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Despite a low-key start to the campaign to elect councils for France's départements or counties later this month, new rules for these elections do herald genuine changes in French local politics. For the first time there will be strict male-female parity among those elected, the new councillors will be noticeably younger and the age-old tradition of combining both a local and a parliamentary post is starting to fade. But as Mathieu Magnaudeix reports, this welcome progress risks being largely undermined by the fact that the départements themselves, which date from the time of the French Revolution, are increasingly being marginalised by the ascendancy of regions and metropolitan areas. Indeed, voters will go to the polls not even knowing what powers the councillors they elect will have in the future.
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