French Interior Minister Gerald Dormanin concluded a week of intense talks in New Caledonia.
The meetings with various pro-independence parties marked the first high-level contact between her and Paris since the rejection of full sovereignty last December.
The referendum marked the end of the decolonization process under the 1998 Noumea Accord, forcing all sides to discuss a way forward.
Dormann’s views were heard from all sides and he left Noumea with indications that he might return as early as 2023.
Previous French plans to have a new law ready for a referendum by June 2023 were already unconvincing earlier this year, and hopes of advancing the agenda without approval from the pro-independence side faded.
Darmanin accepted the pro-independence parties’ desire to start bilateral talks once their umbrella organization, the Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front, holds its congress in January.
The Kanak Socialist Front for National Liberation wants its parties to reach a unified position to negotiate with Paris.
The Confederation of Caledonians said its talks would be limited to a timetable for independence, while Bulica’s party proposed a joint sovereignty arrangement.
The federation insists it will not recognize the outcome of the December 2021 elections, calling it an insult to the Kanak people.
Because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Kanak population last year, pro-independence parties asked France to postpone the referendum to 2022, but Paris refused.
As a result, the referendum was largely ignored and turnout dropped to less than 44%.
Speaking on Caledonian TV, referring to the soccer World Cup, Dorman rejected the alternative referendum, saying “no retaliation” but accepted the French constitution which gave New Caledonia the right to self-determination.
At the beginning of his visit, the minister said that the referendum’s choice to remain in the French Republic must be respected.
In October, French Prime Minister Elisabeth Bourne met New Caledonian leaders in Paris to launch the post-referendum process, but the pro-independence parties decided to stay away.
I take this opportunity to announce the creation of working groups, including those dealing with the institutional future of New Caledonia.
In Noumea, Dormanen accepted the position of the pro-independence parties that their participation could only be considered after bilateral meetings.
There is no timetable for this work to start, although the anti-independence camp wants the law changed by the 2024 provincial elections.
The pro-French parties called for the tied election to be open to all French citizens by then, with the final vote meaning New Caledonia remained French.
Pro-independence parties are strongly opposed to such a change. For them, the electoral ring was an irreversible gain that the Noumea Accord secured.
The French constitution, which includes the Treaty of Noumea, needs to be amended to make changes to the electoral system. But, so far, there is no indication of what the French government might do.
Pressure is mounting to reach a consensus that would make it possible to draft a new law.
Any new bill must be submitted for a vote in order to take effect. All of this must be completed by 2024.
Otherwise, the provisions of the 1998 Noumea Agreement remain in force.