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Nationalists in Corsica demand more freedoms after election gains

Nationalists seeking greater autonomy for France's Corsica on Monday ruled out an imminent independence bid but demanded greater freedoms for the island after winning the first round of regional elections.

Nationalists in Corsica demand more freedoms after election gains
Photo: AFP

The governing Pe a Corsica (For Corsica) alliance, which groups the pro-autonomy Femu a Corsica (Let's Make Corsica) and pro-independence Corsica Libera (Free Corsica), won 45.36 percent of the vote in Sunday's election to the regional assembly.

Local rightwing party La Voie de l'Avenir (Future Path) came second with 14.97 percent, ahead of France's main opposition conservative Republicans in third with 12.77 percent.
 
President Emmanuel Macron's centrist Republic on the Move (LREM), which has failed to make inroads on the Mediterranean island of 330,000 people, trailed in fourth with 11.26 percent.
   
The result puts the nationalists on course for a thumping victory in the second and final round of voting on December 10, two years after their breakthrough win in regional elections.
 
Candidate for the Pe a Corsica nationalist party Jean Guy Talamoni. Photo: AFP   
 
“I think that today Corsica is sending a very strong signal to Paris and that a large majority is saying: we want peace, we want democracy, we want to build an emancipated island,” Femu a Corsica's leader Gilles Simeoni declared, calling it “a democratic tidal wave”.
   
The leader of Corsica Libera, Jean-Guy Talamoni, said that the result surpassed the nationalists' own expectations and showed that “for Corsicans, Corsica is a nation”.
 
Autonomy, not independence
 
Both men however ruled out an imminent bid for independence.
   
“The question of independence is not on the cards today,” Simeoni, whose party is dominant in the alliance, told France's Europe 1 radio. “We want autonomous status,” he added.
   
Talamoni, who has been nicknamed Corsica's Puigdemont after Catalonia's separatist leader Carles Puigdemont, said the question of independence would only come up “in 10 or 15 years.”
   
“If a majority of Corsicans want (independence), in 10 or 15 years, nobody will be able to oppose it,” he told France Inter radio.
 
Candidate for the Pe a Corsica nationalist party Gilles Simeoni. Photo: AFP
   
Corsica, a mountainous island with its own language and special administrative status, has had an at times troubled relationship with the wealthier mainland.
   
The separatist National Liberation Front of Corsica (FLNC) waged a nearly four-decade bombing campaign targeting mainly state infrastructure before announcing a ceasefire in 2014.
   
The worst nationalist attack claimed the life of France's top official on the island, Claude Erignac, who was assassinated in 1998.
   
The situation has stabilised over the past decade.
   
In June 2014, the FLNC announced a permanent ceasefire, in favour of a political process.

FRENCH POLITICS

Pro-Macron MP becomes France’s first woman speaker

France's lower house of parliament has agreed to pick an MP from President Emmanuel Macron's centrist coalition as the first woman speaker, despite the ruling alliance losing its majority in legislative elections.

Pro-Macron MP becomes France's first woman speaker

Yael Braun-Pivet, who had been serving as the minister for overseas territories, is the first woman to ever hold the post of speaker in the history of the Assemblée nationale.

Despite the loss of its overall majority, Macron’s ruling alliance still managed to push through her appointment in the second round of voting.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and other senior Macron backers have been trying to win over individual right-wing and moderate left parliamentarians to bolster their ranks.

Borne, appointed last month, is France’s second woman prime minister after the brief stint by Edith Cresson in the 1990s.

Olivier Marleix, head of the centre-right Les Républicains group seen as most compatible with Macron, met Borne on Tuesday. “We’ve told her again there is no question of any kind of coalition,” he said.

But he added that the prime minister “really showed that she wanted to listen to us. That’s quite a good sign.

“We’re here to try and find solutions,” he added. “There will be some draft laws where I think we should be able to work together,” including one to boost households’ purchasing power in the face of food and energy inflation.

“It’s not in the interest of parties who have just been elected” to make a long-term deal to support the government, said Marc Lazar, a professor at Paris’s Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po).

Borne under pressure

One key question will be whether Thursday’s vote to head the finance committee – with its extensive powers to scrutinise government spending – will be won by an MP from the far-right Rassemblement National (RN).

Led by Macron’s defeated presidential opponent Marine Le Pen, the RN would usually have a claim on the post as the largest single opposition party.

It faces a stiff challenge from the NUPES left alliance – encompassing Greens, Communists, Socialists and the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) – who agreed on Tuesday on a joint candidate after some internal jostling.

Next week could see exchanges heat up in the chamber, as government chief Borne delivers a speech setting out her policy priorities.

Macron told AFP at the weekend that he had “decided to confirm (his) confidence in Elisabeth Borne” and asked her to continue talks to find either allies for the government in parliament or at least backing for crucial confidence and budget votes.

The president has ruled out both tax increases and higher public borrowing in any compromise deals with other parties.

Even as the government projects business almost as usual, hard-left LFI especially has vowed to try to prevent key proposals, such as the flagship reform to raise the legal retirement age from 62 to 65.

Party deputy chief Adrien Quatennens said on Sunday there was “no possible agreement” with Macron, saying cooperation would “make no sense”.

“We haven’t heard (Macron) move or back down one iota on pension reform” or other controversial policies, he added.

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