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Corsica is a test of the French Republic’s authority

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On 6 February 1998, Claude Éringac – the French government’s top representative in Corsica – was on his way to a classical music concert in the island’s capital, Ajaccio, when he was shot dead by pro-independence militants in the most sensational killing in four decades of sporadic nationalist violence. Exactly two decades later, France’s President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute to Éringac at the start of a two-day visit to the island, reported CAPX.

But it wasn’t the most auspicious time for the self-declared “Jupiterian” President to go to Corsica. Three days before he arrived, Ajaccio saw its biggest protests in years, with nationalists thronging the streets chanting, in Corsican, “Killer French state” and “long live the independence movement”. Even more worryingly for Macron, the two-party nationalist bloc Pè a Corsica (For Corsica) won a landslide victory in December’s elections, taking two-thirds of the seats on the island’s regional council.

Pè a Corsica is a lot more moderate than its supporters’ chants. Its brand of nationalism favours greater autonomy for the island, not outright independence. In a speech on Wednesday, the centrepiece of Macron’s visit, he announced that he was open to giving Corsica a mention in France’s constitution – a tokenistic gesture that will hardly satiate the desire for greater devolution of powers from the highly centralised French state. Other than that, Macron just said “non” to Corsican nationalists’ relatively modest demands and – his signature move – used beautiful rhetorical French to say absolutely nothing.

Whereas Catalan nationalist parties’ key demand is that Spain allows the region to tear itself asunder – taking a fifth of the country’s economy with it – Pè a Corsica’s flagship request is for the Corsican language to be given official status. With the language classified as “definitely endangered” by UNESCO, such recognition is a matter of pride for the island. Pè a Corsica’s only really radical demand is for nationalist militants imprisoned in mainland France to be recognised as “political prisoners” and repatriated to the island – again, a matter of pride.

For many Corsicans, the issue of pride is entwined with hard economic reality. A considerable 36 per cent of the island’s real estate is comprised of second homes, many of them owned by mainland French, leading to steep price rises that have pushed many locals, especially young people, out of the housing market.

Pè a Corsica’s proposed solution is to allow only people who have lived on the island for at least five years to buy property there. That is admittedly a rather dirigiste – some would say cack-handed – policy. But instead of giving the regional council the power to carry it out and having his La République En Marche party fight against it in Corsican elections – or even proffering a more nuanced solution of his own – Macron merely scorned the idea that large-scale second home purchases have any negative effect on locals.

Steep property prices aren’t Corsica’s only economic problem. It depends on tourism for one third of its output, but one-size-fits-all regulations from Paris can make it harder to earn a living in the sector. For instance, Marie-Antoinette Maupertuis, a member of the Corsican regional council, told France 24: “On the 30th September beach restaurants have to close, because it’s the law in general, for the whole of the country, which is a paradox, because this is still a really busy time in Corsica, right up until the end of November.”


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