Written by Hadrien Bazenet, in English.
« La situation avantageuse de l’Île de Corse, et l’heureux naturel de ses habitants semblent leur offrir un espoir raisonnable de pouvoir devenir un peuple florissant et figurer un jour dans l’Europe si, dans l’institution qu’ils méditent ils tournent leurs vues de ce côté-là. »Jean Jacques Rousseau, Projet de Constitution pour la Corse, 1763.
Walking through the streets of Bastia city centre, Italian architecture is set at every corner from the simple buildings of the Genoese period to the palace of the former Genoese governors. The magnificent homes of 19th Century shipowners, who went as far as Porto Rico and back, adorn the main square in Bastia. A small house, in the centre of Ajaccio, not that dissimilar to the ones around it witnessed the early years of a man whose life would change Europe itself. The short-lived Republic of Corsica in the 18th Century, created after independence from Genoa, was stated at the time as an example of forward-thinking in Europe. It bears a lively meaning to the collective mind. Those elements, sparsely disseminated around the Île de Beauté, remind us of a region that has been open to the world, although now seen as closing in on itself. Today, it recalls that what happens at the margins of Europe, in a peripheral region of France faced with many challenges, matters in both ways. Europe has a substantial presence there, and the issues discussed on the island have a presence here.
At the political level, regional movements which have now grown to a secure majority on the island, bet on advancing their cause on the European stage. A significant step was building an alliance with the Greens in the European Parliament, leading the current MEP François Alfonsi to declare: « I am convinced that only the European dimension will give his freedom to the Corsican people while guaranteeing his citizens’ existence on the geopolitical dimension » (1). This political move of alliance with the Greens as early as the 1980s participated in shaping the landscape of European politics. Nevertheless, everything may be found in the contemporary Corsican array of politicians, where autonomist lead by a secure majority. Beyond the institutional aspect, the autonomist movement has been drawing examples and support from its European counterparts. Especially from regionalist movements to regions who enjoy organized autonomy: Sardinia, the Baleares, and the Åland Islands.
Today, the European quality of the island is best embodied in the transnational partnerships that its political leaders have been implementing to advance the interests of this specific territory. One of the major initiatives was the IMEDOC, a group founded in 1994 to defend the interests of the western Mediterranean islands. An effort reflected in the partnership of Corsica in the Islands Commission of the CRPM, the president of which is Gilles Simeoni, a local political figure and president of the Assembly of Corsica: the legislative body with extended powers. Local political power, firmly in favour of regional development and of building link in the Mediterranean space, looked to Brussels early on to bring in the dialogue with the French State a third element making it a trilogue with Brussels. (2) Endeavours appear to focus on creating a transnational link to shift interests to Brussels and make progress on issues found challenging to deal with on the national level. Transport policies are considered on the relevant scale of the « macro-region » that includes neighbouring Italy, rather than on the scale of Corsica or France. Livorno is closer than Nice, and Sardinia is only 12.8km from the Corsican coast at its southernmost point.
In consequence, the European context appears to serve as an essential asset for defending the point of view of a peripheral region that is not always the primary consideration for national powers —the recognition of the obstacles that insularity represents, for instance. The EU also performs the function of essential redistributive power. Strolling around Corsica, you may notice, if you pay attention, small signs with a European flag stating financé par l’Union européenne. The EU has a very concrete presence in Corsica through European financing. In one of the poorest regions of France, EU subsidies embody vital means for farmers, although they have been pinpointed for abusing CAP funding. An ambitious architectural project: the « Spassimare » and « Aldilonda » in the city of Bastia to renovate the historical site of the Citadel, is primarily funded by the EU. (3) It aims to build a pathway to circumvent the location above the sea and arrange the space around it. The aim is to raise the urban living standards in a city where a large proportion of the urban landscape and buildings are worn out, making for a very recognizable city but undermining living conditions. A project to create a seaside bike-friendly road in Ajaccio is also funded up to 2/3rds by the EU under the FEDER. The only railway of the island between Ajaccio and Bastia has also benefited from EU fund. In those examples and others, the funds for regional developments are the utmost useful in re-shaping the landscape in a visible way that also raises living standards and environmental standards.
It is meaningful on two points: Corsica is a region that lacks material means, and political mobilization to implement and conduct such policies. Despite an exceptional national investment plan, the means deployed do not appear to meet the extent of the challenge of bringing back in the race a peripheral region where one person out of five lives below the poverty threshold. (4) CAP funding is essential in the bread-and-butter issue of living conditions. 20 million euro were also redirected to Corsica to finance professional formation. Such financing allows modernization processes to take place, such as the projects mentioned above that favour greener modes of transport or an ambitious architectural modification of a historical site. It is doubtful that these projects would have gained priority, if not funded with earmarking, through the EU. The modern pro-Corsica movement aiming at political autonomy as well as social and economic development grasped the importance of EU participation in a regional policy-making trilogue. In these aspects, the EU is linked to concrete endeavours that would gain from being more publicized. A clear link in both directions may then be identified, shaping an essential role of the EU in a region with many challenges and eventful political life.
- Vincent Casanova, Vannina Bernard-Leoni, « La Corse c’est l’Europe ? Entretien avec François Alfonsi », Vacarme, N°64, 2013, https://www.cairn.info/revue-vacarme-2013-3-page-172.htm.
- Claude Olivesi, La Corse et la Construction européenne, Annuaire des Collectivités locales, 1995.
- 7,5 Million € out of 12 million€, see https://www.corsematin.com/articles/bastia-leurope-investit-pres-de-75-millions-deuros-dans-trois-projets-municipaux-88388.
- According to the INSEE.