Francois Hollande Has Restored His Country's Policy On Quebec
While attention has lately been focused on Scottish and Catalonian separatism in Britain and Spain respectively, this week brought a reminder of the more veteran Quebec separatism, as the newly elected premier of Quebec, Pauline Marois, leader of the separatist Parti Quebecois visited France after attending a conference of the Francophone countries in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
After French President Charles de Gaulle, upon a visit to Montreal, caused a spat between France and Canada by uttering the battle cry "long live a free Quebec", the French government - during the presidency of Valery Giscard d'Estaing (1978-1981) - retreated to a neither nor approach. France would not interfere in a decision by Quebec to go independent, but it would not remain indifferent if the province voted for independence and it would then recognize an independent Quebec.
In recent years, the issue has been shelved because Quebec was ruled by the Liberal party under the anti-secessionist Jean Charest. Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy had no sympathy for the French separatists, whom he accused of self-enclosure. The world, in any case, argued Sarkozy, didn't need further separation and Canada should remain united.
At a news conference, recently elected French president Francois Hollande announced that France had returned to the neither-nor approach, a formula that had served France for 30 years until his predecessor decided to change it.
The federal government in Ottawa could take this change in stride, because the PQ is in charge of a minority government and polls show that only 28% in the province are in favor of independence.
France would like something from the Quebec separatists. They would like them to help persuade the Canadian government to approve the free trade agreement with the European Union. This would boost European car exports to Canada. The move is opposed by the electoral battleground province of Ontario where most of the Canadian car industry is concentrated.