods, called arrondissements, that only exist in really large cities like Paris.

Prior to a restructuring that was kicked off by the 1958 constitution, France had 2 tiers of local government (collectivités territoriales):

  1. Departments (départements)
  2. Municipalities (communes)

It wasn’t until 1982 that the Policy Of Decentralization introduced a third level of local government called Regions (régions). The goal behind their creation was to impede the central governments supervisory powers over the local authorities’. Essentially these regional designations were to act as a buffer between the central government and Departments.

So after 1982, local governance now had a new structure;

  1. Regions (régions)
  2. Departments (départements)
  3. Municipalities (communes)

The principle of freedom of administration by local authorities is explicitly enshrined in the French Constitution and society, and is completed by the principle of financial autonomy of the local, intermediate and regional authorities granted by 1982 decentralization reforms.

  Besides the Constitution of 1958, the General Code on Local Authorities, code général des collectivités territoriales, describes the competences attributed to the Regions, Departments and Municipalities.

With that context, let’s revisit the practical power or responsibilities regularly granted to the Municipalities (communes) to answer your question.

Local governance is addressed by both a Mayor (maire) and local Municipalities, who act as decentralized authorities. The two bodies delineate their powers as such.

The Mayor (Maire) is responsible for issues related to;  

  • Registry;
  • Electoral issues;
  • Social welfare (complementary action to that of the Departments);
  • Education, including primary schools and pre-school classes;
  • Local roads;
  • Town planning, and
  • Protection of public order  

Decentralized authorities are tasked with;

  • Municipal transport, including school transport, yacht harbors, civil airports, non-autonomous harbors;
  • Culture, including teaching schools (écoles maternelles et primaires), archives, museums, libraries;
  • Public health (vaccination);
  • Economic development (complementary to that of the Region);
  • Environment, specifically water and waste, and
  • Housing.

Given the above, you can see how a commune like Rochefourchat would have legitimate responsibilities and powers, even if just one person is living in it. It is a historical site with the ruins of an old castle, and the preservation of that culture falls squarely in the hands of the Commune it is located in. It is fair that the responsibilities maybe small, but they are unique to the small commune, and not necessarily best outsourced to a larger decentralized body like Community of communes of Diois.

Outside of Rochefourchat, France likes to maintain other Communes with nominal populations for historical preservation.

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Some have municipal responsibilities, even when sparsely populated or unpopulated. The least populous commune is Rochefourchat with one inhabitant who acts as the mayor. Even ones that are unpopulated are still managed by councils of three members as appointed by a prefect, with Beaumont-en-Verdunois having a population of zero. Still, the mayorship is handled by members of one family (currently Pierre Liber) as specified by a local prefect. They still have to decide on a budget, how certain facilities that might run through the commune are handled, and other things a local town government would have to work with.

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