France votes on controversial plan to redraw map

French lawmakers were set to vote Wednesday on a controversial redrawing of the map of France, cutting the country's regions from 22 to 13 in a plan that has sparked local squabbling.

The idea, which aims to trim costs and improve efficiency, dates back decades but has never been implemented, partly because divisive rows spring up every time it is considered.

Only three regions will be unaffected by the redrawing of the map: the Ile de France region that encompasses Paris and its surrounding areas, Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur around Marseille and the island of Corsica.

The bill, which has already been rejected by the Senate, is likely to be passed by a large majority in the National Assembly.

After this it will go back both to the Senate and the National Assembly for a definitive vote.

The plan, championed by President Francois Hollande, has already been changed twice after protests and dissent.

The proposal has fuelled passions and opposition, although it has been welcomed in some areas such as the area around wine-producing Bordeaux which will be turned into one big region merging three current ones.

A similar big region around the eastern city of Lyon has also been welcomed.

But a proposal to fuse Normandy, currently two separate regions, has led to squabbles about which city -- Rouen or Caen -- should be the capital of the new entity.

Another proposal to join the two northern regions of Nord-Pas de Calais and Picardie, both ravaged by the economic crisis, have raised the ire of Socialist heavyweight Martine Aubry, a former chief of the ruling Socialist party and the current mayor of Lille.

"One cannot take two poor regions to make one rich region," Aubry complained.

Meanwhile, many locals in the eastern region of Alsace near the German border are reluctant to join the nearby Lorraine and Champagne-Ardennes regions on the grounds of identity.

France has had the same municipal map since the 18th century. The arguments for the redrawing are that the regions are lopsided -- some too big and the others too small -- or that some regions have no centre.

But the plan has critics even within the ruling party.

"One cannot imagine the Spanish government simply wiping Catalonia off the map or the British government planning to join Wales with another region," said Socialist lawmaker Jean-Jacques Urvoas.