In New Caledonia, Gerald Darman tries to recreate the impossible dialogue

LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP Jean-Francois Karenko and Gerald Darmanin at the Congress of Mayors on November 23. The minister and a ministerial delegation arrive in New Caledonia this Monday for an important but delicate visit.


Jean-Francois Karenko and Gerald Darmanin at the Congress of Mayors on November 23. The Minister and Secretary of State arrive in New Caledonia on Monday for an important but delicate visit.

POLITICS – This is not a trip to foreign territory, but Gerald Darman will have to show almost as much tact and diplomacy as his counterpart in Foreign Affairs. This Monday, November 28, the Minister of Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs begins a week-long visit to New Caledonia, responsible for a number of sensitive missions.

This is the first visit by a sovereign minister since the third and final referendum on self-determination envisaged in the Noumea Accords. It ended in a victory for the Nos, but the outcome remains controversial, with the separatists in the process revealing that they did not recognize any state. “law”neither “reliability” from the ballot. “The path of dialogue is broken”They said in December 2021.

This did not prevent the opening of the transitional period. Chaotic though it is. Discussions have been delayed by French election deadlines, the subsequent change of government and, above all, the refusal of some local actors to return to the negotiating table.

A week to count

Rarely has a trip to the Pacific been so long. Gérald Darmanin will spend six full days in the Caledonian archipelago, three of which will be accompanied by his representative for foreign affairs, Jean-Francois Carencot. The diary is very full and aims to cover all possible topics. A type of inventory that is important in an area that is economically raw and heavily indebted to the French Development Agency.

Of course, Gerald Darmanin will devote time to topics specific to his domestic portfolio: dealing with domestic violence or security in at least three planned sequences with the police. But he will also talk about defense as part of the Institute for Advanced National Defense Studies – anything but a coincidence when Emmanuel Macron has made the Indo-Pacific a strategic priority in his international policy.

An industrial theme is also on the agenda, with an emphasis on the extraction of raw materials such as nickel, one of the main resources of the archipelago. Gerald Darman is eagerly awaited on this dossier, as there are many fears for the future with rising energy prices adding to an already complicated situation for the archipelago’s leading private employer, Société Le Nicjel (SLN). . Serious impacts on local employment are a concern, and company executives have not ruled out seeking state aid again after a first loan of 200 million euros was signed in 2016.

However, these economic topics are the most difficult phase of the ministerial visit. During six days, Gerald Darmanin will exchange views with representatives of all the political parties of the archipelago, as well as with the separatist president of the government, Louis Mapu. Its mission: to advance the debate on New Caledonia’s institutional future and its relationship with Paris.

Everyone at the table, but for how long?

Barring a last-minute change, the Home Secretary will have to meet with everyone, loyalists (especially her colleague Sonia Backes, who presides over Southern Province) and FLNKS separatists. The presence of this latter group at the negotiating table is already a sign of progress, as their relations with Paris have deteriorated significantly since the third referendum. According to the separatists, the blame lies with several Paris gaffes: Yael Braun-Pivet’s lightning transition at the Foreign Ministry, the cancellation of Gerald Darmani’s first visit in July and the aborted visit of Jean-Francois Carencot in 2012. September. To show their displeasure, the FLNKS avoided a meeting with Elisabeth Borne at the end of October to determine the method, topics and timetable for negotiations on the future status of New Caledonia.

This time, Gerald Darmanin hopes to open the debate. But he will undergo a balancing act, even as a seasoned diplomat. The separatists want to reopen the dialogue only on the basis of independence, accompanied by a possible partnership with France. On the other side of the political spectrum, Loyalists want the state to confirm the territory’s definitive status. “New Caledonia in France”.

The only thing the two parties have in common: a desire to see the state break out of its supposed neutrality and take a stand. This would certainly cause one of the protagonists to walk away from the discussion table. Gerald Darmani’s visit should end on Saturday, December 3 “Initiation of the working group on institutional issues”. Everyone’s attendance will say everything about the success or failure of the minister’s visit to New Caledonia.

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