This is the first a series of Departmental Profiles that will eventually cover the whole of France and give an insight into the politics and political geography of the provinces.
France’s most populous Département, Nord, borders Belgium to the North and Pas-de-Calais to the south; it makes up half of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais Region and is centred on the large urban conurbation of Lille which contains over a million residents. Nord forms part of the industrial core of France and was a centre of mining and heavy industry in the 19th and early 2oth Centuries in more recent years the focus of its economy has shifted towards logistics but the collapse of heavy industry has left high employment and poverty in many towns. Nord is about as far away from the idyllic Anglo-Saxon vision of France as it is possible to be. It is a land of hard work, beer, football and motorways.
Politically, as one would expect, Nord has been dominated by the left for many years but the National Front has gained ground in recent elections with its new party leader Marine Le Pen working hard in the area to establish her own base away from her fathers and her party’s traditional core in Provence. The left currently holds 58 out of the 79 seats on the Regional Council. The Left’s main strength comes from the coast around Dunkerque, the Eastern suburbs of Lille and the South East of the Département around the coal town of Douai. The Right is stronger in the Western suburbs of Lille and in the North West around Hazebrouck. As of the last parliamentary elections the Left holds 13 seats and the Right 11.
In Presidential elections Nord’s large population makes it a crucial battleground with Sarkozy easily beating Royal in 2007 but Le Pen of the National Front coming in first in 2002. If the Left is to have any hope of winning the Presidency back it must improve it results in the North West.