Hauts-de-France, France

Hauts-de-France is a French region that was created on January 1, 2016 by merging the former regions of Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardy. From January to September 2016, it was provisionally named Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie.

With 31,813 square kilometers, Hauts-de-France is the eighth largest region by area (excluding overseas regions) and has 5,997,734 inhabitants (as of 2020), making it the third largest region by population. It is divided into the five departments Aisne (No. 02), Nord (59), Oise (60), Pas-de-Calais (62) and Somme (80). It borders (clockwise) with Belgium and the regions of Grand Est, Île-de-France and Normandy.

The administrative center of the region is Lille.




Dunkirk (Dunkerque)

Belle Église

Le Touquet
Wolfsschluct II



When the region was formed in January 2016, it was given the provisional name of Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie. This name is formed from the alphabetical order of the merged regions. The regional council had until June 30 to decide on a final name. In March 2016 he decided on the name Hauts-de-France (German translation: Upper France/High France) with the subtitle Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie. This was confirmed without the subtitle on September 28, 2016 by the Conseil d'État and came into force the following day.

Instead of Hauts-de-France, internet polls also suggested Flandres-Artois-Picardie and Nord-Picardie as possible names.


Getting here

By plane
Lille Airport (IATA: LIL) is in the region, with some medium-haul connections (Europe, North Africa), but no direct connections from German-speaking countries, and Beauvais-Tillé Airport (IATA: BVA), which is mainly served by low-cost airlines. Nearest major airports, just south of the region, are the major Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (IATA: CDG) with direct TGVs to Arras and Lille (50 minutes). Brussels-Zaventem Airport (IATA: BRU) (1h10 by train to Lille) is also an alternative for the north of the region.


Geology and relief


The region essentially occupies portions of vast sedimentary basins: part of the Paris basin in particular, and part of the Flanders basin. There is no separation between the two on the surface, these two basins are continuous for part of the geological series that compose them. The conventional limit on the surface is made up of the hills of Artois and the threshold of Bapaume.

The subsoil of the region is dominated by Cretaceous formations. The Upper Cretaceous, which covers by far the largest area, is marked by a particular limestone rock: chalk. However, it is often hidden under a layer of silt (loess), deposited in the Quaternary, which promotes the wealth of agriculture. Chalk was once used as building stone and limestone in much of the region, as many underground quarries bear witness to this. These formations open to the west on the lower Cretaceous and underlying Jurassic (and occasionally Paleozoic) formations in the inlets of Boulonnais and the Pays de Bray, where more varied substrates outcrop, including quality clays. which fueled ceramic production in these two regions. The Jurassic also emerges in Thiérache, but this time it is the northern end of the Jurassic aureole of the Paris Basin which points in the region. There are two important areas covered by Tertiary sediments: the plain of Flanders in the northeast of the region where we find mainly clays and sands (which were used to produce the bricks which strongly characterize the architecture of this part of the region), and in the south (former Île-de-France) where the substrates are varied according to the outcropping layers: clays, sands, sandstones, and Lutetian limestones. The Lutetian limestones have been exploited on a large scale for centuries for the production of freestone, it is the main building stone historically used in the south of the region and in Paris (including Saint-Leu stone from the valley of Oise), then in the rest of the region where it was exported from the 19th century to Lille to replace chalk in constructions. The Tertiary also forms witness mounds that are often sandy (sometimes with hard sandstone, having been used to produce cobblestones and used in ancient architecture for foundations and bases), scattered over the Cretaceous terrain3.

The Paleozoic, located under the more recent terrains, was massively exploited at depth for its coal in the mining basin of Nord-Pas-de-Calais (around Lens and Douai) between the end of the 17th and the end of the 20th century.

The Avesnois and a small portion of the adjoining Thiérache form a territory geologically differentiated from the rest of the region. More or less deformed Paleozoic rocks outcrop there: sandstone, shales, hard limestone (blue stone, used in local architecture), etc. We are no longer here in the sedimentary basins themselves but in the foothills of the Ardennes.



The relief is quite low: the average altitude is about 98 meters, which places the region in 11th place among the 13 in mainland France. The maximum altitude is 295 meters, reached at Watigny in the Aisne, not far from the Ardennes plateau4. This one is nevertheless quite varied, shared between the very low reliefs of the plain of Flanders, fairly flat low plateaus (Santerre, Cambraisis) and various plateaus a little higher notched by many valleys, as in the Soissonais, the Valois, the Omois, the watersheds of the coastal rivers of Picardy and Artois (Somme basin, Bresle, Authie, Canche with the country of the Seven Valleys, the Aa), as well as other hilly landscapes such as Boulonnais, Avesnois, Thiérache, Laonnois, Noyonnais, Beauvaisis, etc.



