Corsican voters lend overwhelming support to parties demanding autonomy status

Corsican nationalist parties receive more than 2/3 of votes in island’s Assembly election · Breton autonomist party makes it into Regional Council after 5 years’ absence

Gilles Simeoni, at an election campaign meeting.
Gilles Simeoni, at an election campaign meeting. Author: Fà Populu Inseme
Corsican voters yesterday gave massive support to parties calling in the short term for a statute of autonomy with legislative powers for the Mediterranean island and for co-official status for the Corsican language. Three Corsican nationalist lists obtained 68% of the votes in the second round of the Corsican Assembly election, thus getting their best combined result of all times. Gilles Simeoni will be re-elected president.

Simeoni’s Femu a Corsica party (pro-autonomy), won 40.6% of the votes under the Fà Populu Inseme electoral name. Thanks to a majority bonus system, this will translate into an absolute majority in the Assembly, with 32 seats out of 63.

Second placed was Laurent Marcangeli’s French conservative alliance, with 32% of the votes and 17 seats. An alliance of the Party of the Corsican Nation (PNC, pro-autonomy) and Corsica Libera (pro-independence), with 15.1% of the vote and 8 seats, took the third place. Pro-independence Core in Fronte, with 12.3% of the vote and 6 seats, became the fourth largest. No French left-wing party will have seats in the Assembly.

Yesterday’s election left two big winners in the Corsican nationalist camp. On the one hand, Gilles Simeoni, who has been rewarded for his decision no to repeat an alliance with the PNC and Corsica Libera —in 2017, the three blocs had run together under the Pè a Corsica label. On the other, Jean-Félix Benedetti, leader of Core in Fronte, which has become the largest pro-independence party in the Assembly, ahead of Jean-Guy Talamoni’s Corsica Libera.

All three lists were running for election under a proposal to negotiate a statute of autonomy for Corsica that would allow the Corsican Assembly to pass its own laws for the island. Simeoni called on the other two nationalist candidates, as well as other Corsican organisations, to create a “platform as big as possible” so that the upcoming term will be the one of the “concretion” of a “political solution with the [French] state” and of the “collective project” of the Corsican people.

Simeoni’s government already came out of the polls in 2017 with such a mandate. However, French President Emmanuel Macron was quick to reject legislative autonomy for Corsica, official status for Corsican, or the creation of a resident’s status. Macron ended up offering Corsicans a much reduced status that would have allowed the Corsican Assembly to adapt certain French laws to island’s politics, however without law-making powers.

Regional and departmental elections

At the same time as Corsica, the second round of regional and departmental elections have taken place in the rest of the French Republic. A week ago we told you about the highlights of the first round (20 June), always paying attention to parties of stateless nations. Today, first of all we will be reviewing some of the main results of several regional elections and, secondly, we will talk about three departmental elections —those of Alsace, the Basque Country and Catalonia— where all candidates have run in the so-called binomes, i.e. a duo or ticket of candidates made up by a woman and a man, in order to ensure that the resulting departmental council has parity of representation.

Brittany: UDB back to the Council with 4 seats

To begin with the regional elections, we are heading to Brittany, where the list of incumbent socialist president Loïg Chesnais-Girard has received the most votes. However, Chesnais-Girard has lost the absolute majority, as his list has captured 40 seats out of 83. Paul Molac, a historic activist for the Breton language and culture and driving force behind the so-called Molac Law, has been elected in Chesnais-Girard’s ranks.

The Breton Democratic Union (UDB, pro-autonomy centre-left) will have 4 seats in the Regional Council (Gael Briand, Nil Caouissin, Ana Sohier, and Kristian Guyonvarc’h), obtained within the ecologist alliance Bretagne de Porvenir, which has won 12 seats in total. The UDB thus repeats its best result, in 2010, when it also won 4 seats. In 2015, the party ran under an alliance with another Breton party and was left out of the Council.

The Breton Council will be completed by Les Républicains (French conservatives, 14 seats), Nous La Bretagne (an alliance ranging from the centre-right to the centre-left including Macron’s LREM, 9 seats) and the National Rally (far-right, 8 seats).

One of the most prominent campaign proposals of the alliance of ecologists and autonomists has been to create a resident’s status in Brittany. An idea that, as mentioned above, Corsican nationalists have been floating for years. Its aim is to curb the rise in house prices on the coast and the proliferation of second homes. All other parties have rejected the proposal.

