FRANCE IN THE PACIFIC

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Evolution and Perspectives

HIS EXCELLENCY Mr. Pierre Garrigue-Guyonnaud Ambassador, Secretary for Pacific Affairs FRANCE

Presented At East-West Center Honolulu, Hawaii September 13, 1999

I’m delighted to be here not only as the French Secretary for Pacific affairs but as a longstanding friend and a regular visitor of Hawaii. I want to thank our charming and efficient consul Mrs. Patricia LEE for having made possible this friendly gathering and, of course, our hosts, the East-West Center and the University of Hawaii for the hospitality and courtesies that I have received.

I came into my current position as Secretary for Pacific affairs with a clear mission: expand through our overseas States and Territories (New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna) our engagement with the Pacific Island Nations and the Pacific Rim Countries.

Before starting, I would like to express my appreciation to speak in such a friendly, frank and open atmosphere that, once more, demonstrates "the Pacific spirit" we cherish.

The Pacific is above all the biggest ocean in the world, covering 176 million square kilometres, which is 300 times the surface of France. It contains over half of all the ocean water on Earth. It is a place for adventurers, and was for many years left to the whalers, the sandalwood traders and the excesses of beachcombers.

When the European navigators like the Englishman James Cook, the Dutchman Tasman, and the Frenchmen Bougainville and La Pérouse "discovered" the waters and lands of the Pacific, in the wake of the Spaniard Balboa in 1513 and the navigation of the "Great Ocean" by the Portuguese Magellan in 1520-1521, they found that men had already settled there.

With its thousands of islands scattered over its vast surface, forming three main geographical and social groups - Micronesia, the group of tiniest islands, Melanesia, the islands of mixed blood groups, and Polynesia, the islands of the multitude, the Pacific had for hundreds of years been a place where people circulated and migrated. In the Pacific, the immense distances are not incompatible with neighborliness: on the contrary, they are simply its special feature.

The migrations, which began several tens of thousands of years ago, contributed to the populating of the insular continent of Oceania, building up the dense trading network for goods and cultural objects between islands, some of which, still in existence today, bear witness to this singular civilisation.

The contact between these primeval societies, characterised by the natural state of their peoples, and the explorers from, in the words of French writer Michel Butor, "the other side of the other end of the world, upside down," was not always cheerful and constructive, insofar as the Europeans’ interest in the Pacific was not just scientific, geographical, religious or ethnographic.

The European wish to expand throughout the known world began with Magellan’s transnavigation, and grew with the exploration of America, Asia and Africa. It reached its climax in Oceania as early as the end of the eighteenth century, and above all, in the nineteenth. Colonial domination grew at the same pace as the rivalry and competition between the ruling countries of the time: Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, France and the United States.

France’s sovereignty, as of the middle of the nineteenth century, was exercised over the three territories, which to this day, have remained under the rule of the French Republic. In Tahiti, French dominion was, at the request of Queen Pomaré, in the form of a protectorate instituted in 1842. A similar protectorate was created in Wallis and Futuna, at the request of the Kings of Alo, Sigave and Wallis, in 1887. In New Caledonia, possession was taken on September 24, 1853.

Initially, these archipelagos were organised into French Oceanian Establishments, under the authority of a governor answering directly to Paris. New Caledonia came under the French wing of its own accord, before two distinct establishments were set up in 1860. The first statute on the "government of New Caledonia" came into force in 1874, and remained so in part until 1976.

Even if it creates a trading counter or, as France did in New Caledonia, fosters the development of mineral production (nickel, in this case), a colonial system dispossesses the original inhabitants of their land, and the result is often social exclusion, absence of civil rights and denial of cultural heritage. Up to the eve of the Second World War, the Kanaks of New Caledonia had neither political nor civil rights.