The climate of the Hauts-de-France region is an oceanic climate. From one end of the region to the other, this climate presents nuances in the course of the seasons and in its local varieties, which combine altitudes, plains and valleys, sheltered or exposed slopes, proximity or distance from the coast, etc.

On the coasts of the English Channel and the North Sea, the oceanic character is very marked. The thermal amplitudes are low, which gives relatively mild winters with little snow and cool summers. The weather is variable because of the very frequent and sometimes violent winds, which influence the climate depending on their direction.

Moving away from the coasts, the climate retains the same characteristics as that of the coasts, while gradually approaching the continental climate, with less wind, more marked temperature differences and more days of frost and snow.

Temperatures recorded in Hauts-de-France are increasing on average at the rate of +0.29°C per decade.



The territory before Hauts-de-France

The region is made up of several historical and cultural provinces, partially or totally. Most of the territory is occupied by Picardy, which includes most of the Somme, Oise, Aisne, but also the sea coast of Pas-de-Calais, from Montreuil to Calais. Its main cities are Amiens, Saint-Quentin, Beauvais, Boulogne, Calais and Soissons. There is also a piece of historic Île-de-France, to the south-west of Oise, with French Vexin around Chaumont-en-Vexin, a piece of Champagne is also present in the far south. of the Aisne around Château-Thierry. This is a part of Brie.

Further north is Artois in Pas-de-Calais, around Arras, Béthune, Saint-Omer and Hesdin. We will also note the Cambrésis, a small traditional autonomous country which constitutes the surroundings of Cambrai, a piece of Hainaut which is called French Hainaut (the other part is in Belgium) extends around Valenciennes and Maubeuge. Finally, we have French Flanders which is subdivided into Romanesque Flanders, around Lille, called Romanesque because of its local Picardy dialect, and Flamingo Flanders, because of its local Flemish speech, which is also called French Westhoek , which includes Dunkirk and Hazebrouck. From the seventeenth century, these territories were grouped together under the name of the French Netherlands, because they were new acquisitions made by France from the Spanish Netherlands, these so-called Spanish Netherlands thus became French stockings.

Until the 18th century, the region was divided into several general and particular governments, administrative entities of the Ancien Régime which were authoritative at the military level. At the time, these were the governments of Picardy (around Amiens, Saint-Quentin, Boulogne and Calais), French Flanders, which included, in addition to French Flanders, Hainaut. The government of Artois (around Arras, Lens and Béthune), while the government of Île-de-France overflowed into the southern half of the province of Picardy, thus taking cities such as Beauvais, Compiègne, Soissons or Laon, which are however not cities of Île-de-France, but of Picardy. This presence of territories belonging to Picardy in the government of Île-de-France will be underlined on several occasions by the cartographers of Louis XIV, by the Encyclopédie of Diderot and d'Alembert, or by authors such as Robert de Hesseln . The government of Champagne, meanwhile, then owned Château-Thierry. The French Revolution will mark the creation of the current departments and the abolition of general military governments.

The border position of Hauts-de-France has made it a strategic economic and military place. It has always been at the heart of major conflicts.


Creation of the region

Idea of merging Picardy with Champagne-Ardenne

In his column of June 3, 2014, President François Hollande laid the foundations for the territorial reform of 2014. He then proposed going from 22 to 14 metropolitan regions. The map attached to the gallery indicates that Nord-Pas-de-Calais would remain as it was while Picardy would merge with Champagne-Ardenne.

The socialist Claude Gewerc, president of the regional council of Picardy, then said he was "very surprised" at the announced marriage of his region with its neighbor from Champagne. He adds that of the three possibilities of gathering (Normandy, Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Champagne-Ardenne), the latter did not have “[his] preference”. Christophe Coulon, president of the UMP group at the regional council, for his part criticizes the reform and notes, despite commonalities, that there is neither "economic" nor "human" flow between the two regions. Several elected members of the party also asked for the organization of a referendum, in particular Xavier Bertrand.

