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Saturday, February 7th, 2009, 06:22 PM

Europe of Regions

Fifth Convention, organised by the Danish Institute
(Dek Danske Selskab)

House of Parliament, Christiansborg Castle, Copenhagen
(14 th - 20 th September 1980)

A Conference on decentralisation and regional autonomy in the Nordic countries

"Normandy, integrating Nordic Inheritance with French Culture, as a model for future regional autonomy in Europe"

by Philippe Woodland, Vice-President of Mouvement Normand

"First of all, I would like to thank the Danish Institute, and its eminent Director, Mr Folmer Wisti, very warmly for the invitation extended to me to take part in this conference, which is specially intended for the Nordic countries. I will begin, therefore, by justifying the presence of a representative from Normandy, before discussing my region's present position in France and Europe, and examining how our representation - that of the Mouvement Normand - can constitute a "model", in which the future of the Normans can be shown to be loyal to the Viking heritage.

I- The Norman synthesis of the Nordic heritage and French culture

Is Normandy a Viking creation, we ask ourselves ? Yes, for the most part, and his relationship has left its mark on Norman territory far more deeply than our Nordic cousins, the French in general and… the Normans themselves cans ever imagine. It is true that the geographical boundaries of the region dated from the Roman era (The "Seconde Lyonnaise") which was be upheld as an ecclesiastical division) ; it is true that, after 911, when it was given to Ganger-Rolf by the King of France, Normandy only existed as an independent State for less than two centuries (moreover, after the Conquest of 1066 by William, the Dukes became, above all, Kings of England). From 1024, the history of Normandy merges with that of France, but its originality has never disappeared. Up until the present day there still exists a steadfast continuity of one land, one people and one culture, with roots which are essentially Nordic, but which are firmly integrated in France.
Our attitude is by no means in the nature of a cultural denial. Naturally we are not very appreciative of an "official" culture which unduly neglects the regional diversities (in the teaching of history, for example); we are even less appreciative of certain contemporary forms of "counterculture", where the uprooting process seems to be systematic. But, the battle we are waging for our identity is in not way directed against French culture. On the contrary, we intend to preserve (and even illustrate) the double tradition which makes up our originality. France, and more generally speaking, the Latin World (let us think of the role played by the monk Lombard Lanfranc beside William) have brought a great deal to Norman territory. And, first and foremost, the language. Contrary to accepted opinion, it was not the assimilation of the Nordic "invaders" by the native population which led to the Roman language being adopted. There was a deliberate desire among the Dukes and their entourage to adopt a language which was better suited to the political and religious systems with which they intended to associate themselves in the future. This is an old and revealing example of political pragmatism which we are nowadays trying to apply to the fight for regional autonomy (this a same pragmatism, for all that, will never adopt the English language… it may be allowed, with others, as a vehicular language, but our deep-rooted European cultures must be preserved from alleged Anglo-American universalism).
In this way, with disrespect to ours friends the Breton Regionalists, the Normans represent the archetypal example of a people who have lost their original language, common their originality. This does not mean that their initial language, common to all the Nordic peoples (and which they had continued to use for a century) has left no trace. The Norman land is still marked with the Nordic impression in its toponomy : there are many names of cities or village comprising Scandinavian terms "bec, tot, londe, thaut, vic, etc…"; and obviously the surnames should not be forgotten. The President of Honour of the Mouvement Normand, Jean Adigard des Gautries, now deceaded, devoted his life (after so many other scholars) to the study of these rapprochements. But a great number of words and expressions have also passed into the French language; all its naval terms, for instance, are directly descended from Scandinavian terms. It would also be appropriate ti discuss at length the Norman influence on the English language.
In the absence of a language of its own, what remained (what remains ?) which is specific to the Norman people ? The essence is a temperament, a conception of life. This was established by the works of another great man, Fernand Lechanteur; who is also dead, but who greatly helped our Mouvement in its early stages. This is the way in which we are very close to Scandinavian characters; this is what justifies my presence among you. Lucidity, pessimism without sadness, not a spirit of conquest, but a desire to be free; to b e "sire de sei" (sure of oneself); the practice of a true democracy , which is not founded on an abstract egalitarism, but on the natural solidarity of those who share the same destiny; these are some of the features of this temperament. They have only to be aroused for the Normans to respond to the new challenges of the World.
We know how to put this temperament to the service of French influence. It was from the Norman Dukes that the Kings of France freely borrowed their conception of a strong state, based on solid finances, as opposed to feudal conceptions; they also readopted, by employing numerous jurists of Norman origin (such as Pierre Dubois, who as precursor of the European idea) the principle of the unity of Custom and of Law. Even if it meant waiting for the Revolution for this objective to be reached… and overtaken with the adoption of an over-abstract citizen conception. In any case, the English monarchy were to rely on this conception, that of' "Common Ley" (nowadays, Common Law), along with many other institutions of Norman origin. But Normandy's contribution to France is not restricted to these judicial and political aspects. In the artistic field, Roman and Gothic architecture have the Normans to thank for their most beautiful buildings; and nearer home, the great names of Impressionism and Fauvism, from Monot to Dufy, are Norman. In the Literary sphere, a number of great French authors, from Corneille to Flaubert, and more recently, Drieu la Rochelle and La Varende, are the products of, the Norman land. Neither are the political thinkers lacking with of course, Alexis de Tocqueville, but also Georges Sorel. It is through these people that the great Nordic family has caused French genius to flourish.
Why then this recall of a glorious past ? It is because we now have to safeguard our heritage and secure our future. It is because the contemporary world is throwing down a challenge to use; this challenge is both economic, which is well known, and cultural, with the threat of a destructive levelling-off of our roots, which is much less noticeable. In order to take up this challenge, in order to overcome the grave difficulties confronting the Normandy of today, we must be able to defend our chances ourselves, we must obtain the political facilities of regional autonomy.

