France in the South Pacific: Countdown for New Caledonia − Review of Implementation of the Noumea Accord

Abstract: 

This paper is a companion to an earlier ANUCES Briefing Paper, which noted the importance for regional stability of resolving New Caledonian decolonisation issues within the UN decolonisation framework, both for long-term acceptance of the French Pacific entities in the region, and for peace within the ‘arc of instability’ to Australia’s northeast. It argued that the litmus test for the future of the French entities in the Pacific would be the full implementation of New Caledonia’s 1998 Noumea Accord.

The Accord, signed by the French State and the pro-France and pro-independence political groupings in New Caledonia, provided for a deferral of a promised vote on independence to 2014-2018, before which there would be a progressive transfer of specified responsibilities from the French State to a local New Caledonian government. It defined an innovative New Caledonian ‘citizenship’ within France, with special voting and employment rights, to respond to fundamental local concerns about the effect of immigration from other parts of France over many decades. It was backed by economic re-balancing efforts, principally the construction of major new nickel projects, and promises of fair distribution of the returns.

Two years before the 2014 deadline, the current paper assesses implementation of the Accord so far, and flags issues for the future. It concludes that, while much progress has been made, there have been slippages, and mixed messages from France. France has invested heavily in financial and political resources to make the Accord work. Many transfers have been made, but there remain problems with sensitive responsibilities, such as secondary education and land, and economic re-balancing has not occurred within expected timeframes. In the core area of immigration, France has been seen as slow to act and unhelpful in its handling of different interpretations of a restricted electorate for local elections, and in disrupting the collection of important ethnic demographic data. It has also been seen as taking premature action in areas specifically assigned by the Accord to be considered by referendum. In the remaining three years of the scheduled handovers, tough outstanding issues must be addressed, while at the same time conducting difficult negotiations and discussions on the promised referendum process and the future of New Caledonia.

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