Corsica: What do the nationalists actually want from Macron?

French President Emmanuel Macron paid his first visit to Corsica on Tuesday where he will hear demands from nationalists. But what is it they actually want from him?

Corsica: What do the nationalists actually want from Macron?
Corsican nationalists demonstrate in advance of Macron's visit. Photo: AFP
Macron's visit comes two months after a nationalist alliance trounced his centrist La Republique en Marche (LREM) party in regional elections, boosting their quest for greater autonomy for the island of 330,000 people.
And on Saturday, thousands of nationalists set the tone for his two-day stay with a peaceful march in the island's capital Ajaccio to demand “democracy” and “respect for the Corsican people”.
However unlike in Catalonia, these nationalists aren't seeking independence (yet). So, what do they want?
Pardon for “political prisoners”
One of the more sensitive topics for Corsican nationalists is the subject of the release of “political prisoners”, with nationalists long calling for an amnesty on these individuals.
Among them are Pierre Alessandri, Alain Ferrandi and Yvan Colonna who have been sentenced to life imprisonment for the assassination of government officer Préfet Claude Erignac in 1998.
However there is some dispute over whether “political prisoner” is the correct term to use in this situation. 
“The term political prisoner does not appear to be legal, they are people sentenced for one or more offenses that are against the law,” spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice Youssef Badr told Le Monde

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Rather than a full pardon, at the moment Corsican prisoners detained in France can request a transfer to Corsica, something which is looked at on a “case-by-case basis”. 
“There is no opposition in principle […], but no unconditional right to it either,” said Badr.
Joint-official status for the Corsican language
One of the biggest bones of contention between the French government and the nationalists in Corsica is that of language.
The nationalists want Corsican to be instated as an official language which means it would be used alongside French within the legal system and on national identity papers.
On top of that people would be encouraged to use it “in local communities, administration, education, media, cultural industries, the socio-economic and sports worlds”. 
If the nationalists got their way, it would also be mandatory for Corsican children to receive a bilingual education and they would be expected to reach a certain level at the end of their schooling. 
Photo: AFP
Nationalists have also called for civil servants and public officials to have been trained in Corsican.  
Naturally there are some concerns about this from the French government, including the fact that it would limit access to positions in the civil service.
And the French state, which is highly centralised, considers French to be the only official language of France. 
Resident status for Corsicans 
The nationalists also want to create a resident status for people who have been living on the island for five years or more. 
The idea behind it is to stop real estate speculation by saying only those with permanent resident status would be able to own property. 
And Corsica Libera, a group which advocates full independence for Corsica, goes one step further, wanting the time period for securing permanent status to be ten years. 
The problem behind these demands is very real. 
In 2013, around 35 percent of dwellings in Haute-Corse were second homes and this went for 37.6 percent in Corse-du-Sud, according to France's national statistics agency INSEE. 
“The Corsicans are forced to leave Corsica, they leave without hope of return,” argued President of the Corsican Assembly Jean-Guy Talamoni at the time. 
However, the measure has been found to be unconstitutional by many legal experts as it creates discrimination in access to property. 
Photo: AFP
Inclusion in the French constitution
It might seem surprising but Corsica is not mentioned in the French constitution and, unsurprisingly, its nationalists would like to change that. 
Professor of constitutional law Wanda Mastor who hails from Corsica supports the inclusion of the island in the constitution and a new status for the community which would give it more autonomy without “hindering the principle of the indivisibility of the Republic”.
“It is unthinkable that Corsica is combined [with France] and has silent status,” she said, according to a report in Le Monde. 
And it isn't only Corsicans who believe the island deserves a place in the constitution. 
In 2013, lauded French constitutionalist Guy Carcassonnehe said: “It is indecent, illogical and insulting that Corsica is not mentioned in the supreme text.” 


‘Red lights’ as over-tourism threatens Corsican nature reserve

"It's nature's magical design," says a tourist guide, waxing poetic as he comments on the impressive red cliffs plunging into a turquoise sea at the Scandola nature reserve on France's Corsica island.

'Red lights' as over-tourism threatens Corsican nature reserve
A fisherman sails at sunrise off Ajaccio, Corsica. Photo: AFP

“Amazing!” exclaims Irena Snydrova, a Czech tourist visiting the UNESCO World Heritage site with her family, along with groups from Italy, Spain and France.

Their boat sidles up to the Steps of Paradise, rocks shaped into a stairway some 15 metres long, then glides on to Bad Luck Pass, a former pirates' redoubt.

The ages have sculpted the volcanic cliffs into myriad shapes that beguile the visitor, who might imagine a kissing couple here, a horse's head there, Napoleon's two-cornered hat further on…

The park, created in 1975, is an ecological dream, being a nature reserve and a protected marine zone that is listed by France's coastal protection agency and Natura 2000, in addition to its recognition by UNESCO.

It is a prime destination for the some three million people who visit Corsica each year, 75 percent of them in the summer.

The paradox is that growing numbers of tourists are drawn to Scandola's pristine waters and stunning geological vistas, endangering its fragile ecosystem.

The park, reached only by boat some 40 minutes from the tiny port of Porto,
stretches over 10 square kilometres of sea, and a somewhat smaller area of land.

“The reserve is a jewel for Corsica and the Mediterranean, but several red lights are flashing,” says marine biologist Charles-Francois Boudouresque, listing flora and fauna at risk, including ospreys, seagrass and fish species such as the brown meagre.

The tourist season coincides with the ospreys' mating season, notes Boudouresque, an emeritus professor at the Mediterranean Institute of Oceanography.

Because of over-tourism, ospreys' “reproductive success is zero or near zero, with either no chicks or just one chick” per year, he says.

Boudouresque, who also heads Scandola's scientific advisory council, says the osprey could become extinct in 50 years.

Since last month, at the urging of the scientific council, boats must keep a distance of at least 250 metres from ospreys' nests during the breeding season.

“It's a good start,” Boudouresque says.

As for the marine park's fish species, Boudouresque says he thinks the thrumming of the tourist boats is scaring them away.

But a crew member, who gave his name only as Diego, blamed groupers for the declining population of corb. “They eat everything,” he told AFP.

Tensions have arisen pitting tour boat operators and fishermen against the reserve's conservationist Jean-Marie Dominici.

Boudouresque says the seagrass “is not in the best shape,” blaming the anchors dropped by the many boats — some of them private vessels without authorised guides.

“It's bizarre for a nature reserve to see all these boats,” said Pierre Gilibert, a 65-year-old doctor, who is a regular visitor. “It might be wise to allow access only to professional boats.”

Many share the opinion that private boats are not sufficiently monitored or informed of ecological concerns.

“This morning we saw people climbing on the rocks and berthing their boats in narrow passageways, which is not allowed,” said Gabriel Pelcot, chief mechanic on a cruise ship of the Corsican company Nave Va.

Nave Va, as well as rival Via Mare, uses hybrid vessels: they are powered by diesel up to the edge of the marine park, then switch to electric for a quieter and less polluting presence.

Pelcot notes that this green option is 30 percent more expensive, but he expects it to catch on.

“We must find a compromise between the need for tourists to enjoy this natural treasure and that of not killing the goose that laid the golden egg,” Boudouresque says.

The marine biologist is optimistic that general awareness of the problems is growing.

He envisions ways to marry tourism with preservation. One example, he says, would be to focus cameras on ospreys' nests so that they can be observed without being disturbed.

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