Pro-independence Kanak delegation to attend talks with French government on New Caledonia’s future

FLNKS had boycotted last meeting · Pro-independence party insists on framing process in colonial context, demands full sovereignty

Flag of New Caledonia.
Flag of New Caledonia. Author: FLNKS
The Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) has announced that it will attend the meetings convened between 7 and 15 April in Paris on the institutional future of the French-administered Pacific Ocean territory. The decision marks a shift in the stance of New Caledonia’s main pro-independence force, which last October boycotted another meeting at which the French government declared the “process of defining a project for New Caledonia” to have begun.

In a statement, the Kanak Front’s Enlarged Political Bureau said it agreed “with the framework and the method” proposed by Paris for continuing talks on the country’s future, but not with the timetable. French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne said last year that a new draft status should be defined by mid-2023.

In its document, the FLNKS stresses two aspects. On the one hand, it insists on New Caledonia’s colonial status, recalls that the December 2021 referendum —boycotted by the pro-independence movement— only “accentuated” such a “dispute,” and says that, from its point of view, the process underway should bring the territory closer to “access to full sovereignty.” On the other hand, the party points out that the frozen electoral corps should not be changed, and warns that doing so could jeopardise peace in New Caledonia.

The issue of the frozen electoral body is one of the main bones of contention in the Pacific Ocean country. Three electoral lists coexist: a general one for the French, European, and municipal elections; a more restricted one for the provincial elections; and finally another, also restricted, for the three (already held) independence referendums. Unionists want to remove restrictions on the bodies for the provincial elections and referendums. Those restrictions favour a certain balance between unionist and pro-independence voters, because they exclude part of the population that arrived more recently from France. Independence supporters oppose these changes, as they argue that the decolonisation process is not complete.

Focusing on colonialism

According to Pascal Sawa, first secretary general of the Caledonian Union, one of the main components of the FLNKS, the “dispute” with the French state is the first issue to be addressed, both in terms of “colonial” status and the question of the December 2021 referendum. “There has been a profound humiliation,” says Sawa, who recalls that it is not possible to act now as if nothing happened two years ago. The independence supporters refer to France holding that referendum despite the fact that the Kanak people, in the midst of the wave of deaths caused by the covid pandemic, wanted to complete a long and complex mourning process, rooted in the country’s culture, which prevented their normal participation in the vote.

Once this is addressed, according to Sawa, the discussion should focus on how to “constructively exit” from the Nouméa Accord to “build” another framework “that suits the Caledonian people.” The 1998 Nouméa Accord made possible the establishment of autonomy in New Caledonia and the holding of three independence referendums, the last being the controversial vote in December 2021.

The French government and New Caledonian unionist parties want to replace the Nouméa framework with a new status that would anchor the territory to France and establish a final political settlement. The Kanak parties, on the other hand, want to see the definition of a path towards full independence. They would also like to see a procedure for France to devolve to New Caledonia powers that Paris has so far reserved for itself.

French President Emmanuel Macron is seeking to include some agreement on New Caledonia in the constitutional reform he wants to approve in 2024.