A prefect (French: préfet) in France is the state's representative in a department or region. Subprefects (French: sous-préfets) are responsible for the subdivisions of departments, arrondissements. The office of a prefect is known as a prefecture and that of a sub-prefect as a subprefecture.
Prefects are appointed by a decree of the President of the Republic in the Council of Ministers, following the proposal of the Prime Minister and the Minister of the Interior. They serve at the Government's discretion and can be replaced at any meeting of the Council.
From 1982 to 1988 prefects were called commissaires de la République (the Republic's commissioners) and the sub-prefects commissaires adjoints de la République.
The post of prefect was first created in 1800 by then-First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte. Their roles were initially similar to those of the pre-revolutionary intendants. Prefects were initially charged with supervising local governments in their department, ensuring that taxes flowed to Paris and supervising conscription at the local level.
Currently, the main role of the prefect is defined in article 72 of the Constitution of France:
In the local governments of the Republic, the representative of the State, representing each member of the Government, is in charge of national interests, of administrative checks, and the respect of Law.
The exact role and attributions are defined in decrees, most notably decrees of 1964, 1982, 2004, each replacing the preceding one.
The prefect of the département containing the chef-lieu de région is also the préfet de région, or the prefect of the région.
Prefects operate under the Minister of the Interior. Their main missions include.
- representing the state to local governments;
- the decision to evacuate zones facing natural disasters; the organisation of relief operations;
- responsibility for official documents, such as
- ensuring respect for legality: officials working for the prefect verify the legality of decisions made by local governments and submit doubtful cases to administrative courts or to financial auditing courts.
Prefects may issue administrative orders in areas falling within the competency of the national government, including general safety. For instance, they may prohibit the use of certain roads without special tyres in times of snow. The prohibition on smoking or leaving the motor running while filling the fuel tank of a motor vehicle is another example of a matter typically decided by a prefectoral administrative order.
On official occasions, prefects wear uniforms.
For much of the time after 1800, the departments largely functioned as transmission belts for policies developed in Paris. As such, prefects originally had fairly extensive powers of supervision and control over departmental affairs. This was especially true during the First and Second Empires, when even the most trivial local matter had to be referred to the prefect. Since 1982, local government has been progressively decentralized, and the prefect's role has largely been limited to preventing local policies from conflicting with national policy.
- In New Caledonia and French Polynesia, the prefect's roles, with certain differences in status, are fulfilled by a high commissioner; in Wallis and Futuna, by a superior administrator.
- The French Southern and Antarctic Lands used to be run by a superior administrator, but since 2004 are run by a prefect. The prefect, however, is not based in the territories, but in Réunion.
- Paris, which is both a city (commune) and a department, is an exception. While it has a prefect, who is also prefect of the Île-de-France region, another prefect handles law enforcement in Paris and some surrounding areas, as well many other administrative duties: the Prefect of Police of Paris. In Paris, the law enforcement powers exercised in other French cities and towns by the mayor belong to the Prefect of Police. In 2012, a Prefecture of Police of the Bouches-du-Rhône was also created, seated at Marseille, with similar powers.
- The authority of the state over the sea is exercised by the Maritime Prefect of the relevant region.
In Québec, a prefect is an unelected administrator of a Municipalité régionale de comté. There is no equivalent of French arrondissements, and instead, the word "arrondissement" always refers to a submunicipal division with an elected leader.
- (in French) Decree of March 14, 1964, regarding the powers of prefects
- (in French) Decree of May 10, 1982, regarding the powers of prefects
- (in French) Decree of April 29, 2004, regarding the powers of prefects