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Region of France
Country  France
Prefecture Lille
 • President Daniel Percheron (PS)
 • Total 12,414.09 km2 (4,793.11 sq mi)
Population (2010-01-01)
 • Total 4,107,148
 • Density 330/km2 (860/sq mi)
Time zone CET (UTC+1)
 • Summer (DST) CEST (UTC+2)
ISO 3166 code FR-O
GDP (2012)[1] Ranked 4th
Total €103.2 billion (US$132.8 bn)
Per capita €25,487 (US$32,781)
NUTS Region FR3

Nord-Pas de Calais (French pronunciation:  ( ); Dutch: Noord-Nauw van Calais), Nord for short, is one of the 27 regions of France. It consists of the departments of Nord and Pas-de-Calais. Nord-Pas de Calais is situated north of the Picardy region and borders Belgium in the north and east, the English Channel in the west and the North Sea in the northwest. The majority of the region was once part of Southern Netherlands, a Low Countries territory under the crown of the Holy Roman Empire and ruled by Burgundy, followed by Spain and subsequently Austria. It gradually became part of France between 1477 and 1678, particularly during the reign of king Louis XIV. The historical French provinces that preceded Nord-Pas-de-Calais are Artois, French Flanders and French Hainaut, and portions of Picardy. These provincial designations are still frequently used by the inhabitants, which offers a sense of civic pride.

With its 330.8 people per km2 on just over 12,414 km2, it is a densely populated region, having some 4.1 million inhabitants—seven percent of France's total population, making it the fourth most populous region in the country—83% of whom live in urban communities. Its administrative centre and largest city is Lille. The second largest city is Calais, which serves as a major continental economic/transportation hub with Dover of Great Britain 42 kilometres (26 mi) away; the White Cliffs of Dover are visible from Calais on a clear day. Other major towns include Valenciennes, Lens, Douai, Béthune, Dunkirk, Maubeuge, Boulogne, Arras, Cambrai and Saint-Omer.


  • Name 1
  • History 2
  • Demographics 3
  • Economy 4
    • General data 4.1
    • Agriculture and fishing 4.2
    • Industry 4.3
      • Automobile industry 4.3.1
      • Food industry 4.3.2
    • Services 4.4
      • Mulliez Family 4.4.1
  • Transport Infrastructures 5
    • Highways 5.1
    • Railways 5.2
      • Eurotunnel 5.2.1
      • TER-Nord 5.2.2
    • Air transportation 5.3
    • Inland and International freight transport 5.4
      • Dunkirk harbour 5.4.1
      • Canal Seine Nord 5.4.2
  • Sports and culture 6
    • Training base for the Olympics 6.1
    • Sports in the Nord Pas de Calais 6.2
  • Major communities 7
  • See also 8
  • Notes and references 9
  • External links 10


The name Nord-Pas-de-Calais combines the names of the constituent departments of Nord (literally 'North', the northernmost department of France) and Pas-de-Calais ('Strait of Calais', the French name of the Strait of Dover). The regional council, however, spells the name Nord-Pas de Calais.[2]

The northern part of the region was historically a part of the County of Flanders, with Douai as its capital. Some people[3] wish to evidence the historical links the region has with Belgium and the Netherlands prefer to call this region the French Low Countries, which also means French Netherlands in French (French: Pays-Bas français; Dutch: Franse Nederlanden or Franse Lage Landen). Other alternative names are Région Flandre(s)-Artois, Hauts-de-France, ('Upper France') and Picardie-du-Nord ('Northern Picardy'). Various petitions are currently taking place in favour of renaming, their impact and importance remain to be seen.


Inhabited since prehistoric times, the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region has always been a strategic (and hence one of the most fought-over) regions in Europe. French President Charles de Gaulle, who was born in Lille, called the region a "fatal avenue" through which invading armies repeatedly passed. Over the centuries, it was conquered in turn by the Celtic Belgae, the Romans, the Germanic Franks, England, the Spanish and Austrian Netherlands, and the United Provinces of Holland. After the final French annexation in the early 18th century, much of the region was again occupied by Germany during the First and Second World Wars.

