France is divided into 27 administrative regions (French: région, pronounced: [ʁe.ʒjɔ̃]), 22 of which are in Metropolitan France, and five of which are overseas. Corsica is a territorial collectivity (French collectivité territoriale), but is considered a region in mainstream usage, and is even shown as such on the INSEEwebsite. The mainland regions and Corsica are each further subdivided into departments, ranging in number from 2 to 8 per region for the metropolitan regions; the overseas regions technically consist of only one department each. The term region was officially created by the Law of Decentralisation (2 March 1982), which also gave regions their legal status. The first direct elections for regional representatives took place on 16 March 1986.
In mainland France (excluding Corsica), the median land area of a region is 25,809 km² (9,965 sq mi), which is slightly larger than the U.S. state of Vermont, 4% of the median land area of a Canadian province, or 15% larger than the median land area of a German Regierungsbezirk.
In 2004, the median population of a region in continental France was 2,329,000 inhabitants, three quarters of the median population of a German Land (state), but more than twice the median population of a Canadian province.
Regions lack separate legislative authority and therefore cannot write their own statutory law. They levy their own taxes and, in return, receive a decreasing part of their budget from the central government, which gives them a portion of the taxes it levies. They also have considerable budgets managed by a regional council(conseil régional) made up of representatives voted into office in regional elections.
A region's primary responsibility is to build and furnish high schools. In March 2004, the French central government unveiled a controversial plan to transfer regulation of certain categories of non-teaching school staff to the regional authorities. Critics of this plan contended that tax revenue was insufficient to pay for the resulting costs, and that such measures would increase regional inequalities.
In addition, regions have considerable discretionary power over infrastructural spending, e.g., education, public transit, universities and research, and assistance to business owners. This has meant that the heads of wealthy regions such as Île-de-France or Rhône-Alpes can be high-profile positions.
Proposals to give regions limited legislative autonomy have met with considerable resistance; others propose transferring certain powers from the departments to their respective regions, leaving the former with limited authority.