December 27, 2017 / 12:45 PM / 2 years ago

Macron opens door to changes in mainland-Corsica relationship

PARIS (Reuters) - President Emmanuel Macron has said his government could consider changes in the relationship between mainland France and Corsica, which seeks greater autonomy, but ruled out new residency rights or recognition of Corsican as an official language.

An alliance of Corsica’s two main nationalist parties swept a local election on Dec. 10 and has been pressing for talks with Paris.

Its leaders want more autonomy on fiscal issues, an equal status for the French and Corsican languages, and the limiting of the right to buy property in some areas to people who have been resident on the holiday island for at least five years.

The two-party “Pe a Corsica” (For Corsica) alliance won nearly two thirds of seats in the local assembly election. Support for their cause is driven by dissatisfaction with France’s mainstream parties, mirroring a trend that has spurred secessionist ambitions elsewhere in Europe, such as Catalonia.

“Looking ahead, we could consider possible changes, and the prime minister has indicated this to Corsica’s leaders,” Macron said in an interview published by Spanish daily El Mundo on Wednesday.

“But these would come, as elsewhere, within the framework of the constitution. This republican framework does not allow us to say yes to certain demands, such as on residency rights or recognizing Coriscan as the official language alongside French.”

Corsica’s nationalists are split between those who seek greater autonomy and those who see full independence as the ultimate goal.

Corsica makes up two of France’s 101 “departments” - local administration areas. Unlike in Catalonia, its nationalists downplay any immediate ambitions for independence, saying the island - where Napoleon was born in 1769 - lacks the Spanish region’s demographic and economic clout.

While Macron did not say what he might be prepared to negotiate, it is the first time he has touched on the subject since the vote. France is a highly centralized state and Corsica’s demands for more autonomy have often been met with irritation and a refusal to negotiate by past governments.

Reporting by Richard Lough; editing by Andrew Roche

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