Five things to know about the far-flung French territory of New Caledonia

Voters in the tiny Pacific island of New Caledonia are set to vote again on independence from France. Here's what is happening and how the island became French in the first place.

Five things to know about the far-flung French territory of New Caledonia
The Pacific coastline of New Caledonia. Photo: AFP

The French South Pacific territory of New Caledonia has been granted a third referendum on independence, with voters to decide on whether to break away from France’s control after almost 170 years.

1. It’s French but not part of France

France has five overseas départements – French Guiana in South America, Martinique and Gaudeloupe in the Caribbean and Réunion and Mayotte in the Indian Ocean. They are as much a part of France as Dodorgne or Paris and fall under the direct control of the French government. So when people tell you that France shares a border with Brazil, this is actually true because French Guiana borders Brazil.

As well as these départements d’Outre mer (overseas départements) France also has collectivité d’Outre mer (overseas collectives) which have more autonomy and can pass their own laws about domestic issues, but which fall under the control of Paris for issues like defence.

New Caledonia (Nouvelle-Calédonie) is a collectivité but has special status, negotiated in 1988, which gives it gradually increasing autonomy.

All these possessions outside ‘the Hexagon’ – as mainland France is known to distinguish it from the overseas départements – are the legacy of empire and French colonialism.

READ ALSO Confetti of an empire – a look at France’s overseas territories

2.  It looks like Scotland (apparently)

Home to some 269,000 people, New Caledonia is about 18,000km from mainland France – and 2,000km east of Australia.

It was seized by the French admiral Auguste Febvrier-Despointes in 1853, who declared that he wanted to assure his country of a “position in the Pacific.”

But New Caledonia’s name hails from the sailor who was the first European to spot it, British explorer Captain James Cook, who said that the island – with its UNESCO World Heritage Site coral reefs and lagoons – reminded him of Scotland.

It was initially used as a penal colony for convicts and political prisoners, and was declared an overseas territory of France in 1946.

3. It is ethnically mixed

The bulk of New Caledonia’s population is made up of indigenous Melanesians known locally as Kanaks (39 percent) and European inhabitants, known as Caldoches (27 percent).

There are also minorities from the relatively nearby Polynesia Pacific region, including Wallis and Futuna islanders, and smaller numbers of Tahitians, Indonesian and Vietnamese.

The indigenous population fell sharply in the late 19th century as European settlers brought with them new diseases such as smallpox and measles.

A growing part of the population now identifies as mixed-race or “Caledonian.” 

4. There is a long history of independence struggles

There has been a long history of ethnic tensions in New Caledonia, starting in 1878 when a Kanak insurgency over the rights of Kanaks in the mining industry left 200 Europeans and 600 rebels dead. Some 1,500 Kanaks were sent into exile.

Clashes between Kanaks and Caldoches in the 1980s culminated in a bloody attack and hostage-taking by Kanak separatists in 1988, when six police officers and 19 militants were killed on the island of Ouvea.

A landmark deal between France and opponents and supporters of independence followed in 1988, giving the islands more autonomy and allowing referendums over independence.

In the referendum in 2018, 57 percent voted to remain part of France; in the second, in October 2020, that decreased to 53 percent. There will be a third vote held before October 2022.

5. It has a lot of nickel

New Caledonia boasts a quarter of the world’s known reserves of nickel, a core component in the manufacture of stainless steel, rechargeable batteries and coins.

Nickel is, along with aid from the French state, the island’s largest source of income, making up 7 percent of GDP in 2018, though in some years the figure can reach 20 percent depending on market prices.

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Revealed: France’s funniest politicians and their best ‘jokes’

Politicians' jokes are more usually met with a groan than a laugh, but France's annual prize for political humour has been awarded - here are the zingers judged the best in 2022.

Revealed: France's funniest politicians and their best 'jokes'

According to the jury on the Press club, Humour et Politique awards, the funniest politician in France is the Communist leader (and 2022 presidential candidate) Fabien Roussel.

His award-winning zinger is: “La station d’essence est le seul endroit en France où celui qui tient le pistolet est aussi celui qui se fait braquer.”

It translates as ‘the petrol station is the only place where the one holding the gun is also the one who is robbed’ – a joke that works much better in French where ‘pistolet’ means both a pistol and the petrol pump. 

