Corsica: Why France’s ‘Island of Beauty’ is not the new Catalonia

French president Emmanuel Macron heads to Corsica for a crucial visit on Tuesday amid a rise in nationalist sentiment on the so-called "Island of Beauty". But are comparisons with Catalonia really merited?

Corsica: Why France's 'Island of Beauty' is not the new Catalonia

Nationalist gains at the ballot box in Corsica may have earned the French island comparisons with Catalonia, but even its hardcore separatists admit that breaking away is a distant dream.

The ruling alliance of separatists and pro-autonomy candidates enjoyed success in last year's regional elections.

The score represented a ten-point rise in the Pe a Corsica (“For Corsica”) alliance's showing when they came to power at the local level two years ago on the island where Napoleon was born.

Like Spain's Catalonia, the stunningly beautiful island wedged between France and Italy has its own language, a proud identity and a history of testy relations with the central government.

But while the Catalan separatists led by Carles Puigdemont went as far as a full-blown independence declaration, Corsican nationalists are sticking to more modest goals.

Energised by last year's gains to push for more autonomy, they have already revived three demands long rejected by Paris.

They want equal recognition for the Corsican language and an amnesty for convicts they consider to be political prisoners.

And they want the state to recognise a special Corsican residency status — partly an effort to fight property speculation fuelled by foreigners snapping up holiday homes.

These are sensitive issues on an island where a four-decade bombing campaign by the National Liberation Front of Corsica (FLNC) — mainly targeting state infrastructure — was called off only in 2014.

The worst nationalist attack saw France's top official on the island, Claude Erignac, assassinated in 1998.

Nationalism, the new normal

Calm returned when the FLNC laid down its weapons — which, according to political analyst Jerome Fourquet, has helped to “normalise nationalism”.

The nationalists have become “a responsible, presentable political force”, Fourquet wrote in a report for the Jean Jaures Foundation.

As part of this more moderate approach, nationalists assure that an immediate independence bid is not on the table.

Even separatist leader Jean-Guy Talamoni — nicknamed by some “the Corsican Puigdemont” — suggests the island would split from France in 10 or 15 years at the earliest, if a majority supported it.

Yet opinion polls show that most of Corsica's 330,000 residents, many of whom live off seasonal tourism and rely heavily on state subsidies, want to stay part of France.

Even in the northern village of Belgodere, where nationalists scored 90.22 percent last Sunday, the result was largely a reflection of local problems.

“I'm not voting out of political allegiance, or for autonomy or independence,” said Jean-Paul Pernet, the village's only doctor, who backed
the nationalists.

He voted, he said, “for people who will bring concrete plans” to rural areas that feel isolated and neglected by authorities.

Much poorer than Catalonia

The nationalists' opponents have repeatedly raised the prospect of Corsica being “the next Catalonia”.

But Andre Fazi, a politics lecturer at Corsica University, dismissed a Catalonia-style independence bid as a “fantasy”.

For Thierry Dominici, a Corsica specialist at the University of Bordeaux, the main barrier to independence is the island's heavy economic dependence on
the mainland.

That is not the case for Catalonia, where chief among many separatists' complaints is that their wealthy region, representing a fifth of Spain's economic output, does not get enough back for what it pays into national coffers.

Corsica, by contrast, represents just 0.4 percent of the French economy, suffering from higher unemployment and poverty rates than the mainland.

“An economically viable Corsica — I don't think we'll see it in my lifetime,” Dominici said.

“Even in terms of constitutional law, it's a completely different situation,” he added.

While Catalonia already enjoys widespread autonomy in policy areas such as health, education and policing, “France is the most centralised unitary state
in Europe,” Dominici said.

Even hardline Corsican separatists like the small U Rinnovu party have limited themselves to pushing for an independence referendum in 2032.

But there are keen expectations in the nationalist camp that their election gains could build momentum for greater autonomy.

“The state has everything to gain in responding to at least one of their three demands,” Dominici said.

“If it does nothing, the islanders will take to the streets. The nationalists won't even have to ask them to do it.”

For members


14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local

Barcelona is a popular city for foreign residents in Spain thanks to its coastal location, many international companies and great lifestyle. However, navigating life here can take some getting used to, so here are our top Barcelona life hacks to help make things easier for you.

14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local
Barcelona life hacks. Image: Michal Jarmoluk / Pixabay

Invest in a good water filter

Barcelona tap water doesn’t taste the best, particularly in the areas around the Old Town such as El Born, the Gothic Quarter, Barceloneta and Raval. The water is also very hard, meaning that it leaves limescale on appliances such as your kettle.

Using a good water filter can improve the taste and make sure that limescale doesn’t build up. It’s also much more economical and healthier than buying bottled water every time you want a drink.

Use the Rodalies trains to get across the city faster

Many people when they first move to Barcelona just use the metro and don’t bother using the Rodalies trains. While it’s not always necessary, for certain journeys it can make getting across the city much faster.

For example, if you need to get from Sant Andreu or Clot to Sants to connect to one of the intercity trains, it’s only two or three stops on the Rodalies, as opposed to more than 10 on the metro, as well as changing to different lines.

