Brittany, Alsace explore ways that could bring them closer to autonomy

Government bodies, parties in both territories seek to take advantage of talks between French and Corsican governments to advance their demands

Poster pasting for the autonomy of Alsace.
Poster pasting for the autonomy of Alsace. Author: Unser Land
The fact that the resumption of talks between the French state and Corsican institutions has opened up prospects for the adoption of a new statute for Corsica in 2024 has not gone unnoticed in other stateless nations of the Hexagon. In Brittany, autonomists have launched a campaign to ensure that a devolution proposal approved last year by the Regional Council is not shelved. Meanwhile, Alsace has launched a public consultation to define what model of decentralisation citizens want if Alsace regains its own regional government.

A motion without continuity in Brittany

As regards Brittany, it was striking that the Regional Council approved with a very large majority, including socialists and conservatives, in April 2022, a motion asking the French government to "initiate talks for the definition of a possible model of autonomy for Brittany, including a part of legislative and regulatory power". The vote was considered a victory for the main Breton autonomist party, the Breton Democratic Union (UDB), which has now launched a campaign to ensure that this request is not forgotten and to convince even more Bretons of the need for an autonomous system.

French regions have executive, but not legislative, powers. In the campaign, the UDB calls for legislative powers to be "shared" with the State in matters such as transport, housing, health, education, or language policy. The Breton party says the ultimate goal is to turn France into a federal state.

The parties of the Federation of Regions and Peoples in Solidarity (RP&S), which brings together a large part of the autonomist spectrum of France's stateless nations, have joined this call. In a webinar organized this week by RP&S, several leaders and spokespersons of the UDB itself, the Corsican Nation Party, Euskal Herria Bai and Unser Land (Alsace) insisted on the need to adapt the French Republic's architecture to the needs of each territory, through differentiated self-government agreements.

In Alsace, the road to regaining regional bodies

While in Corsica they negotiate with the State and in Brittany they aspire to do so, in Alsace the issue now focusing efforts is the recovery of their own regional government bodies that the German-speaking territory lost on January 1, 2016, when it was subsumed within a newly created region, the Grand Est. Since 2021 Alsace has its own government —the Collectivité Européenne d'Alsace (CEA)— but it is within the Grand Est. Both the Alsatian government and the citizens —92% of votes in favour in a non-binding referendum in 2023— prefer to leave the Grand Est and return to a separate region.

For Unser Land autonomists, this region should have legislative autonomy. This is also the opinion of some citizens who are taking part in the consultation that the CEA is organizing between April and July to ask them what they would like the Alsace region to be like if it were to eventually separate from the Grand Est. Participants respond to ideas such as devolution of powers, German-French bilingualism, or closer relations with other European regions.

French President Emmanuel Macron has tried to shake off the issue of Alsace's departure from the Grand Est, a few days after the CEA adopted a resolution, almost unanimously, in favour of the creation of an Alsace region with "a particular status". The CEA and Alsatian MPs think Macron's disinterest may not be definitive. They also think that, just as the French government has changed its mind and agreed to negotiate a Corsican statute, the same may happen with Alsace. Moreover, according to a report this February from La Dépêche du Midi, Macron would consider the possibility of dividing some regions into smaller ones. This could entail returning to the map before François Hollande's 2016 reform. And in this, Alsace could have a chance for rebirth. All this could be included in, or advance in parallel to, the constitutional reform that the French president wants to approve in 2024.

A "great public debate" also in Alsace

UDB spokeswoman Lydie Massard considers that the consultation underway in Alsace "clearly shows the way forward" in Brittany to define the contours and contents of the autonomy her party wants for the Atlantic nation. "We have not stopped calling for the organization of a major public debate with Bretons and Bretons" in this regard, says Massard. "And we hope that Loïg Chesnais-Girard, president of the Regional Council of Brittany, will take a proactive attitude." The campaign launched this week by the UDB is a way, too, of pressing him.