Barbara Pompili, co-president of the environmental group in the National Assembly and deputy for the Somme, believes that the non-merger between Picardie and Nord-Pas-de-Calais is the result of François Hollande's desire not to give "a large region to Marine Le Pen ". She adds that the merger with Nord-Pas-de-Calais “would not be joyful, but it would be logical”. The FN elected representatives of the Picard regional council also criticized the reform and indicated that the non-marriage between Picardy and Nord-Pas-de-Calais was a "politico-electoral" will of the president in order to avoid the taking of the new region by the party.

On the northern side, like Daniel Percheron, the entire regional majority welcomes the region's autonomy: the entity is large enough in the eyes of political leaders. This position is also defended by Philippe Rapeneau, leader of the regional opposition. The northern frontists join for their part their colleagues from Picardy.

On June 18, 2014, the bill was tabled by the Minister of the Interior, Bernard Cazeneuve, in the Senate, then with a majority on the left. The map proposed by the ministry is the same as that of the grandstand. On July 10, 2014, Carlos Da Silva presented a new piece of legislation on behalf of the National Assembly's Law Commission. The accompanying map once again presents the merger of Picardy with the Champagne-Ardenne region and the autonomy of Nord-Pas-de-Calais.


Idea of merging Picardy with Nord-Pas-de-Calais

The division of the regions was amended during the preparatory work of the lower house and, on July 15, 2014, article 1 put to the vote resulted in the merger of Nord-Pas-de-Calais with Picardy, while Champagne-Ardenne joined Lorraine and Alsace.

This marriage immediately provoked an outcry from the main socialist elected representatives of the Nord department. Thus, in a press release, the mayor of Lille Martine Aubry and the majority of the socialist deputies of the department define this union as an “economic and social aberration”. This position is defended by the Republican Éric Woerth, mayor of Chantilly in the Oise, who believes that the interests of his department are in Paris and not in Lille.

On the other hand, many elected officials are more enthusiastic. The reunion of two culturally and economically close regions, as well as the reunification of historic Picardy are underlined. For Claude Gewerc, it is “already a better solution” than the one previously proposed. On the right, Gérald Darmanin, mayor of Tourcoing, Daniel Fasquelle, mayor of Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, and Xavier Bertrand, indicated that they were in favor of the union of the two regions. While being opposed to the territorial reform, the elected representatives of the National Front, like Florian Philippot, declared themselves satisfied with the merger which would offer them an “almost assured” victory in the next regional elections.

Despite several amendments restoring the autonomy of the two regions tabled, among others by Bernard Roman, the National Assembly voted on the first reading of the bill on July 23, 2014 during the solemn vote. Neither the passage before the two assemblies in second reading, nor in a mixed parity commission, nor in new reading before the two chambers, nor in final reading in the National Assembly having modified the union between the two regions, the marriage is officially endorsed by the vote of December 17, 2014. As the Constitutional Council did not censor the law, its promulgation in the official journal on January 17, 2015 confirms the birth of the “Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie” region. on January 1, 2016, whose capital is Lille.


Origin of the name

The name "Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie" was not intended to be definitive. Juxtaposing the names of the former regions in alphabetical order, it was the one retained by law while waiting for a new name to be chosen by decree in the Council of State on a proposal from the regional council of the merged region, a decision to be taken before July 1 2016. The goal was to choose a simple and short name that could be exported abroad and easily registered by all French people, while taking into account the significant diversity of the territories in the region. Some also recommended setting aside all designations including a cardinal point name (North, Grand Est, Sud-Ouest) so as not to "confiscate" them from everyday French (which, moreover, has always been lacking in the Department of North).

From February 22 to 29, 2016, a consultation is organized in high schools and learning centers in the region to propose a new name. Following this consultation, three names were selected by the regional council: “Hauts-de-France”, “Nord-de-France” and “Terres du Nord”. The notion of “top” of the map of France as a synonym for the north of the country attracts their attention. To choose between these three proposals, the regional council set up an online consultation, in which all the inhabitants of the region could participate. Of the 55,000 participants, 21,151 (38.4%) chose Hauts-de-France.

During the plenary session of the regional assembly on March 14, 2016, the regional council adopted the name "Hauts-de-France". This name was validated by the Council of State on September 28, 2016.

It is nevertheless criticized by many historians and geographers. Historically, this denomination excludes any toponymy of the territories that make up the new region (Picardy, Artois, Flanders, etc.). As for geography, the term “haut”, and a fortiori its plural “les Hauts de” relates in French to the upstream of a river or to the altitude of a region. This name therefore confuses altitude and latitude, even though the highest point of this new territorial community in northern France is the second lowest in the country, not exceeding 300 meters above sea level.