This was the reality that the Foreword to the Nouméa Agreement, signed on May 5, 1998 by the French government and its two Caledonian political partners, was intended to address. By declaring that the time had come to "acknowledge the shadows of the colonial period, even though it was not totally devoid of light," the document, in the words of Prime Minister Lionel JOSPIN, "casts a lucid eye over the past." This is what will be necessary to build up confidence in the future. Other countries, especially in the Pacific, as you know, have taken a similarly cool look at their own histories.

The awakening of Oceania to its own moral, cultural and individual identity during the years between 1960 and 1970 also occurred in political life. The movement for emancipation gradually spread to the Pacific. All the powers in the region were led to address the problem, each in his own time, and each according to the historical associations between peoples and political wishes.

Of course, I shall merely attempt a brief sketch of the political and institutional evolution of the French territories in the Pacific, mainly in New Caledonia and French Polynesia, during this time.

As regards New Caledonia, two landmark dates were significant during this period, and they correspond to two major political decisions: the first was the signature of the Matignon Accords, on June 26, 1988, and the second was the signature of the Nouméa Agreement on May 5, 1998.

In his "Letter to all Frenchmen," François MITTERRAND, the President of the French Republic, wrote on the eve of the 1988 Presidential election, that "New Caledonia is stumbling in the dark, bumping into walls and hurting itself."

After several decades of incomprehension, suffering and crises, the Matignon Accords, signed on June, 1988 by Michel ROCARD, the Prime Minister, Jacques LAFLEUR representing the Rassemblement pour la Calédonie dans la République (RPCR, the assembly for a Republican Caledonia) and Jean-Marie TJIBAOU, representing the Front de liberation national kanak socialiste (FLNKS, the Kanak socialist movement for Caledonian liberation) opened up new prospects for New Caledonia, promising long-lasting peace based on co-existence and dialogue, as well as balanced economic, social and cultural development throughout the territory.

The "mission du dialogue," the opening of a dialogue between the main streams of spiritual and philosophical thought, set up by Michel ROCARD, enabled the barriers of incomprehension to be broken down. It is to the lasting credit of the Caledonian leaders, of both European and Melanesian origin, that they succeeded in overcoming their differences and agreed to shake hands as a sign of a new beginning.

Over the 10 years that followed the Matignon Accords, New Caledonia experienced institutional stability that was unprecedented in the recent history of the territory. Also unprecedented was the fact that the statute had been negotiated with the leading New Caledonian political parties and not granted by Paris, and that the French population had approved it by a majority vote in a referendum. As a matter of historical interest, the referendum law was applied in New Caledonia as of July 14, 1989 that is two hundred years to the day from the start of the French Revolution.

The Matignon Accords provided for organisation of a vote on self-government after ten years, to be made by the "populations concerned" in New Caledonia. However, the feeling soon arose that given the peculiarity of a territory in which two populations of similar size (a reality not always present in other places) coexist, a vote of this type could re-ignite smouldering resentment, set people in their opinions and therefore result in regression.

Thus, to keep faith with the underlying philosophy of the Matignon Accords, in which each party had agreed "not to overcome but to convince," the idea of a consensual solution was arrived at. The Nouméa Agreement, signed on May 5, 1998 by Lionel JOSPIN, the French Prime Minister, Jacques LAFLEUR, and Roch WAMYTAN, the Chairman of the FLNKS, defined the terms of this consensus at the same time as it laid the foundations for new relationships between New Caledonia and France.

More than any other commentary, the opinion of the Caledonian signatories themselves on this agreement is the best illustration of the spirit behind their common approach. On May 5, 1998, in Noumea, speaking before a gathering of heads of government and representatives from most of the States in the region, Roch WAMYTAN spoke of a "founding pact." He made a solemn declaration in the name of the FLNKS: "This solution is well suited to the complexity of the Caledonian problem, which for once has been well defined. It is not yet another statute, but truly the ordering of a country called upon to develop politically."

Jacques LAFLEUR, speaking for the RPCR, declared: "This agreement is the true expression of our wish to build and live in a New Caledonia in which everyone can live happily. New Caledonia will thus be an actor in its own destiny, and not merely an onlooker."

