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Jun 1, 2006

Visit by Overseas Minister

ministreLocal officials, who feel both "disappointed" and "betrayed" offered a rather cold welcome to François Baroin upon his arrival in Saint Martin on Monday, May 29. In a speech, Albert Fleming also reproached the Minister for not consulting him on the writing of the text for St. Martin's political evolution; a text that the mayor of the French side of the island feels does not provide enough autonomy or the essential tools needed to move forward. François Baroin hopes that the discussion can "continue calmly in the proper direction", reminding Fleming of the habitual deficit in the municipal budget for many years, and the major support of the government in many important areas such as immigration, and road repairs. He added that a new political status was a difficult bridge to cross and that the government hoped the island would evolve slowly in that direction.


The next day in Saint Barth, the Minister was welcomed with open arms at the airport by a crowd waving small French flags as he walked onto the runway from his plane. At City Hall, mayor Bruno Magras repeated the warm welcome and thanked him for his visit, which is of an important nature as it comes at an important moment in the process of the island's political evolution as was requested by the local officials, promised by the French President in a speech made on March 20, 2000 in Martinique, and overwhelming voted for by the population on December 7, 2003.

This request for a change in the political status of Saint Barth has been an ongoing concern for the past 40 years, and the mayor pointed out that former mayor Rémy de Haenen and his municipal council had first asked for such as change as early as 1964 in the era of Général de Gaulle. Bruno Magras did not hide his uneasiness at the lack of a fixed date for the debate about this change in the French Parliament, and closed his speech by asking that the government make it a matter of urgency that the text is examined by the members of parliament before the next presidential elections in 2007. Victorin Lurel, president of the Conseil Régional in Guadeloupe and a Socialist representative, supported the mayor's position and asked that the question be resolved in a special session of parliament.

François Baroin pointed out that the text had just been approved by the Council of Ministers and passed on to the Senate of May 17. The process of the political evolution of St. Barthélemy is already well underway. All that remains is to put it into action. This should happen, at the latest, in early 2007. Spelling out a schedule that would have the Senate read the text over the summer, with parliamentary discussion in the fall, then rapid passage of the law, the Overseas Minister insisted that the continued agreement on the subject by the elected officials in Saint Barth and those in Guadeloupe was a good thing in terms of the debate by the parliament. His was very complimentary about the excellence of the overall management of the island, especially its strong financial position, and the tax situation that the officials would like to have clarified and are working to that end in close collaboration with the Finance Minister. He concluded his discourse by confirming, that by "2007 at the latest ... your more autonomous status will give you the keys to shaping your future as part of the French Republic. Be assured of my desire and that of the government to respect this decision and help make it happen." An optimistic outlook, which was applauded by the local officials. The mayor declared that he was more confident that the evolution would take place now that the Overseas Minister has announced a frim date for the adoption of the text before the end of the year.

Cécile Lucot


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