During the 4th and 5th centuries, the Roman practice of co-opting Germanic tribes to provide military and defense services along the route from Boulogne to Cologne created a Germanic-Romance linguistic border in the region that persisted until the 8th century. By the 9th century, most inhabitants north of Lille spoke a dialect of Middle Dutch, while the inhabitants to the south spoke a variety of Romance dialects. This linguistic border is still evident today in the place names of the region. Beginning in the 9th century, the linguistic border began a steady move to north and the east. By the end of the 13th century, the linguistic border had shifted to the river Lys in the south and Cap-Griz-Nez in the west.[4]

Winter at Cap Blanc Nez

During the Middle Ages, the Pas-de-Calais department comprised County of Boulogne and the County of Artois, while the Nord department was mostly made up of the southern portions of the County of Flanders and the County of Hainaut. Boulogne, Artois, and Flanders were fiefs of the French crown, while Hainaut was within the Holy Roman Empire. Calais, from 1347 to 1558, when it was recovered by the French throne, was an English possession. In the 15th century, all of the territories, except Calais, were united under the rule of the Dukes of Burgundy, along with other territories in northern France and areas in what is now Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. With the death of the Burgundian duke Charles the Bold in 1477, the Boulonnais and Artois were seized by the French crown, while Flanders and Hainaut were inherited by Charles's daughter Marie. Shortly thereafter, in 1492, Artois was ceded back to Marie's son Philip the Handsome, as part of an attempt to keep Philip's father, Emperor Maximilian I, neutral in French King Charles VIII's prospective invasion of Italy.

Thus, most of the territories of what is now Nord-Pas-de-Calais were reunited to the Burgundian inheritance, which had passed through Marie's marriage to the House of Habsburg. These territories formed an integral part of the Seventeen Provinces of the Netherlands as they were defined during the reign of Philip's son, Emperor Charles V, and passed to Charles's son, Philip II of Spain. During the Italian Wars much of the conflict between France and Spain occurred in the region. When the Netherlands revolted against Spanish rule, beginning in 1566, the territories in what is now Nord-Pas-de-Calais were those most loyal to the throne, and proved the base from which the Duke of Parma was able to bring the whole southern part of the Netherlands back under Spanish control. It was also a base for Spanish support of French Catholics in the French Wars of Religion.

Bog of Vred, natural reserve

During the wars between France and Spain in the 17th century (1635–1659, 1667–1668, 1672–1678, 1688–1697), these territories became the principal seat of conflict between the two states and French control over the area was gradually established. Beginning with the annexation of Artois in 1659, most of the current Nord department territory had been acquired by the time of the Treaty of Nijmegen in 1678. The current borders were mostly established by the time of the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697.

The area, previously divided among the French provinces of Flanders, Artois, and Picardy, was divided into its two present departments following the French Revolution of 1789. Under Napoleon I, the French boundary was extended to include all of Flanders and present-day Belgium until the Congress of Vienna in 1815 restored the original French boundary.

During the 19th century, the region underwent major industrialisation and became one of the leading industrial regions of France, second only to Alsace-Lorraine. Nord-Pas-de-Calais was barely touched by the Franco-Prussian War of 1870; indeed, the war actually helped it to cement its leading role in French industry due to the loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany. However, it suffered catastrophic damage in the two World Wars of the 20th century.

World War I

When the First World War started, the region became a strategic target for the Allies and the Central Powers, mostly because of the coal and mining resources. When the German troops launched their attack from Belgium, the region was one of the first to fall under German occupation. Nevertheless, when the Allies stopped Germany at the Battle of Marne, the front moved back to the area and stabilized near Arras. During the next four years, the region was split in two: the German holding the French Flanders and Cambrai area, the Allied controlling Arras and the Area of Lens. Nevertheless, the combat did not stop, each side wanting the total control of the area.

When the region was finally liberated by the Canadians, the whole county was devastated, Arras being destroyed at 90%. The Nord pas de Calais became one of the main theaters of the conflict, with many battles occurring between 1914 and 1918, including the Battle of Vimy Ridge, The Battle of Artois, Battle of Loos and the Battle of Cambrai. Nowadays, there are 650 military cemeteries throughout the Nord-Pas-de Calais, mostly British and Canadians as well as large memorials like Vimy or Notre Dame de Lorette.

World War II

During the occupation of France, it was attached to the Military Administration in Belgium and Northern France, ruled from the Wehrmacht kommandantur in Brussels. The Nord-Pas-de-Calais region was used for vengeance weapon installations, including extensive V-1 "ski sites" that launched attacks on England and massive bunkers for the V-2 rocket and V-3 cannon. Operation Crossbow counteroffensive bombing by the Allies devastated many of the region's towns. Although most of the region was liberated in September 1944, Dunkirk was the last French town to be freed from German occupation (on 9 May 1945).

