Curtailing of Corsican Property Market Proposed

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Restraining property ownership on the island of Corsica is proving a controversial proposition so far

The President of the Executive Territorial Council of Corsica, Paul Giacobbi, has declared that he is in favour of putting in place some form of control on the sale of property on the French island region.

Buying a site or a house in Corsica – for long a beloved dream of many French mainlanders – could become a more complicated affair than heretofore for those without any direct link to the island. Political leaders in Corsica wish to impose restrictions in answer to the problem of soaring property prices that are often excluding ordinary Corsicans access to the marketplace.

The notion is gathering support across the political spectrum in Corsica, where a speculative market has been pushing prices upwards for the last 20 years. It’s at odds with the largely French tradition of buying a second home as a home rather than as a commodity, but it’s been happening nonetheless and many in Corsica see a situation that is out of control and one which only benefits local organised criminal elements to the detriment of the local populace.

In common with more and more distinct local regions around Europe, Corsica has been granted a strong degree of autonomy in recent years. This September sees a round of what are expected to be highly intensive debates surrounding the political status of the island, its budgetary situation, residency and institutional reform. Council President Paul Giacobbi was clear on his opinion with regard to tighter property controls:

“You cannot say that Corsican land is freely for sale any more, unless, of course you want to continue to create a speculators’ market solely, along with all the accompanying derivatives,” he said in an interview with Corse-Matin.

Nationalist party Corsica Libera went far further, saying that it was urgent to put an end to the rampant selling of Corsican land. The party urged the introduction of a resident’s status for outsiders. They proposed that only those who had spent ten years living permanently on the island should be eligible to buy a property there from now on.

In order to adopt such measures, it will mean going through some constitutional amendments, but Mr Giacobbi pointed out that “it isn’t a French island that does not have its own particular regime or status in the (French) Constitution.”

The cancellation of local urbanisation plans and of planning permissions that have been declared illegal have recently multiplied in Corsica. This is particularly true in coastal locations, where the number of secondary residences is generally well above the number of permanent homes. Most recently, the PLU (local development) in the seaside resort of Porto-Vecchio (Corsica’s third-largest town) was halted by the Court of Administrative Appeal in Marseilles. The authority cited “serious infringements on the laws pertaining to urbanisation and coastal protection.”

"You cannot say that Corsican land is freely for sale any more." Corsican leader Paul Giacobbi

“You cannot say that Corsican land is freely for sale any more.” Corsican leader Paul Giacobbi

These reforms will run counter to the last Corsican development plan that was all about encouraging a “residential economy”: in other words, it was a set of policies that opened the doors to levels of investment that turned out to be larger than anticipated, turning Corsica into one of the last great un-plundered speculative gold mines in the Mediterranean.

Back on terra firma on mainland France, some fellow Frenchmen aren’t too enamoured by the prospect of a Corsican property lockdown. Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, deputy for the Essonne and president of the right-wing party Debout la République (Arise, Republic), condemned Paul Giacobbi’s pronouncements, labelling them as segregationist.

“Such xenophobia isn’t acceptable to a stranger any more than it is between between Frenchmen,” he said on Thursday last, deploring Giacobbi’s declaration as “obviously anti-constitutional.”

In Corsica too, there are those who don’t think much of these high-minded notions of ring-fencing Corsican property for Corsicans against mainland French and foreign speculation. UMP (centre-right party) deputy Mr Camille de Rocca-Serra denounced it all as “an electioneering political stunt and a gift-wrapped present” for Corsican militant Jean-Guy Talamoni.

“Paul Giacobbi is playing the sorcerer’s apprentice and Pontius Pilate,” said Mr Rocca-Serra to Reuters. “Sorcerer’s apprentice because he’s selling residency status as a key to access property, even though that’s not even possible. It would be necessary to amend Article 2 of the Constitution which guarantees the inalienable right to ownership as well as having to amend the preamble to the Constitution itself. Pontius Pilate, because he’ll wash his hands of the whole thing when it is refused. It would have been far simpler for Paul Giacobbi to announce himself in favour of Corsican independence – that would have necessitated less constitutional amendments.”

Speaking in an interview with Le Figaro newspaper, member of the Southern Corsica general council Jean-Jacques Panunzi also expressed his opposition to the project mooted by Mr Giacobbi, calling it “discrimanatory” and expressing regret that “going by what’s happening across the island, we are giving the impression of turning our backs to the continent.” According to him, the problem is elsewhere, as he maintains that most secondary residences belong to Corsicans themselves: “The Continentals own only 15,000 out of 70,000 secondary residences on the island.”

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