On a side note for British readers – Roussel also looks quite a lot like left-wing UK comedian Stewart Lee, so maybe he has funny genes.

Second prize went to ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy with his withering assessment of Valérie Pécresse, the candidate for his old party in the 2022 presidential election, who did extremely badly.

“Ce n’est pas parce que tu achètes de la peinture, une toile et des pinceaux que tu deviens Picasso. Valérie Pécresse, elle a pris mes idées, mon programme et elle a fait 4.8 pourcent”

“It’s not because one buys paints, canvas and brushes that you become Picasso. Valérie Pécresse, she took my ideas, my manifesto and she got 4.8 percent of the vote.”

While these two were jokes – in the loosest sense of the word – the prize can also be awarded to politicians who make people laugh inadvertently, such as last year’s winner Marlène Schiappa who, when announcing plans to ban polygamy, felt the need to tell the French, “On ne va pas s’interdire les plans à trois” – we’re not going to outlaw threesomes.

Here’s the full list of finalists for the funniest political joke of 2022 – somehow we don’t think you’re at risk of split sides with any of these.

Ex-Prime minister Edouard Philippe talking about hard-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon: “Il faut une certaine audace pour que quelqu’un qui a été battu à une élection où il était candidat puisse penser qu’il sera élu à une élection où il n’est pas candidat!”

“It takes a certain audacity for someone who was defeated in an election where he was a candidate to think that he will be elected in an election where he is not a candidate!”

Ex-Assemblée nationale president Richard Ferrand: “Elisabeth Borne est formidable mais personne ne le sait.”

“Elisabeth Borne is great but no-one knows it.”

Ex-Macronist MP Thierry Solère: “Mon anatomie fait que si j’ai le cul entre deux chaises, je suis parfaitement assis.”

“My anatomy means that if I have my ass between two chairs, I am perfectly seated.”

Some information that might be useful for this one – the French phrase avoir le cul entre deux chaises (to have your ass between two chairs) is the equivalent of the English ‘falling between two stools’ – ie a person who cannot make up their mind what or who to support. Further information; Solère is a largish bloke.

Hard-left MP Eric Coquerel: “S’imaginer qu’on va remplacer Jean-Luc Mélenchon comme ça, c’est une vue de l’esprit. C’est comme se poser la question de qui va remplacer Jaurès.”

“To imagine that we will replace [party leader] Jean-Luc Mélenchon like that, is purely theoretical. It is like asking the question of who will replace Jaurès.”

Jean Jaurès is a revered figure on the French left, but not currently very active in politics, since he was assassinated in 1914.

Rachida Dati to Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo: “Votre présence au Conseil de Paris est aussi anecdotique que votre score à la présidentielle.”

“Your presence at the Council of Paris is as anecdotal as your score in the presidential election.”

There’s no doubt that Hidalgo did humiliatingly badly in the presidential election with a score of 1.75 percent. Daiti didn’t stand in the presidential elections but she did put herself forward to be mayor of Paris in 2020 and was convincingly beaten by . . . Anne Hidalgo.

So that’s the ‘jokes’, but there were also some entries for inadvertently funny moments.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo: “Tous les matins, je me lève en me disant que tout le monde m’aime.”

“Every morning, I wake up and tell myself that everyone loves me.”

But the undisputed queen of this genre is the green MP Sandrine Rousseau, whose ideas and policy announcements seem to have provoked a great deal of mirth.

Je voudrais qu’il y ait une possibilité de délit de non-partage des tâches domestiques – I would like there to be the possibility of a crime of not equally sharing domestic tasks

Les SDF meurent plus de chaleur l’été que l’hiver – The homeless die from heat more in the summer than the winter

Il faut changer aussi de mentalité pour que manger une entrecôte cuite sur un barbecue ne soit plus un symbole de virilité – We must also change our mentality so that eating a steak cooked on a barbecue is no longer a symbol of virility.

If you prefer your humour a little more scientific, Phd researcher Théo Delemazure has done a study of which politicians and political parties are funniest when speaking in parliament.

He analysed how often speeches raise a smile or a laugh (which presumably includes sarcastic laughter) and concluded that the party that gets the most laughs is the hard-left La France Insoumise.

They are also the party that speaks most often, however, when he calculated the laughter rate per time spent speaking, the prize went to the centre-right Les Républicains.