Il - Facing Normandy's difficulties, mobilizing her economic and human great assets

The current situation of Normandy by no means corresponds to the traditional epithets of "lush" or "rich". I do not want to quote too many figures, so instead 1 am referring you to the supplementary table for the statistical details. However, it is necessary to trace a few lines of force.
The three million Normans do not know wholly homogeneous conditions. In the first place, they are divided into two administrative areas: "Haute-Normandie", around Rouen, and "Basse-Normandie", around Caen. This division, which opposes both history and geography, constitutes one of the main obstacles in the path of the balanced development of our region, and of the autonomy of decision in local concerns, because of the proximity of the extended Parisian region. This explains why the principal objective of the Mouvement Normand is to obtain the reunification of its territory into one single region, capable of defending its chances by itself. Today the imbalance is very clearly-defined between east and west Normandy; the added value of the main industries of the former is three times higher than that of the main industries of the latter, which nevertheless bas a comparable population (1.6 million inhabitants in "Haute-Normandie", as opposed to 1.3 million in "Basse-Normandie"). But in eastern Normandy alone, the wealth is concentrated along the Seine valley et the expense of the rural areas and small conglomerations which are not sufficiently close to it. Remedying these imbalances presupposes a voluntarist policy based on regional solidarity. For all that the region should be granted the necessary financial resources.
But the situation is more serious, as it is true that "il nest de richesse que d'hommes" (there is no wealth but that of men). Normandy is experiencing a real demographic depopulation; it is a land of emigration. The 1975 Census showed a negative migratory balance; as a whole, the region had lost 77,000 people since 1968. So, who is emigrating? 75 percent of these people are the young unemployed, more than half of whom make their way to the Parisian region. At the present time, there are 100,000 unemployed people in Normandy, an unemployment which mostly affects the young, in a bigger proportion than the French average. Another figure is unfortunately revealing; the rate of training (the number of trained personnel in the active population) is far lower than the national rate; there are proportionately twice as few trained personnel in western Normandy than there are in the Parisian region. Thus, not only dose Normandy seem to be undereducated, but its children often have to leave their native land to find qualified jobs. But you must fully understand us: we are not supporters of economic national self-sufficiency and of withdrawal into ourselves; we know how to make ouvertures. But the young Normans must be in a position to choose, they cannot lie condemned to migration. it is for this that a much more active, bold and professionally-organized policy must be worked out. The relief of manpower industries, still predominant here, will only be ensured by qualified jobs which represent the chance of tomorrow's Europe. For this reason the Universities of Rouen and Caen (not forgetting the important scientific and commercial schools) should lie able to use the regional assets to the full. The hyper-centralized education system in France is opposed to this. It is for all these reasons that autonomy of decision in the Norman region must be secured.
For we are not lacking in trump cards. We do not want to expect everything from State aid or from the European Community; we are simply asking for the opportunity to effectively protect our economic and human future. For want of sufficient means of intervention belonging to the region, the conditions are not brought together. 