No. 1: July-September 2011

Jean-Yves Faberon

New Caledonia

Academic Foresights

How do you analyze the present political situation in New Caledonia?

After the 1980s’ civil war between separatists and loyalists, New Caledonia has been peaceful since the 1988 Matignon Accords; the Accords were extended in 1998 by the Noumea Accord, which provides for a gradual transfer of powers from the French state to New Caledonia and for an economic and social rebalancing plan over a 20-year period. Local elections in 2014 will start a five-year term during which New Caledonia’s future political organization will be determined. So far, we have covered more than half the Noumea Accord’s life period, and we find that the system which was set up is working fine!

The pretty complex organization set up to have separatists and loyalists work together has proved efficient. Paradoxically, though, it is within each of the two main political forces that the strongest antagonisms are to be found. But—and this is the essential finding—New Caledonia has been peaceful for about a quarter of a century now, and nobody is anxious to see any bloodshed again.

In your opinion, how will the situation likely evolve over the next five years?

The five-year period starting now leads up to 2016, i.e., to the absolutely essential election scheduled for 2014. This election will show the lineup of political forces for negotiations on how to close the Noumea Accord and what its outcome will be. The political forces which will win the election will determine whether the remaining powers held by the French state will be granted to New Caledonia, which as a result will become a state or, if that is not the case, New Caledonia will be a territory with a high degree of self-rule but with France still holding sovereign powers such as defense, foreign relations, currency, law and order, and justice.

Consequently, the coming years will be a period of high-stake negotiations and crucial debates. The issue is not an easy one to deal with, for with about 40% of the vote, separatists are, to be sure, in the minority, but they make up a force that can in no way be ignored, a force which must be taken into account.

Therefore, it is necessary for the debates to remain in the realm of ideas and not degenerate into violence, and it is necessary for the political atmosphere not to deteriorate. So far in the connection, the situation has been good, but we have to be very watchful, for while on the whole the checks and balances set up by the Noumea Accord have been satisfactory, economic rebalancing has lagged behind, and that could lead to social troubles, each spark being likely to cause violence again.

What are the structural long-term perspectives?

Regarding the long term, I would like to believe there is cause for optimism, for unlike non-viable Melanesian micro-states, New Caledonia is one of the world’s major nickel producers, and that should allow New Caledonia to face the economic, and consequently, the social challenge, providing it sticks to rigorous management.

As for the major question regarding political organization and whether New Caledonia will be under French control or independent of France, the option will not be total integration into France or absolute independence. New Caledonia will have to find a middle ground. In this connection, legal devices have never been in short supply, and it is to be hoped this will remain the case. There is a reasonable likelihood of a custom-made political organization being implemented. What remains to be seen is whether the new politicians who will eventually take over from the present generation (whose representatives have all lived through the difficult period) will evince the wisdom necessary to build a pluralist New Caledonia.

-     -     -

Jean-Yves Faberon is honorary professor of public law. He lives in Noumea, New Caledonia, and acts as deputy director of the Institut de droit d’outre-mer, whose home is  the Université Paul Cézanne Marseille 3. Jean-Yves Faberon is also a co-director of Maison de la Mélanésie in Noumea. He co-authored—with Jacques Ziller—Manuel de droit des collectivités d’outre-mer (Paris, LGDJ, 2007) and he is co-editor—with Jean-Marc Regnault and Viviane Fayaud—of the proceedings of the “Destinies of Pacific Commonwealths” conference, to be published in 2011 by the Presses Universitaires d’Aix-Marseille.

© Copyright: click here                                        Join our discussion group on LinkedIn