In the French overseas territory of New Caledonia has a referendum on the independence of France began. Nearly 175,000 voters can vote to vote for "full sovereignty and independence" of the area. Surveys suggest that 60 to 69 percent of voters are expected to maintain the status quo.
Opponents of independence point to financial support from France – around 1.3 billion euros per year. They fear economic disadvantages should the links to France be cut off. Proponents of independence exist mainly among the native Kanak, who make up about 40 percent of the population. Around 27 percent of the inhabitants are of European origin. The rest of the population comes from Asian countries or from other Pacific islands.
Thirty years ago there were violent conflicts over the question of independence. During a hostage-taking on the island of Ouvéa in 1987, members of an independence movement captured around 30 gendarmes. In a referendum in 1987, 98 percent voted to remain part of France. However, the vote was boycotted by Kanak's independence movement. The Nouméa Agreement of 1998 should bring about an agreement of the conflict. The treaty provides for two more by 2022 after the referendum on Sunday if voters vote against independence.
The archipelago relies entirely on France in defense, law enforcement, foreign affairs, justice and education, but also enjoys extensive autonomy. New Caledonia is represented by two members of the French National Assembly and is considered to be an associated territory of the European Union. The inhabitants are allowed to vote in European elections. The currency is not the euro, but the pacific franc.
The islands are located about 1,200 kilometers east of Australia in the southwestern Pacific. The area, today about 270,000 inhabitants, was taken over by France in 1853. New Caledonia has about a quarter of the world's nickel resources. Nickel is an important raw material in the manufacture of electronic devices.
The area is also geostrategically significant: critics of independence warn that China could increase its influence in the region as France withdraws.