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L'Outre-mer - Overseas Territories

The 'confetti of empire' is the former French colonies which have not gained their independence but remain part of France as the départements et territoires d'outre-mer (DOM-TOMs). French governments have shown a determination to retain these possessions, despite independence movements (notably in New Caledonia) and international criticism.

The French Overseas Territories cover almost 120 000 km² and are home to more than 2.6 million people. Overseas, these are twelve communities that bring together the three oceans, Atlantic, Indian and Pacific, and 17.6% of the national territory [including EEZ]. It's also more than one million French from overseas now living in France. Overseas fully involved - their history, their human wealth, cultural heritage, environmental - to national identity and greatness of France.

In 1946, under the "departmentalisation law" former slave colonies, Guadeloupe, French Guiana and Martinique in the Caribbean, and Reunion in the Indian Ocean were given the same political status as mainland departments. The law's advocates, most prominent among them the Martiniquais writer and politician Aime Cesaire, hoped departmentalisation would put an end to "master-slave relationships." In the 70 years since, however, the French government has failed to lessen the social and economic inequalities between the overseas departments and the mainland.

The problems in France's departments go all the way back to their change of status after World War II. Departmentalisation brought few successful efforts to diversify the mono-economies of the plantation colonies. It also failed to turn the social order on its head. The minority ruling elite - white descendants of slave-masters and plantation owners, known as Bekes in Guadeloupe and Martinique and Gros Blancs in Reunion - gave up political control in 1946 but maintained their grip on the economy.

Often named by the acronym DROM-COM, the ‘Overseas Departments and Regions – Overseas Collectivities’ refer collectively to all land under French sovereignty outside mainland France:

  • French overseas departments or DROM are Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana, Réunion and Mayotte.
  • French overseas territories or TOM are the French Austral and Antarctic lands.
  • French territorial overseas communities or COM are French Poynesia, Wallis and Futuna, Saint-Bathélémy, Saint-Martin and Saint-Pierre et Miquelon.
  • New Caledonia has a specific status.

New Caledonia neared the decisive deadline for the consultation on Access to full sovereignty, Polynesia was listed in 2013 on the UN list of territories to be decolonized, Mayotte was sinking into a social and identity crisis threatening the departmentalization process, insidiously, the membership of the Republic ultramarines communities was questioned. Despite over 30 years, stronger growth than in mainland France, overseas still faced considerable handicaps: unemployment is 2 to 3.5 times higher than in France, developmental delays remain after unacceptable poverty areas.

Scattered across the globe, thousands of miles away from the mainland, France's overseas departments are often sidelined by the country's politicians - except during the run-up to presidential elections. In November 2016, Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, visited Reunion and Mayotte in the Indian Ocean, then French Guiana in the Caribbean in December. The same month the independent far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon and socialist break-away Emmanuel Macron both touched down in the Antillean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique.

Despite representing only 4 percent of the electorate, a tour of the overseas departments and territories has become obligatory for French presidential hopefuls. In 2017, following riots in Mayotte in the summer of 2016 and a government bill to bring "real equality" to the overseas regions, these often forgotten parts of France have risen even higher up the agenda - especially for Le Pen.

"L'Outre-mer [the overseas], at the heart of the project for France," is the title of the National Front's overseas program, which Le Pen unveiled during her Reunion visit. Historically, the National Front has performed badly among the overseas departments, in 2007 receiving an average of 5 percent of the vote, compared with 17.9 percent nationally.

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Page last modified: 08-11-2017 17:50:08 ZULU