Don’t try and get anything important done in August

This is probably true of most of Spain, but if you need to get anything important done, whether official paperwork or renovations on your apartment, don’t try and get them done in August.

The whole city goes on holiday for the month of August, including office personnel, builders and handypeople. If you need to get any of this done, it’s best to get it done before the holidays or to wait until September.  

Don’t buy drinks from sellers on the beach or in the park

You’ll find many people selling drinks on the city’s beaches and in the main Ciutadella Park. While it can be tempting to buy these, especially when it’s so hot, you need to be aware that these cans of drinks are often stored inside drains or under manhole covers, meaning that they’re not the cleanest.

A few years ago, El País took the mojitos sold by hawkers on the beaches to a local lab. The results came back a few days later to show that they contained high levels of fecal matter and bacteria in them.

Barcelona’s Chinese supermarkets are a great source of ingredients

Although you can now find many more foreign ingredients in local supermarkets than you could just a few years ago, there are still many that you may miss from back home, particularly South East Asian and Indian ingredients.

Barcelona has several excellent Chinese supermarkets, where you can find a range of ingredients, everything from sesame oil and Thai curry paste to Indian spices and affordable peanut butter.

Don’t take valuables out with you to certain areas, particularly at night

Unfortunately, bag snatchings and pickpockets are still commonplace in Barcelona. While the thieves mainly target tourists, foreign residents often find that they are targets too.

The trick is to blend in like a local, look like you know where you’re going and don’t take valuables with you to areas such as the Gothic Quarter, Raval or the Rambla, especially at night. Bag snatchings in El Born have also increased in recent years, so keep your wits about you around there too. 

Find your favourite beach outside of the city

Barcelona’s beaches may have been one of your prime reasons for moving here, but you’ll find that you actually prefer the beaches outside of the city.

Overcrowded, dangerous and a lot dirtier than other beaches in the area, the beaches in Barcelona are unfortunately not all that they’re cracked up to be. You’ll often find that after you’ve been for a swim, your valuables will not still be on the sand where you left them. Head just 15 to 20 minutes outside of the city however and you’ll find the beaches are far nicer and safer.

Find a beach outside of the city centre to go to. Photo: makunin /Pixabay

Try to join several different clubs or groups

Barcelona is a very transient city, meaning that people are moving here and leaving all the time. As a result, you’ll often find that most of the friends you made when first moving here have now moved away and you’ll constantly need to make more. If you join several clubs and groups, you’ll find that making new friends all the time is a lot easier. 

Don’t buy a single transport ticket

It’s never really worth buying a single transport ticket in Barcelona, because you’ll end up spending much more money per journey than you would if you bought the T-Casual (10 journeys) or the monthly T-Usual metro card instead.

You can also buy 10-journey bono tickets for the Rodalies trains, which will also save a lot of money if you’re making regular journeys out of the city. 

Try and avoid shopping at Port del Angel on Saturdays

Port del Angel is Barcelona’s main pedestrianised shopping street. While it’s great and has all the high-street fashion shops you want, it can be a nightmare shopping here on Saturdays.

If you do need to shop on a Saturday, try Rambla Catalunya or one of the shopping malls instead, which won’t be so crowded.

Be prepared for festivals and events

Barcelona holds so many festivals and events that it can be hard to keep up. In normal (non-Covid) years, there is one every other week.

Because of this tickets sell out quickly and there are many fun cultural events that you might miss out on. Keep your calendar up to date, so you know what’s going on, and make sure to book tickets for anything you want to see, well in advance. 

Tipping isn’t necessary at all bars and restaurants

Tipping isn’t all that common in Barcelona, unless perhaps if it’s a particularly nice restaurant or if there’s a large group of you that the waiter has had to look after.

You’ll find that it’s not expected either, except maybe at some of the city’s very touristy restaurants.  

READ ALSO: Why do Catalans have a reputation for being stingy?

Do lots of research before renting an apartment and if it sounds too good to be true, then it is

Unfortunately, there are lots of property scams in Barcelona, so try and do as much research as you can beforehand. Never pay money upfront before you’ve seen the property and received the keys.

Also, be aware that many landlords will not return your deposit at the end of your stay.

Many people get around this by not paying the last month’s rent, but this can also make things difficult for the good landlords who may genuinely need to deduct something for damages, so speak with your estate agency on the best thing to do in this situation.

READ ALSO: What you should know about renting an apartment in Barcelona

Hire a gestor or lawyer to help with immigration and tax issues

You’ll save yourself a lot of time and hassle with immigration and tax issues if you hire a professional to help you in Barcelona, where getting a cita previa (appointment) for official matters can often be difficult, in part because these law firms often bulk book them.

However, there are certain processes that you won’t need an immigration lawyer for such as getting a residency certificate if you’re from an EU country or exchanging your green residency certificate for a TIE if you are British and moved here before the end of 2020.

READ ALSO: BREXIT: How to apply for a TIE residency card in Spain