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The 2022 Corsican unrest as portrayal of the crisis of the European Union

The current widespread desire for fragmentation in the Union

Over the last two years, the Member States of the European Union have worked intensively to identify collective solutions to the COVID pandemic and then to the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

These two worldwide crises have fairly received a predominant coverage by the mass media, and have sometimes led the public opinion to neglect the importance of other events, having occurred both at the European and at the Member States’ level.

Amongst the many possible instances, the Union has been hit by a rising sentiment of Euroscepticism, which has caused severe tensions with some Member States such as Poland and Hungary. However, it is interesting to notice that this lack of trust in the institutions has become manifest in some cases at the national level as well, with the resurgence of independentist regional movements. The core nations of the Union have even experienced this phenomenon in recent years, with a strengthening of Scotland’s demand for more autonomy from the United Kingdom and frequent protests in Catalonia for the independence from Spain.

The latest example of this increase in regional claims within the States of the Union is instead represented by the riots in Corsica, which started at the beginning of March 2022, and which have forced the French Government to address the dormant but long-lasting issue of nationalism in the island. This event constitutes a significant concern for the European Union, considering the central role of France in ensuring its integrity and prosperity, and due to the consequences it could have on the French presidential elections in April.

Overview on the history of Corsican nationalism and the March 2022 riots

The Corsican quest for more regional autonomy can be divided into phases with different levels of intensity, but is overall quite troubled, because of the island’s peculiar history and of the renowned centralism of the French State. Corsica became part of France in 1769, but its development as a strategic territory in the Mediterranean was initially undermined by the creation of extractive institutions by the national Government. The island gradually integrated with the rest of the country in the following century, and also saw the arrival of a consistent number of immigrants from Italy. However, its economic backwardness and the lack of a decisive intervention by France to protect the local citizens during the two World Wars contributed to the development of a strong Corsican cultural and social identity. In the second half of the 20th century, this pride was reinforced by the attribution of the vast majority of the economic activities to the Pieds-noirs, the French citizens who had fought and settled in Algeria in the previous decades, instead of also benefiting the locals. As a consequence, the population started to revolt against the central Government and formed the National Liberation Front of Corsica (FNLC), which pursued its political claims even with the use of violence. In 1982, the enactment of the policy of decentralization by the French Parliament caused internal disagreements within the movement, but also contributed to the progressive termination of its activities, even though a well-established Corsican regional sentiment still exists.

In March 2022, a wave of demonstrations against the French Government took place across the island after Yvan Colonna, a leading figure in the Corsican quest for a broader autonomy, was attacked in a prison in the South of France by another inmate, and then died on March 21st. He was serving a life sentence for the murder of Claude Érignac, the State’s official in Corsica, in 1998, but was yet considered an emblem of the resistance against the central authority by a share of the local population. His aggression was seen in Corsica as evidence of France’s lack of will and of capacity to protect him, and gave rise to protests and violent clashes with the Police, where demonstrators labelled the State as a murderer, presented some requests for a higher autonomy and even impeded the docking of a ferry which carried Gendarmes from the mainland. The National Liberation Front of Corsica, which formally ceased its actions in 2014, expressed its support to the protesters, underlining the necessity of a violent action and threatening an eventual insurrection if the national Government did not act appropriately.

Source: Flickr

The impact of the regional unrest on the current and future political equilibria in France

These riots were addressed with promptness by the French State, trying to prevent the opening of an internal political crisis in a period connoted by a high geopolitical instability in Europe and preceding the Presidential elections. The Ministry of the Interior Gérald Darmanin visited the island to put an end to the clashes and opened up to autonomy to the local institutions, while the Prime Minister Jean Castex agreed to transfer two inmates detained on the mainland to a Corsican prison, thus embracing one of the main requests brought by the demonstrators. The French PresidentEmmanuel Macron, whose lead in the polls has increased in the last weeks, was accused by the opposition of granting concessions to solely maintain his position, showing a lack of interest to find a long-term solution. Contenders to the presidency Valérie Pécresse and Marine Le Pen, who both represent a possible alternative to the reelection of Macron, demanded him to ensure a complete cessation of the violence before entering negotiations with the Corsican authorities, whereas far-right candidate Éric Zemmour used the ethnicity of the inmate having attacked Yvan Colonna to advocate a harder prison regime and restrictions to immigration. The Corsica unrest could have a significant importance in determining the future political equilibria of France, and hence of the European Union as well, considering its sudden outbreak in an already complex period and its proximity to the Presidential elections.

In varietate discordia: Corsica as a specific example to illustrate the European crisis

The recent protests in Corsica represent just a specific case of a phenomenon which is occurring quite frequently in the last years in the European Union, both within the Member States and between them and the supranational institutions. Indeed, regional and national requests for a higher autonomy from a central authority, which are per se totally legitimate, are being characterized by an alarming degree of harshness, which often entails that the involved parties do not manage to attain an ideal outcome, harming their mutual trust and respect even further. Although these dynamics are deeply related to profound historical and cultural factors, it seems concerning that regions and nations having specific pretensions predominantly rely on the head-on collision rather than on dialogue and compromise, which clearly indicates their lack of confidence in these means to reach their objectives. European and national institutions nowadays thus have the duty to ensure that peaceful instruments of discussion always constitute the paramount option to settle controversies, in order to achieve better outcomes for the society and get back people’s esteem for them, and also to turn the well-known motto of the Union In varietate concordia from a mere theoretical principle to an actual reality.


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