France in hot water as colonies increasingly demand independence

France is struggling with increasing demands for independence from its overseas collectivities -- a legacy of the country's colonial period.

The colonies make up 18% of French territory and are home to 2.6 million people.

French collectivities have different political statuses and include Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint-Martin, Saint-Barthélemy, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, which are located in the Atlantic Ocean; Reunion, Mayotte and the French Southern and Antarctic Territories in the Indian Ocean while French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna are located in the Pacific Ocean; French Guiana is in South America.

Twelve French colonies, the closest is approximately 4,000 kilometers (2,485 miles) from France and the farthest is 17,000 kilometers, are far from the mainland in terms of living standards.

Struggling with various socioeconomic problems and complaining about the inadequacy of infrastructure and security services provided by the French administration to the lands, the colonies are demanding more autonomy and independence.

Anadolu compiled the demands of Indigenous rights supporters in French colonies and problems faced by the territories, which came to the fore again with the events in New Caledonia, where independence supporters took action and France used force to suppress protests.

Independence supporters suppressed in New Caledonia

In New Caledonia, which is approximately 17,000 kilometers from the French mainland, the French government's constitutional reform initiative to reduce the influence of the indigenous people in elections has mobilized independence supporters on the island.

The French government's attempt to open the way for French people who have been living on the island for at least 10 years to vote in elections, contrary to the Noumea Treaty signed with the locals in 1988, caused protests.

The French government sent police and gendarmerie to the island to suppress protests that lasted about a month. Seven people were killed in incidents that broke out on the island. A state of emergency, which was declared on May 13, was lifted on May 27 when the situation came under control in the capital, Noumea.

French President Emmanuel Macron did not withdraw the constitutional reform bill during his visit to the island and gave time for dialogue between supporters and opponents.

French Guiana wants more autonomy

French Guiana in South America, 7,000 kilometers from France, suffers from security problems.

Undocumented migration and illegal gold mining on the Brazilian border are among the main problems of the colony of 300,000 people, where the murder rates are 10 times higher than the mainland.

Poverty and unemployment rates are high, and residents complain about the government's inadequacy in investments in infrastructure and the health sector.

Almost 40% of the young population in French Guiana goes abroad for education and or work.

The local government is reacting to the fact that Macron promised more autonomy to France's island in the Mediterranean, Corsica, while similar steps were not taken for Guyana.

Gabriel Serville, Speaker of the Parliament of French Guiana, criticized the government's "double standards" in providing more autonomy, stating that the cultural diversity of the island of Corsica, which is 160 kilometers from France, is emphasized but French Guiana, which is 7,000 kilometers, is not seen in the same light.

The Congress of French Guiana voted in 2020 to request greater autonomy under special status. Despite the demand of residents, after nearly four years, no progress has been made in negotiations with the Paris administration on constitutional regulation.

Autonomy demands increase after coronavirus protests in Guadeloupe and Martinique

The Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, with a population of 400,000 people located approximately 7,000 kilometers from France, is experiencing security difficulties due to crime rates that are six times higher than the French national average and armed robbery rates that are 20 times higher.

Due to the increasing involvement of young people in crimes, a curfew was imposed in in April for Pointe-a-Pitre, the commercial capital of the island, for those younger than 18.

There were intense protests on the island due to lockdown measures implemented by the French government during the coronavirus pandemic.

France sent security forces to the region to suppress protests spreading in Martinique from other colonies.

Thereupon, while autonomy discussions were under the spotlight again, France's Overseas Territories Minister at the time, Sebastien Lecornu, said Paris was "ready for autonomy negotiations."

After the COVID-19 outbreak protests, demands for autonomy also gained momentum in the neighboring colony of Martinique.

Martinique Executive Council President Serge Letchimy sought support from regional partners to grant the island autonomy status without separating from France. In November, the Congress of Martinique voted in favor of adding an article to the French Constitution allowing laws to be adapted to the social and economic realities of the Island.

Security and water problems cannot be solved in Mayotte, France's poorest land

In recent years, there have been security problems in Mayotte, a colony in the Indian Ocean, approximately 8,000 kilometers from the mainland.

A drinking water shortage, which has been going on for years, has reached a crisis level on the island with a population of 310,000, which is facing the "worst drought of the century."

In November, the French government created 82 water supply points on the island and began distributing drinking water to residents with soldiers.

On the island, where there is an influx of immigrants, the government decided to make constitutional changes to limit "citizenship acquired by birth."

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin announced in February that children of immigrants born on the island would no longer "automatically" become French citizens.

With the new regulation, children born on the Island are required to have French parents to become French citizens.

The citizenship restriction was taken against Comoro Island immigrants who were blamed for the deterioration of living conditions on the Island.

On the island, where more than 90% of the population is Muslim, a cholera epidemic, which is generally transmitted through dirty water, has become widespread in recent months.

The French government dispatched 1,700 police and soldiers in April and launched an 11-week operation to control the security situation on the island, which suffers from an irregular flow of immigrants.

According to data, the living standards of Mayotte residents are seven times lower than the French and 77% of residents live below the poverty line.

Pro-independence party comes to power in French Polynesia

French Polynesia, which consists of more than 100 islands in the South Pacific with a population of approximately 300,000 and is approximately 16,000 kilometers from the mainland, is protesting the effects of about 200 nuclear tests conducted by France between 1966 and 1996.

The pro-independence Tavini Huiraatira Party won last year's elections in Polynesia, which was expecting an apology from France for tests that had serious negative effects on the public.

While the Polynesian administration wants to advance the island toward full sovereignty, the French government is not interested in independence negotiations and argues that the island should work to become self-sufficient in agriculture, economy and food before its political independence.

Reunion

Reunion, which is approximately 9,000 kilometers from France, signed the "Fort-de-France" call with its six accompanying colonies at the end of 2022, demanding more autonomy against the French administration.

The signing by Reunion Regional Council President Huguette Bello created a debate in the Reunion Senate, and right-wingers declared that they would fight to "keep the island French."

Promise of "unique autonomy" to Corsica

Corsica Island in the Mediterranean, known for its proximity to Italy rather than France, has a different history from the colonies but is known for wanting more autonomy.

During a September visit to the island, where pro-independence supporters have a majority in parliament, Macron called for "autonomy unique to Corsica" and gave six months for right-wingers and pro-independence supporters to agree on a common text on autonomy.

In March, the parties agreed on a text granting more autonomy to the island. Progress in autonomy negotiations in Corsica, which has a culturally different identity and historical past, was met with a reaction in the colonies where the government did not show the same approach.

Support for Macron has decreased overseas

Macron, who achieved overwhelming success against the far-right Marine Le Pen with 66% of the vote in the 2017 elections, could not achieve the same success in the 2022 elections.

Macron was elected for a second time with 58%, Le Pen received around 42% of the vote.

Le Pen overwhelmingly won with around 60% of the vote in the overseas territories of Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana, Mayotte and Reunion, which voted for Macron in the previous elections.

Le Pen, who received approximately 51% of the vote in Saint Pierre and Miquelon, also received 48% in French Polynesia.