AJACCIO, France (Reuters) - Corsican nationalists said on Monday it was time for talks with Paris on greater autonomy for the French Mediterranean island, after they won nearly two thirds of seats in local elections.
Support for their cause in Sunday’s vote was boosted by dissatisfaction with France’s mainstream parties, a trend that has fueled secessionist ambitions in other parts of Europe.
Nationalist leader Gilles Simeoni hailed the start of a new era after the two-party Pe a Corsica (For Corsica) alliance that he heads took over 56 percent of Sunday’s vote and 41 of 63 seats.
Unlike in Catalonia, nationalists in Corsica have downplayed any ambitions for secession, saying the island - where Napoleon was born in 1769 - lacked the Spanish region’s demographic and economic clout.
But Simeoni said he was seeking a greater say for local authorities on fiscal issues, official status for the Corsican language, and limiting the right to buy property in some areas to people who had lived on the island for at least five years.
“This is a time many of us thought we would never witness,” he told applauding supporters after the win, referring to the fact that nationalists only started to make headway in Corsican elections two years ago. “Our dream is becoming reality.”
Calling for discussions to find a “political solution,” Simeoni told Reuters: “It’s the start of a new era, the ball is in the government’s court.”
The nationalist vote also benefited from the island’s most active clandestine group, the National Front for the Liberation of Corsica (FLNC), having laid down its weapons in 2014 after a near four-decade long rebellion.
Turnout for the run-off election, in which the top parties from an initial Dec. 3 ballot participated, was barely above 50 percent.
But in a sign that the government may be heeding the call for dialogue, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Sunday called Simeoni to congratulate him on his win and told him he was willing to see him soon in Paris, Philippe’s office said.
Corsica has a population of just 320,000 people and a tiny 8.6 billion euro ($10.13 billion) economy.
($1 = 0.8488 euros)
Additional reporting by Jean-Baptiste Vey in Paris; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Sarah White and John Stonestreet