State ‘must now take Corsicans seriously’

Corsicans feel action needs to be taken following their vote for autonomy

Corsican nationalists are hoping the French government will finally take seriously their demands for autonomy after they won an absolute majority of 56.5% in elections for a new unitary authority for the island.

The elections were won by Pè a Corsica, led by autonomist Gilles Simeoni and independentist Jean-Guy Talamoni, who previously united for local elections in 2015 when they won a relative majority of 35%.

Under new arrangements, which include uniting the two Corsican departments into one, Mr Simeoni retains the job of president of the executive council, Corsica’s ‘mini government’.

His father Edmond, one of the founders of Corsican nationalism, said the ‘strength and unity’ of their recent success built on years of momentum.

He said: “We have always known the Corsican people had the resources to liberate themselves from colonial control.

“Without that we wouldn’t have been able to mount this struggle for over 60 years, with all the risks and repression.

“Things have accelerated since 2010 when we won the town hall of Bastia and then the Corsican Assembly [in 2015] and recently three out of four constituencies in the parliamentary elections. Finally Gilles also became president of the commission des îles [representing Europe’s islands].

“We have won the right to put our point across with strength at national level in the mainland and at European level.

“The Corsican people have the right to exist, to be free, and now Paris can no longer put things off again before starting a real dialogue on a political issue which let’s not forget has resulted in more than 10,000 attacks and hundreds of deaths.”

Dr Simeoni said the new unitary status in itself would not change anything. “Several times over the last 40 years the state has tried to gain time by creating timid, insufficient new statuses.

“The solution is to enshrine in the French Consti­tution that Corsica has a special status and is a specific people, and to allow us control over those areas that do not have to depend directly on the central state – that’s to say foreign affairs, national defence, money…This would give us the legislative, executive, administrative and financial means to have an autonomous status within the French Republic and the EU.”

He said that should include financial autonomy through taxation, perhaps from retaining the revenue from VAT.

The nationalists also want political prisoners to be freed and for amnesties to be granted, and for Corsican to be an official language alongside French.

Dr Simeoni said so far President Macron had shown “no will to move things on”.

“However since the elections the prime minister has said he will receive our leaders with a view to examining the Corsican question at the start of 2018.

“We know solidarity exists for us in Europe and we want to move along on the path to autonomy with a clear calendar.

“If they continue to use delaying tactics the situation will become more and more radical.”

Nationalists expect autonomy would be preceded by a France-wide referendum, he added.