The Nouméa Agreement provided for the political organisation of New Caledonia for the coming 20 years. It thus ceases to be an overseas territory of France, as provided in Article 74 of the French Constitution. The Agreement sets forth the procedures for emancipation of New Caledonia, which, as a special territorial entity within the Republic, is now provided for in the French Constitution under "Transitional provisions for New Caledonia."

The Nouméa Agreement was voted by a resounding majority (71.8%) of Caledonian voters on November 8, 1998.

The agreement has led to a new political phase in which Kanak identity has been recognised, and sovereignty is shared with France.

In order to take account of Kanak identity in New Caledonian political organisation, the customary rules and laws have had to be improved, and the role of the customary authorities has had to be recognised. To do this, a customary Senate was created, and the Kanak cultural heritage has been protected and fostered. Measures on regulation of land ownership and identity signs to express the essential role of Kanak identity in the shared destiny agreed by New Caledonia have been adopted.

As regards institutions, one of the principles laid down in the Noumea Agreement is the recognition of a New Caledonian citizenship which could be changed into a status of nationality after the term of the Agreement, should it be so decided. Over this period, the notion of citizenship will serve as a criterion for any restrictions on those eligible to vote, especially in the last round of a ballot, and also any provisions designed to maintain local employment.

In accordance with the provisions of the Nouméa Agreement, the Territory Congress, elected on May 9 last, elected a collegial Government of eleven members by proportional representation. This Government is responsible to the Congress. The head of the executive, who was elected on May 29, is President Jean LÈQUES, the current mayor of Nouméa. The executive power is thus shared between the main political forces of the country.

The Congress may, by a qualified three-fifths majority, vote laws known as "lois du" pays ("laws of the country") in areas laid down by the institutional Act. Only the French Conseil Constitutionnel is empowered to review such laws.

Shared sovereignty signifies that powers are shared between the French State and New Caledonia. Transfer of power will be gradual, beginning on January 1st, 2000 and will follow a defined timetable which may be modified by the Congress. Powers transferred from the State will be vested once and for all. At the end of this process, the State will retain only regalian powers such as justice, law and order, defence, and currency, as well as foreign affairs subject to certain provisions.

As regards New Caledonia’s economy, it will be made possible for New Caledonia to gain sufficient mastery of the tools necessary for its development. For this purpose, the State has encouraged recent investment by Caledonians in Société Le Nickel (SLN), which is currently the sole company extracting the metal on the territory, and in Eramet, the chief shareholder in SLN.

French public institutions only active in New Caledonia will become answerable to New Caledonian public institutions. Thus, the French post office and the Agency for rural development and town and country planning will both be handed over to New Caledonia.

External relations, a field which mainly involves the relationships between New Caledonia and its Pacific neighbours, are worth examining. The French Republic can, under its State powers, vest the President of the New Caledonia government with the authority to negotiate and sign agreements with one or several States, territories or regional organisations in the Pacific, and with regional organisations answering to the specialised agencies of the United Nations. Failing this, the President of the New Caledonia government or his representative can be integrated into or participate in negotiations and signatures of agreements of a similar type, within the French delegation, for the purpose of ensuring that the special interests of New Caledonia are more adequately taken into account.

Under the powers granted to New Caledonia, the Congress may authorise the President of the government to negotiate agreements with one or several States, territories or regional organisations in the Pacific, and with regional organisations answering to the specialised agencies of the United Nations, in compliance with the international undertakings of the French Republic.

The agreement also provides that the President of the Government, and, where necessary, the presidents of the provincial assemblies, be associated with or participate in negotiations on relationships between the EU and New Caledonia.

Subject to the agreement of the authorities of the French Republic, New Caledonia may be a member, an associate member or an observer of international bodies. Thus, from now on, it may if it wishes be admitted as an observer of the South Pacific Forum. Finally, New Caledonia may send a representative to the EU, as well as to Pacific States and territories.

