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There are 100 préfectures in France. The civil servant in charge is the préfet. The préfecture is an administration that belongs to the Interior ministry, and is therefore in charge of the delivery of the identity card, driving licenses, passports, residence and work permits for foreigners, car registration, registration of the associations (creation, status modification, dissolution), and of the management of the police and of the firefighters.
The prefect represents the national government locally and as such exerces locally the powers that are constitutionally or legally exerced by the national government. The préfet can make arrêtés, which are legal texts written for the application of the law, e.g. to close a building that does not conform to the safety rules, or to modify vehicular traffic regulations (speed limit, authorisation for construction).
The governing body of the département is the Conseil Général , which is in charge of the building and maintenance of schools and roads, the financial assistance to dependent people (disabled and elderly), promotion of the economical local development etc. In the past, the prefect would head the executive of the département; since 1982, the president of the conseil général heads the executive.
There is an exception with Paris (which is itself a département) and the three surrounding départements (called the petite couronne , small crown): those four départements are governed by a single préfecture for law enforcement and security purposes, which is the préfecture de police (PP). The préfet de police has the power of law enforcement for Paris, which is a power of the mayor for the other French cities and towns.
Divisions of the départements
The départements are divided into arrondissements, themselves divided into cantons. The capital city of an arrondissement is the sous-préfecture. The civil servant in charge is the sous-préfet. The capital city of a canton is a chef-lieu de canton. The cantons have little role except as electoral subdivision.
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