Nationalists from Corsica have demanded talks with the French government over more autonomy after a convincing win in Sunday’s regional elections.
President Emmanuel Macron now faces the dilemma of whether to loosen France’s grip on the Mediterranean island or to maintain centralized control.
Like Catalonia, whose bid for independence from Spain has sparked a crisis with Madrid and in the European Union, Corsica has long harbored separatist ambitions. Sunday’s second-round vote, in which a coalition of nationalist candidates won a 56.5% share, strengthens the hand of those seeking greater control.
Unlike Catalonia, which is wealthy and self-sufficient, Corsica depends heavily on funding from Paris, prompting the Pè a Corsica movement to insist it is seeking autonomy not independence.
It has issued three core demands: equal recognition for the Corsican language, an amnesty for those in jail considered to be political prisoners, and recognition of a special residency status for Corsica to stop foreigners buying holiday homes on the island, the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Pè a Corsica finished well ahead of Macron’s La République en Marche, which polled third with only 12.7% of votes. More than 47% of Corsicans did not vote.
Opinion polls suggest most of Corsica’s 330,000 residents want the mountainous island, which is popular with tourists, to remain part of France. Macron has shown little enthusiasm for negotiating with the separatists but the vote has forced his hand. After the result, the Elysée released a statement saying independence was not on the cards.
“The project they have put forward for Corsica is ambitious but is not that of independence,” it said of Pè a Corsica’s program. “A responsible and reasonable dialogue between the new [Corsican] authority and the state is imperative.”
It added: “Only a constructive dialogue will mobilize the means of economic, environmental and social emancipation necessary for Corsica and its inhabitants.”
The nationalists’ victory was the result of an agreement reached two years ago between autonomists – led by Gilles Simeoni, the chairman of the Corsica executive council – and those seeking full independence – led by Jean-Guy Talamoni, the Corsica assembly speaker.
“Today, Paris has to come to terms with what is happening in Corsica,” Simeoni said after the results were announced on Sunday evening. Talamoni took an even tougher line, telling the French government it must “open negotiations very rapidly” or it could expect protests on the island.
For many decades, the fight for greater autonomy from Paris resulted in bombings and killings on Corsica and mainland France. This reached a peak in 1998, when the French prefect of the island, Claude Erignac, was shot dead in Ajaccio while on his way to a concert with his wife.
The Corsican National Liberation Front (FLNC) had announced the end of a seven-month truce less than two weeks before Erignac was killed. An anonymous group claimed responsibility, saying Erignac represented “the colonial state deaf to nationalist claims”.