From Paoli to Simeoni: Corsica's milestones in its way to self-government

Pasquale Paoli, portrait by Richard Cosway.
Pasquale Paoli, portrait by Richard Cosway.
HISTORY. The new Corsican executive, led by Gilles Simeoni, has set increased autonomy for Corsica as one of its main goals for the coming years. Simeoni's pro-autonomy alliance will be demanding that law-making powers be devolved to the island's assembly. By now, only the French National Assembly is vested with legislative capacity. However, this will not be the first time that Corsica seeks a way towards self-government. Let's review some highlights in the Corsican way to autonomy, from the 18th century to the present.

1755. Pasquale Paoli's Corsican Republic

For many Corsican nationalists, Pasquale Paoli is the founding father of the modern Corsican nation. Born when the island was still under Genoese domination, this Enlightened leader proclaimed the independence of the Republic of Corsica in 1755, giving it a modern Constitution. In 1768 the Genoese -who no longer had effective control over the island, but were still considered its legitimate owners- sold Corsica to France. The French invaded the island, to completely control it just one year later. Paoli went into exile.

1794. The second attempt: the Anglo-Corsican kingdom

Revolutionary France allowed the return of exiles, including Paoli, who was received with honours. Paoli was even elected chairman of the Departmental Directory of Corsica, but later on the French revolutionaries distanced themselves from him. In 1794, Paoli reached an agreement with the United Kingdom -then at war with France- to turn the island into an Anglo-Corsican kingdom under British protection. In 1796, however, the British forces withdrew, and Corsica returned to French rule. This marked the beginning of a two-centuries long period in which Corsica was left with no political body of its own, being subsumed in the process of creation of the modern French nation-state.

1982. The first statute

Along the 1950s, timid attempts to introduce a measure of decentralization in the French Republic had begun. This policy ultimately resulted in the adoption by the French National Assembly of the first statute of Corsica in 1982, also known as the Deferre Statute. For the first time a Corsican representative assembly, elected by universal suffrage and mostly vested with executive powers, was created. However, prefects, directly appointed from Paris, continued to maintain overall control of political activity. But the creation of an assembly constituted, even if only symbolically, a milestone. The assembly members seized the opportunity given by the new status to pass a resolution in 1988 that affirmed the existence of "the Corsican people," to French nationalist outrage.

1991. The territorial collectivity

The deepening of the decentralization process opened the door for the adoption of a second, rekindled Corsican statute in 1991, which defined the island as a territorial collectivity with expanded executive competencies, but still with no law-making powers. This is essentially the status that Corsica has continued to have until today. In all subsequent elections to the Corsican Assembly, the Corsican national parties have won seats ever since.

2002. The Matignon process and law-making powers

In 1999, then-French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin launched the so-called Matignon Process. Negotiations on the island's institutional future between Corsican Assembly elected members and the French government began. The process aimed at granting a sort of law-making power to the Corsican Assembly -in fact, it was more about a proposal to allow the island's assembly to adjust French law to local specificities. The French Constitutional Court, however, ruled that the proposal violated the Constitution, and therefore it was deleted from the 2002 Corsica law, which however did transfer some powers to the island.

2013-today. In search of a new statute

In a landmark decision, the Corsican Assembly asked Paris in September 2013 to change the island's status within the French Republic in order to ensure increased autonomy, an official status for the Corsican language, and the creation of a resident status for islanders. The demands were supported by Corsican nationalists, but also by a good number of members of the all-French parties in Corsica -46 seats out of 51. The French government refused. But with an expected merger of the current Assembly of Corsica with the two departments of Haute-Corse and Corse-du-Sud due for 2017, pro-autonomy politicians believe this could be yet another opportunity to negotiate an enhanced status for Corsica, especially taking into account the boost for those demands after the victory of the Corsican national parties in the 13 December election.