France scraps 2023 referendum on New Caledonia's legal status

·2-min read
AFP - THEO ROUBY

A referendum to determine the legal status of New Caledonia will not be held in mid-2023 as planned, France’s Overseas Territories Minister announced on Monday.

Jean-François Carenco is on a five-day visit to the French colony in the South Pacific, where he is seeking to restart talks with separatist groups that broke down when an independence vote was defeated in December.

The news, announced on local Caledonia news channel, contradicts promises made by Carenco's predecessor, Sebastien Lecornu, who said a new legal statute would be drawn up and put to a vote.

Decolonisation

The December ballot was the third and final referendum of a decolonisation process for New Caledonia laid out in the 1998 Nouméa Accords.

However turnout was at a record low after Kanak separatists of the FLNKS political alliance called for a boycott and then refused to recognise the outcome.

Ahead of his visit, Carenco said there had been “blunders on both sides" over the long drawn out issue of New Caledonia’s sovereignty and its relationship with France.

France now faces the difficult task to reopening negotiations between separatists and non-separatists in order to build an institutional future for the territory.

However two planned visits by French ministers to the region failed to take place this year.

Regional importance

New Caledonia is of strategic importance for France in the face of growing Chinese attempts to gain influence in the region.

It has significant debt having been plunged into an economic slump before the Covid crisis. Highly dependent on fossil fuels, the territory is also suffering the full force of rising energy prices.

Carenco, who is on his first official visit there, made reference to the archipelago’s "economic emergency", saying that dialogue to determine its future would take "the time that it takes".