The general strategy of the French institutions has been inspired by the desire to divide the territorial system so that the centre may govern more effectively. The state has always sought to prevent the growth of overly strong local powers. The author analyses the question of decentralization, arguing that the French communities are not equipped to be fully autonomous: the existence of five levels of local administration, in fact, works in the favour of state pressure. Moreover, state protection often takes the place of regional or departmental protection, with the region functioning merely as an extended department. As a consequence, the decentralization begun in 1982 has been unable to overcome the pyramidal administrative and territorial structure, and the political goal of ensuring a new form of "gouvernance" has not been achieved because the territorial map and the administrative structure have remained unchanged. Local governments continue to pursue public policies devised solely by the state. This situation has given rise to numerous malfunctions, and effective decentralization will only be possible if territorial arrangements and institutions are renewed. The author therefore outlines a new architecture of the public powers in which the strengthening of local communities is accompanied by a restructuring of the state.