On completion of the process set in train by the Nouméa Agreement, a vote will be held during the fourth term of the Congress to begin in the year 2014. This vote will concern the transfer of the regalian powers held by the French State to New Caledonia, the accession to full international sovereignty and transformation of citizenship into nationality. Should the vote be a negative one, a new consultation may be organised under procedures set forth in the organic law.

It is therefore evident that France recognizes the fact that New Caledonia will achieve full emancipation following the implementation of the Nouméa Agreement.

On August 26, 1988, at the Noumea city hall, Prime Minister Michel Rocard said France had to meet a challenge unprecedented since the Second World War, namely that of "achieving successful decolonization within the institutional framework of the French Republic." I believe it is possible for us to say today that this challenge was won.

The Nouméa Agreement marked the beginning of a new era. In political terms, the conditions are now met for the re-establishment of a social contract between all of the communities living in New Caledonia, and for sharing sovereignty with France as a stage towards full sovereignty, should the Caledonians so decide.

French Polynesia is going to undergo an evolution similar to that of New Caledonia, in keeping with its history which has unfolded at a different pace.,

Made up of five archipelagos of some 130 islands, islets and atolls, French Polynesia covers an area of 3,521 square kilometres of land masses scattered over some 4 million square kilometres of ocean, with a population of about 225,000. In the French cultural psyche, Tahiti and Polynesia are identified with the myth of the "South Seas" of the "welcoming" islands which have always been likened to paradise.

In institutional terms, French Polynesia is an Overseas Territory within the French Republic with a status of autonomy currently defined by the institutional Act of April 12, 1996. Reference to the notion of autonomy was made as early as 1977 in the statutes relating to French Polynesia. Autonomy was first known as autonomous management and then as internal autonomy in the 1984 institutional Act.

In the face of the independence movement which is still a minority one, all those who wanted French Polynesia to evolve within the French Republic adhered to the concept of autonomy. Francis Sanford, deputy (member of the French Parliament) and Polynesian leader, gave Polynesia its modern dimension in 1960-70.

In political terms, in French Polynesia, the 1996 institutional Act did not constitute a break from previous ones but ensured continuity. However, it greatly extends the scope of the concept of autonomy, which under French administrative law, simply means the degree of freedom given to decentralized authorities in managing local affairs.

The "advances" brought about by the 1996 institutional Act are so great, however, that this Act has been referred to at times as a "Territorial Constitution." Thus the Territory freely chooses the identity signs (flag, anthem, Order) enabling it to assert its personality at official public events alongside the national emblem and the signs of the Republic.

It should also be noted that the Tahitian language and the other Polynesian languages may be used, while French remains the official language.

The Executive of the Territory is the Government of French Polynesia, headed by the President of the Government, who appoints ministers and assigns them their portfolios. This Executive is elected.

The President of the Government of Polynesia has special powers at international level. Thus, the authorities of the Republic can grant him the authority to negotiate and sign agreements in areas within the jurisdiction of the State or of the Territory with one or several States, territories or regional bodies in the Pacific, and with regional bodies answering to United Nations specialised agencies. Failing this, the President of the Government of Polynesia may be associated with, or take part in within French delegations, the negotiation of similar agreements in areas within the jurisdiction of the Territory.

As it considers that this original status of autonomy has run its course, the Government believes the time has come to take a further step to self government in affirming the Territory’s identity with a view to meeting the expectations of the Polynesians.

Such a change implies a constitutional reform. Following discussions with the Territory’s Government whose President is Gaston Flosse, a constitutional Bill was framed. Submitted to the Council of Ministers on 26 May of this year, it was adopted on 10 June on first reading by the National Assembly. It should be passed at the end of this year or at the beginning of next year. It will then be incorporated into the French Constitution under the title on "Provisions relating to French Polynesia" further to that on New Caledonia.

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