Candidate of new left-wing movement wins in Guiana

An alliance of French left-wing and Guianese regionalist, autonomist and pro-independence parties has won the absolute majority in the Guiana Assembly. Gabriel Serville, founder and leader of regionalist Peyi Guyane movement, is set to become the new Guianese president.

Serville recently said that it is necessary to “open the debate on the autonomy” of Guiana. In December 2020, speaking to the French National Assembly, he warned that the South American country “cannot be administered” as a metropolitan department, thus a “new relationship” must be built between Cayenne and Paris.

Guiana has been for some years debating on the evolution of its status as a part of the French Republic. Guianese autonomists seek a statute that, in accordance with Article 74 of the Constitution, would allow the Guianese Assembly to adopt the so-called lois de pays, which are legal norms that are different from those in the rest of France, as is already the case with other French overseas territories such as New Caledonia or Polynesia. In January 2020, the Guianese elected representatives passed a request for a “sui generis status”, to be negotiated with Paris, with little concretion. It will now be up to Serville to lead this uncertain process.

Pro-autonomy party back to government in Martinique

Pro-autonomy candidate and former Martinique president (2010-2015) Serge Letchimy has won the election in the Caribbean island. Letchimy, the candidate of the Parti Progressiste Martiniquais (PPM), defeated outgoing president Alfred Marie-Jeanne, leader of the Mouvement Indépendantiste Martiniquais (MIM), which, despite its name, does not currently espouse any secessionist programme.

Letchimy revived in 2017 the PPM’s historic autonomist demands, which the party had frozen since 1981. However, the question of autonomy has not featured prominently in the election campaign. The debate on the evolution of the island’s status is at a less advanced stage than in Guiana.

Grand Est: proponent of region’s unity secures victory

The birth of the Grand Est region —the merger of Alsace, Lorraine, and Champagne-Ardenne— was controversial from the outset, as some Alsatians and Lorrainers did not want to see their regions disappear. That unease eventually led to the revival of an Alsatian institution (the European Collectivity of Alsace, with a status more or less similar to that of a department), but still within the Grand Est region.

One of the main champions of the Grand Est unity, its current president Jean Rottner, yesterday won the regional election with 40% of the votes (37% in Alsace), which secured him an absolute majority of seats. Centrist candidate Brigitte Klinkert, who enjoyed the support of Alsatian autonomist party Unser Land and had promised a referendum on the region’s boundaries —thus possibly opening the door to the separation of Alsace—, was left with 12% of the votes (20% in Alsace).

No seats for Occitanist parties

To close our review of the regional elections, no Occitanist party won any seats in any of the four regions into which Occitania is divided. Nor did the green list Occitania and the Catalan Country Naturally —which was supported by Catalan autonomist parties Catalan Unity and Yes to the Catalan Country— as it did not even qualify for the second round of the regional election. Still, it should be recalled that, in the first round, the Occitan Party (POC) in Provence won 2.2% of the vote, a relatively good result if compared with the usual figures of Occitan nationalist candidates.

Departmental elections: in Basque Country, two abertzale representatives elected to Council

We begin our review of the departmental elections. Basque nationalist (abertzale) left-wing party Euskal Herria Bai yesterday confirmed its upsurge in the first round by winning two seats (the binome made up by Iker Elizalde and Annie Poveda) at the Departmental Council of the Pyrenées-Atlantiques. The Council, which has authority over the historic territories of the Northern Basque Country and Bearn, will have a large majority of the centre-right alliance, which has won in all the Basque constituencies —except for Elizalde and Poveda’s— as well as in some of Bearn.

Alsace: no Unser Land councillors

The autonomist binome made up of Marie-Christine Huber-Braun and Jean-Denis Zoellé (Unser Land) had qualified for the second round of the Sankt Ludwig (Saint-Louis) constituency in the election to the European Collectivity of Alsace. Unser Land candidates, however, lost to the French conservative ticket, so the autonomist party will have no members in a Council where right-wing and centre-right parties have won 80% of the seats.

Left-wing majority in Northern Catalonia

In Northern Catalonia, left-wing parties (including socialists, communists, and greens) have won a majority in the Pyrénées-Orientales Departmental Council, where no representatives of any Catalan party will seat. However, the re-election of Catalanist-oriented communist candidate Nicolas Garcia, former mayor of Elna, is noteworthy. The current president of the Council, Hermeline Malherbe (Socialist Party), is expected to remain in office.