For the moment, these are only “bilateral” meetings, but Gérald Darmanin hopes that they will soon turn into “tripartite” negotiations. The Minister of the Interior is in New Caledonia, from Friday March 3 to Sunday March 5, to meet the various players in local politics and discuss with them the institutional development of the Pacific archipelago. He will see them separately: first the separatists, then the loyalists opposed to independence.
The former had declined the invitation of Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne to participate, last October in Paris, in the “partners’ agreement” set up to discuss the future of the territory with special status, a sui generis community from beyond -sea endowed with considerable autonomy since the signing of the Nouméa agreements in 1998. But they are not closed to discussion. Two of their leaders, Paul Néaoutyine, president of the North province, and Roch Wamytan, president of the National Congress of New Caledonia, should receive Gérald Darmanin on Friday.
These exchanges should be followed by a meeting between the minister and a delegation from the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS). The independence movement has just held its congress on February 25 and 26. There he overcame his internal divisions to adopt a common position in discussions with the State, each component of the FLNKS having a representative on a strategic committee: the organization only wants to talk about accession to full sovereignty.
Three referendums said “no” to independence
Three times, in 2018, 2020 and 2021, this option was rejected during self-determination referendums organized in New Caledonia within the framework of the Noumea Accords. But this process did not make it possible to get out of the frontal opposition between the two camps, pro and anti. The FLNKS had called for a boycott of the third of these consultations, a call massively followed by the Kanaks. And he did not recognize the legitimacy of the result of the vote of December 12, 2021, marked by record abstention (65.10%), where the “no” to independence won with 96.49%.
For the loyalists, on the contrary, the question of accession to full sovereignty was settled by referendum. But many others remain in abeyance, in particular the constitution of the local electorate. The latter had been restricted and partly frozen from 1998 for the benefit of the Kanaks, who had become a demographic minority in New Caledonia with the arrival of inhabitants from other Pacific islands and Europe. A thaw is demanded by Sonia Backès, both Secretary of State for Citizenship and President of the South Province in New Caledonia.
The ambition of Gérald Darmanin, who had already been there in December 2022, is to bring together, in the long term, the representatives of the two camps around the same table for three-way negotiations, with the State. For the ministry, “it is this format alone that will allow us to reach an agreement on a new status for New Caledonia”.