New Caledonia: the Catalonia from the Pacific?

“More than 16000 kilometres separates Brussels and Nouméa, the capital of New Caledonia, which makes it extremely complicated to establish a proper daily communication”  

Those were the opening words of Maurice Ponga, French politician and Member of the European Parliament from the french overseas constituency, during today’s conference at Press Club Brussels Europe, under the topic New Caledonia, an EU strategic partner in the Pacific.

This conference was organised by OCTA innovation, an association aimed to establish the bridge between the Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs) and the European Union on the innovation field.  Although, the topic was innovation and the added value New Caledonia brings to the Pacific as the third biggest economy, after New Zealand and Australia, another topic was on the table: an independent New Caledonia.

Towards the independence?

Following the Second World War, in 1946, New Caledonia became officially a French oversea territory. By 1953, French citizenship was granted to all New Caledonians, regardless of ethnicity. The European and Polynesian populations gradually increased in the years leading to the nickel boom of 1969–1972, and the Melanesians became a minority, though they were still the largest ethnic group.

In 1998, the Nouméa Accord granted political power to New Caledonia and its original population, the Kanaks, until the territory decides whether to remain a special collectivity of France.

France views New Caledonia – which contains about 30% of the world’s nickel reserves – as a strategic political and economic asset in the region.  The accord allowed the archipelago greater autonomy during the past 20 years before a referendum on self-determination is held.

“We have all the traditional powers of a  sovereign State. Our destiny will be decided in 2018” stated Philippe Germain, President of New Caledonia.

Last Thursday, New Caledonian leaders held nine hours of talks with French ministers in Paris where they reached a political agreement with the metropole that could pave the way towards the independence.

The French Prime Minister, Edouard Phillippe, announced that he will visit the Pacific archipelago by the end of the year. He also underlined that the talks “resulted in a political agreement and, perhaps even beyond that, we have trust, which is just as important”.  Emmanuel Macron is also visit New Caledonia by next May, 2018.

If 16000 kilometres separates Brussels (EU) and Nouméa most probably the distance will tend to increase with a potential independent New Caledonia.