For a long time French local and regional authorities were largely excluded from debates on cultural policy, and even more so from international cultural exchanges. Their intervention in this second area, in its most conventional forms to its contemporary networks, occupies a special place in the present issues. Being sustained by large increases in local and national budgets for culture, such an evolution necessarily raised certain strategic issues and debates, which are discussed in the paper. The international element of local cultural policies has only recently appeared as a potential area for local strategy development. It can be seen as the result of the cultural generation of the 1980s, from the point of view of actors in both the public and professional domain. This paper examines the three following aspects: the forms taken by cultural decentralization in its main stages, through the conferral of negotiated powers; the modifications in centre‐periphery relations brought about by this decentralization; and the emergence of an international exchange dynamic as a result of these first two processes.