French President Emmanuel Macron visited the island of Corsica to address calls for greater autonomy on February 6. In the wake of the Catalan independence movement in Spain, the Corsican regional government put forward a list of demands to the government in Paris.
Reuters reports that in December, the two-party nationalist alliance “For Corsica” won a nearly two-thirds majority in the Corsican regional assembly. Party leaders demanded special autonomous status for Corsica in the French constitution, equal status for the French and Corsican languages on the island, and amnesty for jailed Corsican independence fighters.
In response, President Macron, who hinted in his campaign that he would be open to recognizing the distinct nature of Corsica, finally visited the island. However, according to The Times, he rejected the government’s calls for recognition as a nation, saying that the island was dependent on the mainland and would remain part of the “unwavering” French Republic. However, he promised to try to give Corsica “the future it aspires to, without giving in to demands that would take it out of the Republican fold”.
As reported by France 24, Macron then attended a ceremony that paid tribute to Claude Erignac, the French prefect to Corsica who was assassinated 20 years ago by pro-independence militant groups. At the ceremony, Macron commented that Corsica had been “tainted” by the crime and that “justice was delivered and will be followed, without complacency, without forgetting, without amnesty.”
The tense visit was the latest chapter in a long history of the complicated relationship between France and the mountainous island of 330,000 people. Genoa ceded the island to France in 1768, and the famous leader Napoleon Bonaparte originally hailed from the island. The island received little autonomy and was often neglected by the central government in Paris. This marginalization led to the formation of a separatist group in the 20th century called the National Liberation Front of Corsica, which began to destroy police stations and mansions owned by mainlanders in a violent campaign that lasted 40 years. In 2014, the group signed a ceasefire, but the island is still very divided.
Corsica is unlike the large, wealthy separatist regions of Catalonia and Scotland. As of now, the Corsican government is calling for greater autonomy rather than independence. Within the ruling coalition, the moderate and autonomist Femu party is larger than the separatist Corsica Libera party. Still, Femu party leader Gilles Simeoni warned that Macron risked violence if he did not take the democratic will of the people seriously.
According to Reuters, despite these warnings, Macron offered symbolic recognition in the constitution for Corsica during his last speech before departing the island but no special status for the language or amnesty for independence fighters. He ended his speech by saying that “Corsica is at the heart of the French Republic.”