'lake the energy sector, as an example. Normandy has a third of France's capacity for refining petroleum products (the plants, it is true, are concentrated in the Seine Valley). The Normandy coasts house important nuclear plants: the reprocessing centre of nuclear waste from The Hague, and three powerful nuclear power-stations under construction. This means that in 1985, Normandy will take, third place among the French regions which produce electricity, and furthermore will export 75 percent of this production. The Norman activities in the energy sector are therefore to a large extent intended for outside (mainly the Parisian region). This is perfectly acceptable, provided that the region gets the reciprocal arrangements which are involved. The setting-tip of nuclear plants is not very popular and Normandy bas more Than its fair share of them. It bas a right to expect more forceful means of developing its infrastructure, especially its lines of communication. It should also expect the installation of large consumer-energy industries on its soil, as the nuclear power plants only create a very few direct jobs. the promises, these legitimate reciprocal arrangements are still nominal. One has no alternative but to say that the region bas , in itself, enough weight to exact them. The present division, as much as the logic of the French administrative system, suppresses its means of coordinating the wealth and help for indispensable investments.
An identical example can be seen in the maritime world. More than half of French port activity is undertaken by Normandy ports (our region is classed as second in northern Europe). Such a coastal facade, which borders the most frequently--visited sea on the globe, evidently presents an essential advantage for economic development. But Normandy does not profit enough from this advantage and does not attract the Industrial and commercial investments associated with maritime activity. There is even an extensive demographic loss near the coasts (apart from the big ports). How can we accept lie of the Normans turning away from the sea, in the face of the indifference of the State which does not provide the necessary incentives It is the region's duty to take the initiatives and to rediscover its dynamism. It is the region who will defend the interest of the local population most efficiently. It is the region who, finding a happy medium between a technocratic and distant power and "over-localist" preoccupation, will best be able to safeguard the general interest. it is heartbreaking to see the fratricidal quarrel which opposes both Caen and Cherbourg at the moment with regard to the "cross-Channel footbridge" (with the Government refusing to play the role of arbiter, but acting mainly on electoral considerations, while for a long time now our Mouvement bas been pressing for a « directory of Norman ports », which will result in indispensable coordination.
We are inevitably arriving at questions with a direct political bearing. What system can ensure both the efficiency of administrative management and the participation of citizens in their own affairs? We all know the answer to this. It will put an end to all the wastefulness caused by the French system of centralization. All matters which are not by nature dependent on the central Stars should Be given a solution on the spot. Mobilizing all Its energies, because everyone bas direct interest in it, arriving at a consensus of opinion, because solidarity is only natural - -this is what the region is the most suitably-placed to achieve. If only it could have a sufficient political and budgetary autonomy at its disposal. The administrative organization of contemporary France is in direct opposition to this. Unfortunately, France comes last in Europe when it concerns regional organization, and the Normans can only dream of the opportunities they could have if, for example, they were Danish. The regions created in France by the law of 5 July 1972 are a real fiasco. This law does not even give the region the status of a local collectivity (if is only a "public institution"); it limits Its budget (it bas a ceiling) and its financial dealings (the region is only allowed to carry out a investment which bas been considered by an actual local collectivity - a "department" or "commune"); in fact, the region only bas a very tenuous administrative structure, entirely ruled by the Prefect, who in turn n la nothing but a Government delegate. Thus, the President of the Regional Council does not even have his own secretary; he is totally dependent a the facilities of the Prefect.
Be it in the cultural, economic or political field (they are naturally all linked), Normandy, despite its trumps, does not have the means to defend its future effectively. It is prevented by the grave disadvantages of centralism and the numerous decision which concern Normandy, but which are taken outside it (whether these decisions come from the State or from the big businesses). It is only by means of regional autonomy that it will, if the rules of the game are fairly applied, be able to take up the challenges of tomorrow.

