Alsatian movement appeals to European institutions to avoid merger into Eastern macro-region

Alsaciens Réunis group asks help from European Parliament and Council of Europe, wants referendum to be held · Thousands rally in Strasbourg against merger of Alsace with Lorraine and Champagne-Ardenne

Thousands of Alsatians who are opposed to the merger of their country into France's new Eastern macro-region rallied on Saturday in Strasbourg, as signatures were delivered to the European institutions asking them to get involved in the conflict. Some 1,600 (according to the police) to 8,000 protesters (organizers' count) gathered in front of the headquarters of the European Parliament in the Alsatian capital.

During the previous weeks, other Alsatian towns had hosted similar protests.

Protesters reject the new map of the regions as passed by the French National Assembly. According to it, Alsace will be merged with neighbouring Lorraine and Champagne-Ardenne into a large Eastern macro-region, from Strasbourg to the region of French capital Paris (see map).

The merger is also being rejected by the Regional Council of Alsace and the general councils of Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin. The president of the latter, Charles Buttner, has called mayors to sound alarms and horns tomorrow as a sign of protest against the merger.

The creation of the new macro-region implies that the Regional Council of Alsace is going to disappear. This will leave the 1.85 million Alsatians as a minority within a new jurisdiction of 5.5 million people. This will also close the doors to the creation of an Alsatian territorial collectivity that could be devolved some new powers from Paris.

An appeal to Europe

At the end of the demonstration, the Alsaciens Réunis group delivered Alsatian MEP Anne Sander (EPP-UMP) a list of 15,500 signatures calling for a referendum on the merger. Alsaciens Réunis also said the signatures will be sent to the Council of Europe.

The group believes Article 5 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, which was ratified by France, supports their stance. The article says that "changes in local authority boundaries" should be based on prior consultation with "local communities concerned," "possibly by means of a referendum where this is permitted by statute."

Buttner said he will forward Alsaciens Réunis's proposal by introducing a motion to the General Council of Alsace to hold "a referendum or consultation" in order to know the Alsatians' opinion on the merger. However, calling such a vote depends on the will of the French government and President.