Sarkozy Heralds New Approach Towards Pacific
By Oceania Flash in Paris
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has signalled a new approach from Paris towards its overseas departments, countries and territories – including those in the Pacific.
Speaking at the end of a special “cross-ministerial” meeting which itself resulted from eight months of public consultations, Sarkozy announced a series of some 137 measures aimed at providing a new basis in the relationship between metropolitan France and its overseas components.
Referring to the grave social and civil unrest that erupted earlier this year in the French Caribbean, especially in the overseas departments of Guadeloupe and Martinique, he said this prompted his government to “re-think the relationship between metropolitan France and its Overseas” in order to place it on level-playing field and “mutual trust” basis.
Some of the general measures include promoting locals to public service key positions, putting in place systems to better monitor the cost of living and more education and vocational training.
Sarkozy also deplored “the difficulties” French overseas countries and territories seemed to be facing to “insert themselves in their regional environment, which nevertheless bears strong potential”.
“It is quite astounding to see that, in order to enter French Polynesia when you live in one of the many surrounding (Pacific) Island States, one has to apply for a short term visa at the local French Consulate, when there is one.
“Let me remind you that French Polynesia is located 4000km from Auckland, 6000km from Los Angeles or Sydney. What are we afraid of? The risk of a massive illegal immigration is, you will agree, rather limited when the nearest border is located 4000km away! I am therefore announcing that, with effect on December 1 of this year, we will considerably soften the regime of some 130 visas, in order to facilitate the movement of persons with the concerned geographical zones”, the French Head of State told the audience.
Larger local role
He also hinted at a higher involvement French overseas local in French foreign affairs, because of their “specific knowledge of their direct environment”.
“Which diplomat can explain to (French) Polynesians … the way he thinks they should conduct their relationship with their neighbours without even listening to them first?”, the French President said.
“This relationship of defiance between metropolitan France and its Overseas, under the excuse that diplomacy would be too serious a matter to be left to those who live it on a daily basis, this is over…
“This is why I wish to allow our regional communities to take part in those international negotiations that concern them, and even to represent France, under mandate, in the regional cooperation organisations of their geographical zone”, he said.
New Caledonia’s wishes
Early October this year, Philippe Gomès, the President of the local government of New Caledonia, in his first speech in years before the United Nations decolonisation body in New York, said “Besides the voice of France, we also need to make our own voice heard in the region”.
“That is why my government has engaged the necessary steps so that New Caledonia becomes a full member of certain regional organisations, such as the Pacific Islands Forum and the Melanesian Spearhead Group (at which FLNKS sits), he announced.
“The government has also decided to increase bilateral cooperation with Melanesian countries in order to significantly reinforce New Caledonia’s actions in its region”.
Gomès recalled that on the regional front and following a process described as “regional integration”, New Caledonia has now become an “associate member” of the Pacific Islands Forum, but that it now intended to go further and initiate moves to request a full membership in the regional political organisation.
“Finally, as the Nouméa Accord allows, the government has decided to set up New Caledonian representations in the Pacific island countries. Initially, these antennaes could be hosted within the French embassies of the region, including in Vanuatu, in Fiji, in Papua New Guinea, in Australia and in New Zealand. With this view in mind, my government, in consultation with (France), will organise a specific training in order to prepare New Caledonians to take charge of their international relations”.
On European affairs (French Overseas Countries and Territories are classified as “OCTs” in their relationship with the European Development Fund [EDF]), The French President also announced a special OCT section would be set up within the French delegation at the EU.
More specifically on French Polynesia, Sarkozy also announced a team of historians would be appointed to study ways to include the former nuclear testing sites of Moruroa and Fangataufa into some kind of national remembrance and recognition sites.
The notion of “national pride”, which was mentioned in earlier drafts, was however dropped because it had triggered staunch opposition from local veterans associations.
Also, the position of full minister for Overseas has now been restored, two years later it was downgraded to a Secretary of State position.
As a result, the latest nominee at the post (in June), 50-year-old Marie-Luce Penchard, is now French minister for Overseas, under the French minister for Home Affairs and Local communities Brice Hortefeux.
Penchard (from the French Caribbean’s Guadeloupe) is also the first woman and the first OCT-origin person to hold the position, either as State Secretary of as full minister.
Source: Oceania Flash