Tue, 05 Dec 2023

In the French overseas territory of New Caledonia, pro- and anti-independence residents have until mid-October to amend a draft legislation on the archepelago's future status. The proposals were presented by the French government to two delegations from New Caledonia at the beginning of September. RFI English takes a look at what is on the table.

The document drawn up by the State is intended to serve as a basis for discussions to be held by France's Minister of the Interior and Overseas Territories, Gerald Darmanin, in the capital Noumea at the end of October, with the aim of reaching an agreement leading to constitutional reforms by early 2024.

The birth of a 'New Caledonian people'

For the first time in French colonial history, the proposed draft refers to the "New Caledonian people", as the 1998 Noumea Accord had already established the existence of the "Kanak people". This is an exceptional clause for the French Republic, which recognises people of French territories as solely French.

The notion of a "Caledonian people" has long been rejected by the anti-independence movement.

For some, including former Les Republicains senator Pierre Frogier - defeated in last Sunday's senatorial elections - using this term to the detriment of French people is "a pledge given to the independence movement".

Countering this position, the Les Loyalistes coalition in New Caledonia has embraced the concept, to the point of including the notion of a "Caledonian people" in its institutional project.

New Caledonia's independence party considers expansion of electorateCitizenship after ten years' residence

During his tenure at the Elysee Palace, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for the establishment of "full and complete citizenship, based on a social contract of duties and rights, and not simply on registration on an electoral roll. A local citizenship that takes into account the history, culture and sense of belonging [to these shores]".

However, the latest draft statute is more terse - it makes local citizenship conditional on a period of residence, set at ten years.

This period has been the subject of heated debate across the territory, with pro-Paris residents calling for a shorter period, while independence campaigners have made it a pre-requisite for agreeing to discussions with the French State.

Local citizenship would give access to special employment rights, as is already the case.

Similarly, it would continue to condition the possibility of voting in "elections to institutions specific to New Caledonia and the exercise of the right to self-determination."

A special place in the constitution

Title XIII of the French Constitution - which deals with New Caledonia - will have to be rewritten to record "the institutions, principles or rules" specific to the territory: the legislative value of the lois de pays voted by the New Caledonian Congress, "the recognition of a New Caledonian citizenship" and the conditions for exercising the right to self-determination.

Revised institutions

The institutional structures in place at present - the New Caledonian Congress, provinces and government - would undergo two substantial changes.

The President of the Government would be directly appointed by Congress, whose number of elected representatives would be reduced from 54 to 32, and whose composition would be modified.

The proportion of elected representatives from the pro-independence Northern Provinces and Loyalty Islands - which have been slightly over-represented since the Noumea Accord - would be reduced in favour of the Southern Province, in a bid to redress the political imbalance.

Why are talks between Paris and New Caledonia's rival groups deadlocked?No new referendum in the short term

This is undoubtedly the point most criticised by the pro-independence movement: without setting a date, the document does not envisage a new vote on self-determination "before two generations, starting from the next agreement".

At the end of this period, Congress, "by a two-thirds majority", could decide to propose a new agreement, either to the State or to the Caledonian people.

According to the pro-independence movement, this essentially kills off the right to self-determination, since the new composition of Congress will make a majority less accessible to them.

Ratification of power transfer

The Noumea Accord instituted a gradual transfer of powers to New Caledonia, excluding sovereign powers such as justice, defence and currency.

As a result, the territory already enjoys a high degree of autonomy, which the government does not wish to change.

According to the draft legislation, "The partners solemnly reaffirm their attachment to the method, principles and orientations outlined in the Noumea [agreement]".

However, the deal stipulated that "transferred competencies may not revert [back] to the State."

The new text does, however, provide for two exceptions: in the event of a crisis, civil security could revert to the State.

A provision would also allow New Caledonians to benefit from a French social security number, but the independence movement are opposed to this, as it would give the French State access to the civil status register, which they would consider a de facto reversal of the transfer of control.

(With AFP)

Originally published on RFI

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