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Jul 1, 2005

A Reassuring Visit by the new Overseas Minister

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François Baroin, who celebrated his 40th birthday on June 21, was named the new Overseas Minister after a reshuffle of ministerial positions by French president Jacques Chirac following the results of the referendum in which France resoundingly defeated the treaty for a European constitution. A seasoned politician, Baroin started his new job on rue Oudinot in Paris on Friday, June 3, when he was welcomed to the post by his colleague, former Overseas Minister Brigitte Girardin, who held the position since 2002. She will remain in the government and was named minister in charge of international cooperation and development of French language initiatives throughout the world. A new prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, and a new cabinet with 31 members (compared to the 40 members of the last cabinet) were also named as a result of the strong NO registered by the French voters in the May 29 referendum, rejecting the possibility that France ratify the treaty establishing a European constitution. In contrast to the national results, 70.9% of the voters in Saint Barth said YES, when they went to the polls on Saturday, May 28. As is done for regional elections in Guadeloupe, Martinique and French Guyana, the local vote was held a day earlier than in metropolitan France so that the voters did not know the results hours before the polls close. In Saint Barth, 1577 people, or 38% of the registered voters, turned out at the polls, and another 100 voted by proxy. The majority respected the wishes of the mayor and the conseiller general, who had indicated their intent to vote YES.

Until last month, the plan was for the new political project for Saint Barth to be examined before the end of the year by the Council of Ministers, then be put before the French Senate and finally be studied by the Parliament. The goal was to create the new Overseas Collectivity for Saint Barth by early 2006. On May 10, the Senate's legal commission examined the report submitted by its president, Jean-Jacques Hyest (UMP, senator from the Seine and Marne region), Christian Cointat (UMP senator for French outside of France) and Simon Sutour (PS, senator from the Gard). These three senators made up the delegation that visited Guadeloupe, Saint Martin, and Saint Barth on December 9-14, 2004 on a fact-finding mission. The report entitled, "The Future Status of Saint Barthelemy and Saint Martin: the responsibility of choice," addresses the situation as it appeared to the senators at the time. According to the document, found online at the Senate's web site, the heart of the discussion is the fact that Jean-Jacques Hyest indicated that the constitutional revision of March 28, 2003 created the new category of Overseas Collectivity (COM) in order to allow the legislation to give certain territories a new "a la carte" status that is better adapted to their particular needs than the former overseas territorial status had allowed. The only senator on the commission who expressed his disapproval was Michel Dreyfus-Schmidt (PS) considered that the evolution of Saint Barth and Saint Martin into COMs, each represented by a deputy and a senator, is not a relevant solution.

The announcement of Brigitte Girardin's departure as Overseas Minister caused some major concern regarding the continuation of the political evolution for Saint Barth, as the timing is critical in terms of the examination of the project by the French government. This concern was soothed somewhat after the visit to Guadeloupe by François Baroin on June 18 and 19, just 15 days after he took over his new post. Bruno Magras, who had requested an audience with the new Overseas Minister before he knew that François Baroin was planning to travel to Guadeloupe, Guyana, and Martinique, met with him on June 19. Baroin reassured the mayor that he did not intend to slowdown the political evolution process that is currently underway. He explained to the mayor that the global text concerning the Overseas projects would be modified due to the fact that the section pertaining to Polynesia had been contested by its president Oscar Temaru, who asked that the project be tabled until a later date. This delay should not effect the evolution process for Saint Barth. The project for Saint Barth should be presented to the various ministers as soon as possible.

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Cécile Lucot


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