The French president, Emmanuel Macron, proposed this Thursday to give limited autonomy and “within the Republic” to the island of Corsica, so that it can have regulatory capacity over transferred powers, and the history and “particularity” of the island within the French Constitution.

In a two-day visit to the island, Macron has shown himself in favor of granting this autonomy, with conditions: it must be “fully Corsican” (without influence from other “Mediterranean territories”) and it will not be done “without the State or against the French State,” said the French president in a speech in Ajaccio before the Assembly, controlled by a nationalist majority.

This movement, which would require a reform of the Constitution, would recognize in the text the “insular, historical, linguistic and cultural community” of Corsica. Macron has said: “Let us have the audacity to build autonomy for Corsica.” He also said that “the status quo would be a failure for everyone.”

The president’s maneuver, which he described in his speech before parliamentarians as a “historic moment”, improves the current status of the island, but he also does not give in to the key demands demanded by the nationalist parties, such as recognition of resident status, the co-official status of the Corsican language and the inclusion of the notion of the Corsican people in the Constitution.

Corsica is the fourth largest island in the Mediterranean, Napoleon Bonaparte was born there in 1769, and it has gone from being part of a region with Marseille to achieving a special status. Since January 2018, Corsica is considered a territorial community, and manages new competencies such as sports, transport, culture and the environment.

The island Executive has been led since 2015 by Gilles Simeoni, who heads a coalition of nationalist parties. He was re-elected in 2021 and defends this statute as “an aspiration of the Corsican people.” The statute of autonomy that we demand is part of the French Republic,” Simeoni told the president. The right-wing opposition was limited to demanding an adaptation of French laws to the specificity of the island. According to Bruno Retailleau, of the conservative group of Los Republicans, the nationalists’ requests “cross red lines.”

Regarding the demands of the nationalists, Emmanuel Macron has recognized the need to promote the Corsican language, but it will not be recognized as a co-official language. “With this unprecedented constitutional recognition, I hope that the Corsican language can be better taught and placed at the center of the life of every Corsican,” said the president.

Political scientist André Fazi said in the pages of the newspaper Libération that Macron “is trying to find a difficult balance. From a symbolic point of view, the nationalist majority will be disappointed by the lack of progress on the Corsican language or the notion of the Corsican people.” From a practical point of view, he “gives elected officials a certain normative power”, such as that enjoyed by some overseas territories.

It gives Corsica the possibility of adapting the law or repealing it in some aspects within some transferred powers, under the control of the Constitutional Council, but without the need to go through that of the French Parliament. Macron has not specified what these powers would be, although they could be “in areas such as urban planning, transport or agriculture,” according to Fazi.

Macron was in favor of “going through a new stage” in relations between the island and the State and at the same time “fully anchoring Corsica in the Republic”. Tensions with Paris grew after the death in prison in March 2022 of militant Yvan Colonna, a symbol for nationalists, sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of prefect Claude Érignac in 1998. His death sparked a wave of unrest.

The Government and the island’s authorities have been working on the creation of this statute for a year. The road until, as Macron intends, this Corsican specificity is included in the Constitution is long and uncertain, since it implies a reform of it.

The president has given the island’s politicians six months to work on a proposal (he said “without red lines”) on the new status of Corsica. “It is your wish, I share it and make it mine,” he said. This document will have to be validated by the Government.

Afterwards, it will have to be voted on first in the National Assembly and the Senate. To move forward, you need a majority in both chambers. It should then be adopted by referendum or voted on by a three-fifths vote in Congress.

The only limit that Macron has placed on the Corsicans in the drafting of this statute, he said, is “the ideal of the Republic, which must be strong enough to know how to better accommodate the aspirations and uniqueness of Corsica.”

Macron also participated in a tribute to the Corsican resistance, as this year commemorates the 80th anniversary of the liberation of the island from Nazi occupation, in October 1943. Thursday’s is the fourth visit that Macron has made to Corsica. In 2018, the president already proposed mentioning the island in the Constitution, but the idea did not go ahead. This Thursday, unlike his other visits, he ended his speech with “long live Corsica”, “long live France” and “long live the Republic”.