Postwar period

Since the war, the region has suffered from severe economic difficulties (see Economy below) but has benefited from the opening of the Channel Tunnel and the growth in cross-Channel traffic in general.


While the region is predominantly French-speaking, it also has two significant minority language communities: the western Flemings, whose presence is evident in the many Dutch place names in the area and who speak West Flemish, a dialect of Dutch (perhaps 20,000 inhabitants of Nord-Pas-de-Calais use Flemish daily and an estimated 40,000 use it occasionally, both, primarily in and around the arrondissement of Dunkirk[5] ); and the Picards, who speak the Picard language, or Ch'ti (speakers, "chitimi", have been working to revive the nearly-extinct regional speech since the 1980s). Although neighbouring Belgium currently recognizes and fosters both Picard and Dutch, and a few city-level governments within Nord-Pas-de-Calais have introduced initiatives to encourage both languages, the national French government maintains a policy of linguistic unity and generally ignores both languages,[6] as it does with other regional languages in France.

The region's ethnic diversity has been affected by repeated waves of immigrant workers from abroad: Belgians before 1910; Poles and Italians in the 1920s and 1930s; Italians and Germans since 1945 and North Africans and Portuguese since 1960;[7] and large cities like Lille, Calais, and Boulogne are home to sizable communities of British, Dutch, Scandinavian, Sub-Saharan African, and Latin American immigrants and their descendants.

The French state has sought to boost the region's relatively neglected culture. In 2004, it was announced that a branch of the Louvre would be opened in the city of Lens. For decades, the Nord-Pas-de-Calais has been viewed as a conservative region when compared culturally to the rest of France , but recently the region has at times displayed left-wing tendencies. In the early 2000s, the leftist Green Party won the largest number of votes to nearly carry a majority in regional and local representation. The Greens managed to attract many conservative voters from small towns and farmers moved by the Greens' commitment to boosting agri-industry.

The region's religious profile is representative of France as a whole, with the majority (85%) being Roman Catholic, but not all members regularly attend church or practice every element of Roman Catholicism. Other Christian groups are found in the region: Protestants have a few churches. North Africans have introduced Islam to the region, and small but growing communities of Buddhists have been established in recent years. In World War II, 18,000 of the region's French Jews were victims of the Nazi occupation, but a small Jewish community remains active as it has been for hundreds of years.


General data

In 2007, the Nord-Pas-De-Calais GDP reached 96,5 billions of Euros, making it the 4th biggest French economy. Nevertheless this figure had to be nuanced because of the large population of the region. Indeed, the GDP per inhabitants reached only the 20th rank out of 24 in 2007.

The unemployment rate is higher than the national one. 12,8% of the population was unemployed in 2009, mostly the people between 18 and 25 years old.

The economy is essentially led by Services Industry which employed 75% of the working population, followed by the industry (23%) and Agriculture (2%).

Agriculture and fishing

Due to its location close to the North Sea, the Nord-Pas-De-Calais has a strong fishing industry.

The Boulogne-sur-Mer harbor is the biggest French port in terms of capacity with more than 150 boats. At 2012, 45,000 tons of fishes are bought and sold in a year there. The harbor is also a leading European seafood processing center with 380,000 tons of shellfish, fishes and algaes traded every year.[8] Some 140 companies are present in the port.

The agricultural sector regroups 13,800 farm businesses using 820,000 hectares (2,000,000 acres) of farmland. The temperate climate as well as great fertility makes the region a leading production center.[9] The Nord-Pas-De-Calais supplied 26.1 million tons of wheat (Approximately 7% of the national production) and a third of the French potato production.


The region's industry was originally focused on coal and textile production, and was one of the cradles of Industrial Revolution on the continent. When the Second World War was over, workers from all over Europe came to replace the original people who did not come back. In the 1970s, these two leading industries began to fade away and unemployment rates blew up. The region started a deep mutation which still continues today. Nowadays, the industrial sector is led by the automobile industry.

Automobile industry

In the 1970s, the sector represented a small part of the working population. Some 40 years later, it is the main industry in the region employing 55,000 people. In term of productivity, the Nord-Pas-De-Calais is ranked second nationwide and is one of the main export areas.

Three main worldwide manufacturers set plants in the region: Toyota in Valenciennes where the Yaris are made,[10] Renault which produced the Scénic in Douai,[11] PSA Peugeot Citroën in Lieu-Saint-Amand where Peugeot 807, Citroën C8, Fiat Scudo, Peugeot Expert and Citroën Jumpy are fabricated.[12]

Equipment manufacturers such as Faurecia, employing 6200 workers, are here.

