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1ST LEAD Corsica nationalists disappointed as Macron offers limited opening By Pol O Gradaigh, dpa

By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Paris (dpa) - French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday offered the Mediterranean island of Corsica a constitutional amendment that would recognize its "distinctiveness."

But pro-autonomy parties who won a large majority in December‘s regional elections were disappointed when Macron rejected two key demands on language issues and property rights.

Macron‘s much-awaited speech on his first visit to Corsica as president was couched in "neo-colonialist language," the head of the regional executive, Gilles Simeoni, told France 3 television.

The president said that the Corsican language - which is closer to Italian than French - should be protected and developed, but could not have the joint official status that nationalists seek.

The French language was "the first bedrock of the French nation ... and so it is indispensable that we preserve what has made us," he said.

Macron also rejected demands for legal restrictions on the sale of property to non-residents. Housing in Corsica is under pressure from the tourism industry which is the island‘s economic mainstay.

Proposals to tie property rights to a status of permanent resident on the island would breach the constitution and European law and would not solve the problem, he said.

Corsica is a first test for Macron‘s desire to make the French state, long highly centralized and hostile to regional and ethnic differences, more flexible.

But the demands of moderate nationalists, who have gained increasing electoral ground since armed hardliners laid down their weapons in 2014, are also the hardest for Paris to accept.

Macron said that constitutional amendments already in the pipeline would give Corsica, along with other regions, the right to seek greater powers.

But he recognized that the Corsican Assembly was seeking a specific constitutional provision for the island.

"I am ready to recognize the distinctiveness of Corsica in the constitution due to its geography and its specificities," Macron said.

The details of any amendment would have to be discussed ahead of its inclusion in a raft of planned constitutional changes later this year, Macron said, adding that he was opposed to "amending the constitution based on a concept."

Simeoni said that Macron‘s constitutional offer was "practically the only progress" in his speech.

"We must make use of that to build a genuine statute of autonomy... he clearly left that option open," he added.


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