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Co-management of Tromelin: French government backs off amidst backlash in Parliament

Co-management of Tromelin: French government backs off amidst backlash in Parliament

The co-management of the islet of Tromelin by France and Mauritius was on the agenda of the French National Assembly of Wednesday 18 January 2017. However, on Tuesday night, the decision was taken by the French Secretary of State André Vallini to have it removed and thus debates on the issue were postponed sine die leaving Mauritius in the middle of the road.

Tromelin is an islet located approximately 600 miles North-West of Mauritius and has always been on the map of the island. The islet was named after the captain of a frigate, the Knight of Tromelin who was on his way home to Europe after a campaign in India in 1776. He stopped there to collect water when he found a number of abandoned slaves left there by a French ship, ‘Utile’ wrecked on the spot in 1761. The crew managed to sail to Madagascar whereas the slaves, among them women and children, were left to perish. 

When Tromelin arrived seven years later he saw a horrible scene – humans on the verge of death and among a baby born in the meantime in a place with very little water and a few plants. They were handed over to the authorities in Madagascar, another French colony like Mauritius. According to historical records and books written mainly by Father Dussercle from the Mauritian Catholic Diocese, the slaves were taken from Mauritius.

Sovereignty

Tromelin was discovered in 1722 by a ship of the French East India Company. Mauritius was a French colony since 1700 and became a strong platform to send troops to India, one of the reasons why governor Mahe de Labourdonnais strengthened the island’s fort and harbour as from 1735. The frequent wrangling and maritime confrontations between France and England ended in 1810 when Mauritius and its dependencies were handed over to the British with the exception of Reunion. 

In fact, according to the Traité de Paris of 30 May 1814, it is stipulated (Article 8) that Mauritius and its Dependencies, including Rodrigues and the Seychelles, are ceded to Britain together with the islets of Agalega, St.Brandon and Tromelin and the Chagos Archipelago. However, the colonial powers did not pay much heed to the islets except for the Chagos which they excised before Mauritius obtained its independence in 1968 and the Seychelles which they took under their protection since 1903.

In 1976, Mauritius started to look beyond the horizon in order to draft a clear geographical map. This was the time when the local authorities located Tromelin on the map and subsequently claimed sovereignty following a rational interpretation of the Traité de Paris of May 1814.

In 1990, in view of the cordial relations between France and Mauritius and because of its strong blood links and economic bilateral relations, a common agreement was reached for France to put up a meteorological station on Tromelin.

In June 1990, following the official visit of President François Mitterand in Mauritius, a decision was taken for the co-management of Tromelin by Mauritius and France. Ten years later, President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam again discussed the issue and the agreement for a co-management was signed and ratified in June 2010.

In 2013, French State Foreign Affairs department set up a Commission under the chairmanship of the member of the French National Assembly Hervé Gaymard, who in March of the same year, drafted a report which he presented to the French Senate and which was subsequently adopted. The report underlined, according to the co-management policy, a control on fishing in the area, the preservation and protection of the environment and archaeological researches by both Mauritian and French experts.

Presenting the report to the French Senate, Hervé Gaymard recommended that the agreement presented advantages for both Mauritius and France in an atmosphere of dual confidence and friendship and in a time when bilateral relations are excellent in the fields of diplomacy, cultural and economic exchanges. 

What happened on Wednesday 18 January?

Why Francois Hollande and Bernard Cazeneuve accepted that the item of debates on the Co-Management of Tromelin be removed on the agenda of the French National Assembly of Wednesday last? Political observers say that the moment is too heavy emotionally with Presidential elections due soon in the country. These debates would give the opposition a bone to munch. French Members of Parliament like Philippe Folliot, Gilbert Le Bris and Laurent Furst are against the project of having Tromelin shared administratively with Mauritius. They are rapidly joined by Marine Lepen of the National Front and the latest to meet the group is the business lobby group ‘Mouvement des Entreprises de France’ (MEDEF) who sees an opportunity to exploit the exclusive economic zone of more than 2,000 sq.km around Tromelin.

In Mauritius the authorities prefer to wait as the issue has reached a dead end. Lalit, a left-wing political party suggests for its part that government prepares itself to go, just like in the case of Diego Garcia, to go to the International Court of Justice and search for an ‘Advisory Opinion’ on Mauritius Sovereignty on Tromelin.