Nord-Pas-de-Calais is the second main region for the automotive industry in France after Ile de France (Paris region). That is why the Forum on European Automotive Industry in Lille Region (FEAL) is being organised every two years. This forum aims at showing the industry of the region and its importance in France and in Europe.

Food industry

The food industry in Nord Pas de Calais is powerful mostly because of the power of the agricultural sector in the region. By income, this is the most important industry of the region mostly due to exportation (3.2 billion Euros in 2006). More than 27,000 employees in 2007 are working in the sector. Many worldwide groups are implanted in the Nord-Pas-De-Calais like McCain Foods, Roquette Freres, Bonduelle, Pasquier or Boulangeries Paul.[13]


Mulliez Family

One family symbolizes the Service sector of the Nord Pas De Calais, The Mulliez Family. This multibillionaire family hold the main superstore chains brands of the region which some are known worldwide: Auchan, Decathlon Group or Leroy Merlin as well as the Flunch restaurant chain. The family also retains shares from 3 Suisses, Norauto and many other companies.

Transport Infrastructures

A map of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region from the early 1920s, showing the road and railway network of that time.

As most of its population is urbanized, the region has a dense and complex transport system of highways, railways, airport and seaports.


Nine highways are passing through the region; most of them are free:



Since 1994, the NPDC is linked to the United Kingdom by the Eurotunnel. The tunnel is composed of three ways (road, maintenance and railway) and has the longest undersea tunnel section of the world (38 kilometres (24 mi)).[14] The Tunnel which is 50 kilometres (31 mi) long allows connection of Coquelles, France to Folkestone, UK. Between its official opening and 2012, 300 million passengers have crossed the English Channel aboard the Eurostar trains.[15]


The TERNord is the regional network set by the SNCF. It links the major cities and villages throughout the Nord Pas De Calais. The network is under the control of the Conseil régional.

Air transportation

The main air platform of the Nord Pas de Calais is Lesquin Airport near Lille. Originally a regional air transport, the airport now has several international routes toward Europe and Maghreb.

Inland and International freight transport

Dunkirk harbour

Dunkirk Harbour is one of the biggest sea platforms of France. Actually it holds the 3rd rank nationwide in volume, the first in Fruit, copper imports. A terminal able to receive LNG carriers is built by Total.[16]

Canal Seine Nord

The Canal Seine-Nord is a future high-capacity canal between the Seine and Arleux in order to connect the former to the other northern canals in Belgium, Netherlands and Germany. It is due to open in 2016 but it is actually creating controversies mostly because of its huge cost (€4.6 Billions).[17]

Sports and culture

Training base for the Olympics

Before Committee as a training base for the participating delegations. During the few months before the events, several countries sent their athletes to the region in order to prepare them for the competitions like the UK Gymnastics team in Arques, the New Zealand Rowing team in Gravelines as well as France national basketball team and handball team.

Sports in the Nord Pas de Calais

Football is the most developed sport of the region. Actually more than 145,000 players are licensed in a club. Four clubs have professional status and play at the highest levels: Lille OSC and Valenciennes FC in Ligue 1, RC Lens in Ligue 2 and USBCO in Championnat National. The Women Football is also represented in Division 1 with Arras Football.

Major communities

Lille, the largest city in Nord-Pas-de-Calais
Allotments in Tourcoing (Nord), France. In the background, the church Notre-Dame de la Marlière

The regional educational system of the académie de Lille includes 1 million pupils and students. Higher education and research are supported within the Université Lille Nord de France.

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^  
  2. ^ Qu'est ce que la Région?Région Nord-Pas de Calais: Retrieved 4 January 2011
  3. ^
  4. ^ Ryckeboer, H (2002). "Dutch/Flemish in the North of France" (PDF). Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 23 (1): 22–35.  
  5. ^  
  6. ^ Article 2 of the Constitution of France states that "French is the language of the Republic"; see the article on French linguistic policy for more information.
  7. ^ Chronologie de l'immigration en Nord-Pas-de-Calais, INSEE
  8. ^ "Port du peche". Port de Boulogne-sur-Mer. Retrieved 2013-01-07. 
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^

External links

  • Nord-Pas-de-Calais : between yesterday's resistance and today's hospitality- Official French website (in English)
  • Regional Council of Nord-Pas-de-Calais (French)
  • Official website: Tourism in Nord-Pas-deCalais

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