III - A pragmatic approach to the autonomy of Norman administration

I think I have shown how necessary it is for the Normans to preserve their own identity themselves, and to decide directly an the matters that concern them, especially with regard to collective wealth. It is certainly a requirement for Normandy, but it is also a requirement for France. Because, by defending the interests of our region, we know that we are also defending the national interest. In this respect, out action could Be see as being exemplary and could constitute a possible "model" for the future autonomy of European regions, each within the framework of Its national State. We are proposing a pragmatic approach, anxious to take into consideration the sensibility and political evolution which are very different from one part of Europe to another. To out mind, there is no absolute norm of size, population or economic resources to gain regional autonomy, But good sense leads us to note that it is impossible to "eradicate" the naturel regions which have existed since time began. The reac tion of the Normans to their current division proves this sufficiently. Neither is there a single model for regional institutions, or an exact key to the distribution of national and local finances. It all depends on circumstances when it comes to obtaining the means which are indispensable to an autonomy of decision in affairs of regional interest.
I vill not elaborate any further at this stage, as we can all refer to the Bordeaux declaration, adopted by the Council of Europe on 1 February 1978, and to that of Copenhagen, adopted within the framework of the present Conference on 21 September of the same year. All we want is for France to give its regions, to Normandy and others, this indispensable autonomy of management in local affairs; for it to no longer be the bottom of the list of Europe in the matter of regionalisation. Its diversity is France's strength; the administrative iron collar imposed by centralisation suffocates it. In order for the conditions of true democracy to be ensured, for the idea of participation dear to its leaders to be put in concrete form, for the diverse cultures, on which its national spirit subsist, to be brought back to life, and for the flexibility of adaptation necessary in Our contemporary world to be put into effect, France must make a success of its regional mutation. It evidently lacked a Grundvig. But was it net General De Gaule, whom all Our political men are quoting nowadays as their authority, who declared in substance in his Lyons speech of 1969 (during the referendum campaign which he was to lose and which brought about his resignation), that "the multi-secular effort" of centralisation had to be reversed, and was it not be who proposed to transform the regions into local collectivities endowed with real powers?
Norman regionalism has nothing to do with any sort of separatism; it is not a "nationalism" which would stand in opposition to French nationalism. On the contrary, it is concerned with French continuity while at the same time wishing to preserve the Norman identity. A national State has nothing to gain from closing its eyes to regional aspirations., from keeping tensions high by considering itself discharged with several credits granted to the most turbulent regions. The French State, which has driven the Corsican regionalists, for example, to become radicals, has provided a sad spectacle of the worst kind of political conservatism. We must put a stop to anthems and find a pathway between the centralizing opposition to progress and separatism Utopia. Normandy is, and will remain, French territory, as a region of Europe - the Normans are asking for nothing more or less than an autonomy of administration in their own affairs. they have no pretensions in the direction of governing military or monetary problems, but they wish to decide on a cultural policy for themselves, as well as collective wealth and helps for investments required for their economic development. This should prove, in the eyes of the French political leaders, that decentralization for the benefit of the strong, responsible and, in a word, autonomous regions, is a realistic course of action - perhaps the only realistic one. This mistaken idea, which holds that regionalism threatens the national State should be rejected once and for all. At time when the State is being threatened by its own opposition to progress, by its refusal to grand this addition to democracy, the local democracy dear to Tocqueville - which contemporary world claims - the Mouvement Normand hopes that, by its resolute action to safeguard the Normand identity in ceaselessly striving to reawaken the vital forces of the region, it has served the cause of true regionalism beside those who, in France and Europe, have shown both political lucidity and courage.

