Corsican nationalists win absolute majority, call on French government to negotiate autonomy

Pè a Corsica alliance gets 56% of votes in best result ever for Corsican party

Simeoni, Talamoni celebrate election success, 10 December.
Simeoni, Talamoni celebrate election success, 10 December. Author: Pè a Corsica
Corsican nationalist alliance Pè a Corsica is set to form a new government in the Mediterranean island after it won, 10 December, an absolute majority in the second round of the Corsican Assembly election. The alliance, made up of pro-autonomy Femu a Corsica and pro-independence Corsica Libera, swept elections by achieving 56.5% of the votes cast, which translated into 41 of 63 seats in play. It is a historical result for the Corsican movement. The winning alliance called on the French government to negotiate a Statute of Autonomy for the island.

The remaining 22 seats were distributed as follows: a regionalist, right-wing list led by Jean-Martin Mondoloni got 10 seats with 18.3% of the votes, a centrist list led by Jean-Charles Orsucci and supported by French president Emmanuel Macron’s LREM won 6 seats, with 12.7% of the votes, and finally Valérie Bozzi’s conservative list (Les Républicains) won another 6 seats, with 12.6% of the votes.

The Pè a Corsica list is led by current Corsican president and Femu a Corsica leader Gilles Simeoni, who in all likelihood will be re-elected to the post. Number 2 of the list was Corsica Libera pro-independence leader Jean-Guy Talamoni, who is the current chairman of the Corsican Assembly.

Lawyer Simeoni has been a member of Corsican pro-autonomy parties since he was young. He was the mayor of Bastia from 2014 to 2016. Simeoni is the son of historic Corsican nationalist leader Edmond Simeoni.

Why is the result historic?

Because Corsican nationalists had never won an absolute majority in the Corsican Assembly, neither in votes nor in seats. Their best result to date was their success in the 2015 Corsican election, when the Pè a Corsica alliance was formed for the first time ever, winning 35% of the votes and capturing 24 of 51 seats in the island’s Assembly.

It is the first time in a row that Corsican nationalists win an election, after their victory in the June 2017 French legislative vote.

The real dimension of their 56% vote can be easily understood if it is compared with landmark results of political parties in other stateless nations. In Catalonia, the 2015 election —which triggered the 2017 independence vote— had pro-independence parties (Together for Yes and CUP) winning some 48% of the votes. In Scotland, the 2011 election —which opened the door of the 2014 independence referendum— had the SNP capturing little more than 45% of the votes. While in Quebec, the Parti Québecois polled slightly below 45% in the 1994 election that supported the call for a second self-determination referendum.

A stronger Corsican government

This election was also historic as for the first time ever a single government authority —the so-called Collectivity of Corsica— will merge the powers of three different bodies, namely the current Corsican Territorial Collectivity, the department of Haute Corse and the department of Corse-du-Sud.

It is noteworthy, however, that the new Collectivity of Corsica will not be devolved further powers from the French government, but it will merely bring together the powers of the three previous authorities in the island.

This merger system will be introduced for the first time ever in metropolitan France. Since 2011 is has been implemented in Mayotte, and since 2015 in Guiana and Martinica.

What does the Pè a Corsica manifesto say?

The alliance has run under the commitments contained in its Strategic Agreement, which was unveiled in September. The ten-point document calls for a Corsican Statute of Autonomy to be passed within 3 years and deployed within a decade. The Statute, the document says, should turn the island’s Assembly into a law-making house —except for powers reserved to the central government— and should grant the island fiscal powers —the Pè a Corsica proposal wants VAT, income tax and corporate income tax be devolved to Corsican institutions.

The new Statute, the document goes on, should open the door to the establishment of a resident status —a kind of Corsican citizenship— and to official status for Corsican, alongside French.

“This autonomy,” the document explains, “differs from statutes without content or substance” currently in force in metropolitan France, and will be linked “to the principle of self-determination, which is nothing but the recognized right of the people to freely and democratically decide their essential choices.”

So what’s next?

The proposal says that “Corsicans who vote for Pè a Corsica will validate” the goal of legislative and fiscal autonomy. The new Corsican cabinet will therefore consider that it has a democratic mandate to negotiate an autonomy deal with the French government.

So far, Paris has not sent any signal that it is ready to grant Corsica law-making powers. To make that possible, the French Constitution should be amended.

It is true, however, that while he was still a presidential candidate, Emmanuel Macron admitted the possibility of “a new Girondin pact” —a term opposed to “Jacobin”, which evokes uniforming centralism— “within one indivisible Republic that has [nonetheless] always been plural.” Still, Macron at that time rejected official status for Corsican.

On paper, territorial legislative autonomy is a possibility in France. So far, it has only been recognized to non-European territories, such as New Caledonia, but a constitutional amendment could also make it possible for Corsica.