Macron has embarked on a trip to help determine the future course of New Caledonia, a resource-rich region in the South Pacific with a population of about 300,000 people.
Following a controversial vote in 2021, which determined that New Caledonia will remain a part of France, the region has remained tense, with growing frustration among pro-independence factions.
Macron, as the French president, reminded all parties of the critical importance of reaching an agreement on the archipelago’s future constitutional status.
He underlined that he was not involved in a negotiation process, which pro-independence groups have rejected, but rather aimed for “profound, sincere political exchange”.
The territory’s indigenous Kanak community, which largely supports independence, largely boycotted the referendum in December 2021, protesting the outcome in which 97 per cent voted in favour of being part of France, citing fears about the Covid-19 outbreak and calling for a delay.
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This position has heightened ethnic tensions, with the indigenous Kanak group, which is often economically disadvantaged, favouring independence while the richer white community remains loyal to France.
Three referendums on the question of independence have been held in the last five years, all of which have been defeated. The ballots in 2018 and 2020, however, were significantly closer, with anti-independence groups receiving between 53 and 57 per cent of the vote.
On his last day in the archipelago, the Head of State urged the local political players to accept the results of the previous referendums, which resulted in a “no” to independence.
“New Caledonia is French because it has chosen to remain French,” he insisted.
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In front of the Place de la Paix in New Caledonia’s capital, Emmanuel Macron urged all parties to accept these results, saying he wanted to be “the President of a new project […], that of New Caledonia in the Republic”.
He called on people not to pretend that the Nouméa process “did not exist”, because in his view it had made it possible to “move forward” and “consolidate a treasure”: “peace” in the archipelago.
After these three referendums, the time has come to acknowledge “the end of a political process”, said Emmanuel Macron. But “no one has really […] collectively prepared for what comes next”.
“There is a kind of suspended state in which we find ourselves”, and therefore “we are collectively faced with an immense responsibility”, he added.
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Emmanuel Macron expressed his wish to see a “revision of the Constitution” by “early 2024”, mentioning in particular a “new status” for the people of New Caledonia and the unfreezing of the electorate in the short term.
“I ask you to begin work to bring about full citizenship based on a social contract, made up of duties and rights,” he detailed, explaining that he wanted to implement this project in “the coming months” and “in a spirit of consensus”.
Union Calédonienne (UC), the main pro-independence force struck back the French leader’s comments and boycotted a meeting with Macron.
In a statement, UC said: “The political strategy of the colonial State that remains far removed from the unique trajectory pursued by the pro-independence movement aimed at achieving full sovereignty and independence for the Kanak country.”
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