France Extends its National Territory by more than 500,000 km²

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How does one extend the size of one’s country nowadays? By decrees, not by degrees

By means of four parliamentary decrees, France has officially doubled the size of its national territory by extending its maritime domain by 579,000km2. Four decrees were published just a month ago in the Journal Officiel (the daily national publication of the Republic of official information for the citizens) defining the exterior limits of the French continental plateau off the Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, as well as of the South-American territory of French Guyana, the windswept Southern Indian Ocean Kerguelen Islands and the far more hospitable Pacific island of New Caledonia.

The move stems from recommendations from the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, an organisation set up by the United Nations convention on the Law of the Sea (1982).

Thanks to its overseas territories (a more modern euphemism, perhaps, for “colonies”), France finds itself in second place in terms of global maritime power, second after the United States which has 11,000,000km2 of Exclusive Economic Zone to its credit.

This accord, known as the Montego Bay Convention, allows coastal countries to extend their continental plateau beyond the 200 nautical miles (about 370km) of their Exclusive Economic Zone to a maximum limit of 350 miles (648km) if they can show that their land territory extends along the ocean bottom. The rights of a State on this zone only apply to the underwater surface and not to the water itself, which remains within the international domain.

Some countries have begun exploration campaigns in these zones but none of them are as yet in a position to exploit the potential riches beneath the waves, such as hydrocarbons or metals necessary for the development of new technologies.

“We’re really working for future generations,” said a spokesman for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, clarifying that they mean future generations of French citizens who will now be able to benefit from a tax of up to 12% of the profits resulting from exploitation of the resources and payable to the country in question.

The breakdown of the new French territory includes a huge 423,000km2 around the Kerguelen Islands, 76,000km2 off New Caledonia, 72,000km2 off French Guyana and 8,000km2 off Martinique and Guadeloupe. The undersea land-grab isn’t over yet and current demands (if successful) could bring the total of new territory above the one-million square kilometre mark.

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