IV - Normandy remains a bridge between the Scandinavian world and France

I have not forgotten that 1 am addressing a Nordic audience and I would like, at the end of this account, to make an appeal to you. Normandy is situated midway between Scandinavia and France. It could even be said, on a more general level, that it forms a bridge between north and north-west Europe and Latin Europe. You can help us to preserve this double tradition, which is the essence of our originality. For is it not through the Normans that you can penetrate deeper into the French spirit? We therefore ought to develop further our cultural, economic and, in a word, human bonds further. For example, the twinning of Scandinavian and Norman towns should be increased. 1 would like to say, at this juncture, how much we appreciate the Danish Institute having its delegate based in Rouen and not in Paris ... We are working so that the Norman region may be granted the means to uphold these privileged contacts. Certain things are already in existence. 1, for example, am a former pupil of the Lycee Corneille in Rouen which, for more than 60 years, has had a "Norwegian section". But obviously there is a lot more for us to do.
This is what I wanted to say to you, quite simply, in conclusion; the Normans are proud of their Nordic origins; now they intend to assert their right to retain their cultural identity and to secure their economic future; they are looking to you for help in showing themselves worthy of their Viking ancestors.


Tuesday, November 10th, 2009, 05:15 PM
The Mouvement Normand is a very good association which I admire very much.
It might be reaching one of its goals of reunification of the two Norman administrative regions in a relatively near futur, as the French government has recently divised a plan to reorganise the administrative regions of the country, diminishing their numbers to save money on administration, and the reunification of these two Normandies is the most obvious one and has been taken into account (the reunificiation of Alsace and Lorraine is also debated).
That reunification I hope will encourage the Norman sense of regional identity.

That text explains the problem of emigration. In my personal opinion, I much prefer emigration from Normandy, than immigration to Normandy. Of all the french regions, Normandy is one of those which is the most preserved from french and European migrations, and from extra-European migrations which is a good thing (obviously, the bigger towns do attract immigrants but the situation is far from catastrophic compared to other french cities). Normandy is generally a very rural and peaceful place. We've got the best cows ;)

As additional information, one may find it a little "folkloric" in a pejorative way, but its true that Normandy has a strong feeling for its Viking ancestry. There are many Viking festivals there, some towns have statues or monuments representing vikings or longships, and even the local beers carry such names as "Thor" or whatnot. I believe schools and towns should emphasise that scandinavian affiliation a bit more, but the folklore is still quite present.

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009, 08:45 PM
I totally agree!! Even if the teritorium is French, Normandy is an "another" culture, it's a bit like a Viking colony :) The old architecture is typically scandinavian and like NormanRollo (btw. Rollo was my ancestor :P ) said in the folklore there are many norther elements and the Normans are celebrating like Vikings. The plus is that Normandy isn't so overflowed by immigrants like the other parts of France and like Sweden or Norway. It's really a little Viking-asylum... ;)

Friday, November 27th, 2009, 08:58 PM
I totally agree!! Even if the teritorium is French, Normandy is an "another" culture, it's a bit like a Viking colony :) The old architecture is typically scandinavian and like NormanRollo (btw. Rollo was my ancestor :P ) said in the folklore there are many norther elements and the Normans are celebrating like Vikings. The plus is that Normandy isn't so overflowed by immigrants like the other parts of France and like Sweden or Norway. It's really a little Viking-asylum... ;)

Rollo is my direct ancestor as well! (that's why I put his name in my profile name.. I'm so proud of it). That means we're distant cousins! :thumbup

Friday, November 27th, 2009, 10:04 PM
Rollo is my direct ancestor as well! (that's why I put his name in my profile name.. I'm so proud of it). That means we're distant cousins! :thumbup
Wow, great!! :D I mean really great :) It's nice that you still live in Normandy (btw. when I saw your profile name I felt so much warmth and happiness). Heh, in my photo gallery you can see my great great great grandparents :)

Friday, November 27th, 2009, 10:27 PM
I just need to know what the Union Jack is doing there?

Saturday, November 28th, 2009, 03:31 PM
I just need to know what the Union Jack is doing there?

It surprised me as well...
clicking on the link to the website I see the flag is there too. I believe it's just to indicate that the page is in English.