Support for French territories' quest for Forum membership
A Pacific academic says timely comments from the French president have given the bids of New Caledonia and French Polynesia to become full members of the Pacific Islands Forum a boost.
A Pacific academic says timely comments from the French president have given the bids of New Caledonia and French Polynesia to become full members of the Pacific Islands Forum, a boost.
At a summit between France and Pacific leaders in Paris, the French president, Francois Hollande, called on Pacific leaders to make the French territories full members of the Forum.
University of Canterbury Professor Steven Ratuva says there have been attempts in the past to try to promote them to full membership, which is usually reserved for independent states.
But he told Bridget Tunnicliffe there are fewer hurdles now.
STEVEN RATUVA: There's been a lot of demands, a lot of push for admission of the two French territories into the Forum and I think there is quite a lot of support within the Forum in relation to that from the Melanesian countries as well as some of the Polynesian countries. And I think it's also time that they should begin to look at alternative ways of engagement with the region and I think there should be no problem whatsoever in terms of that happening because the Melanesian Spearhead Group has already admitted the FLNKS as a member of the MSG and in fact the former chair of the MSG was also from FLNKS.
BRIDGET TUNNICLIFFE: When would be the next opportunity for their case to be presented to the Pacific Islands Forum?
SR: Well I'm not really sure whether it's going to be in the agenda of the next meeting but it's certainly something which I think should be taken seriously and going back so many years that there's been talk of it, there's been support and lobbying moving towards it at the UN level for instance, the decolonisation you know project. So I suppose we'll see what happens at the next Forum because the statement from Paris is quite significant at this point in time because it precedes the global climate change conference and I suppose it was timed for the ears of the world leaders to make sure that France is aware that everybody else in the world is listening.
BT: Why is it in France's interest for these two countries to get full membership to the Pacific Islands Forum?
SR: I think France has been under pressure internationally and from the region as well and it's one of the last colonial powers in the Pacific and also France has been going through a lot of internal turmoil recently. New Caledonia itself is going through a process of reform towards self-determination so there's going to be a vote very soon on whether they want to be independent or not, if independence what kind of shape and form it will take. So I think it's all part of the way in which France is trying to slowly move towards as it were decolonizing its colony, again it has to be seen in its entirety in relation to what will happen in the next few years.
BT: So do you think France is starting to accept that it's just a matter of time before these countries do decolonise?
SR: Yeah, I mean by stating that you know they have to have full membership of the Pacific Island Forum is quite a sharp departure from its traditional position. Now note that the membership of the Forum is limited largely to independent states so it's almost like saying 'okay you'll become a member and then you'll become independent later' but again like I said political rhetoric and hard diplomacy works has to be seen in the light of what actually happens in reality later. In fact over the years what we've seen is this kind of convergence, this kind of consensus within the region for independence for these French territories although some countries have been kind of wary of the kind of political ramifications in relation to their relationship with France for instance some countries have strong diplomatic ties with France so what I see and what will probably happen in the next few months is probably a statement collectively by members of the Pacific Island Forum about the support for full membership for those two French territories now that France itself has positive feelings about it.
BT: Remind me which countries have traditionally been wary of that.
SR: Fiji for instance has been because it has very close ties with France in diplomatic terms but I think that too has changed over the years but I think at the moment you're beginning to see a consensus towards you know independence of the territories and the support for the process taking place in New Caledonia.
BT: So previously countries who didn't want to put France's nose out of joint so to speak may have been resistant but now is sounds like France itself would like to see this happen, than we may eliminate that resistance.
SR: Absolutely, I mean that's true in terms of the biggest hurdle to the move towards independence in the Pacific for the French colonies is really to do with France that's true so now that France itself has moved towards the membership of the forum position then you're going to have a lot of positive vibes from the Pacific and that consensus I was talking about is going to come out much more explicitly in the next few weeks.
BT: Is this position by France new or has it been building up?
SR: Oh I think it's been building up, I think they've been thinking about it and I think there's a lot of pressure build up over the years and plus the pressure from within the Forum from the Pacific and other countries around the world as well.
New Caledonia and French Polynesia became associate Forum members in 2006 - three years after Paris told its inaugural summit with Pacific leaders that it wished to integrate the two territories in the regional political architecture.
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